August 15, 2023
On June 23, 1757, a man betrayed his people and changed history forever. At the Battle of Plassey, the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulah, had taken his Mughal army to battle for his life and home against the British East India Company. Beleaguered by the British, Siraj-ud-Daulah held his ground, unaware that one of his own had other plans.
Robert Clive, a military leader of the East India Company, led a charge along the banks of the Ganga, as Mir Jafar, the Nawab’s commander-in-chief, held back his army. Unbeknownst to the Nawab, Clive and Mir Jafar had struck a backroom deal. With his easy victory under his belt, Clive expanded tax collection in Bengal and removed French competition in the region. Mir Jafar became the new Nawab of Bengal, the first under the East India Company. The move gave the British a foothold that allowed them to control the entire subcontinent and its people for centuries. To this day, mirjafar means “traitor” in Bengali.
To understand India’s colonial history, one must understand Bengal. The story of British control in the subcontinent begins in the region. And the story of the 1947 Partition of India, too, has roots there — thanks to a poorly thought-out plan in 1905 that the British would reverse only years later.