Published:  01:45 AM, 27 June 2019

Siraj ud-Dowla: Last nawab of Bengal

Siraj ud-Dowla: Last nawab of Bengal

The inner workings of politics, treacherous mind games and vile layers of masks people wear to benefit themselves trace back to time of the disintegration of the Mughal Empire, paving the way for regional states. In the contest for supremacy, the English emerged 'victors'. But if we take a closer look at the bloodshed and deception that brought about this triumph, we can see the freedom fighter whose name and honor got slandered at this victory's cost.

The name Mirza Muhammed Sirajuddaula is prominent in the history of the then provinces of Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. Siraj was born to Zainuddin Ahmed Khan and Amina Begum in 1733. Soon after his birth, Siraj's maternal grandfather, Mirza Muhammed Alivardi Khan was appointed the Deputy Governor of Bihar. Alivardi Khan did not have any sons and Sirajuddaula was regarded as a 'fortune child' child in the family. Siraj won his grandfather's heart and from the day of his arrival into the world, had been put on the highest pedestal by Alivardi.

True to his love for his grandson, the old Nawab had Siraj educated in his own house. He trained Siraj in various attributes that are required by a crown prince including the art of governance.

In the atmosphere of intrigues, defections and doubts with the country's trade and commerce drowning, the ominous Marathas made their show by plundering and ravaging many parts of Orissa and Bengal. Gradually, they dominated supremacy in Orissa, perpetrated horrible atrocities upon men and women of Bengal and laid many fair country-sides to waste.

In about the 15th year of fighting against these perpetratos, Alivardi Khan personally took the field against them, and in the course of the fight his devoted, beloved wife Sharfunnisa Begum and many other women were captured and abducted.

In 1746, Sirajuddaula, a mere boy of 13 years of age, was given the charge of the Nawab's fleet in Dhaka and rescued his grandmother from the nauseating hands of Marathas and together with his grandfather, drove the ominous pillagers out of Bengal.

With momentous grandeur, Alivardi Khan celebrated Siraj's marriage to Umdatunnisa, daughter of an aristocrat, Irij Khan, in August 1746. Shortly after, Umdatunnisa passed away from illness and Siraj married the love of his life, Lutfunisa Begum. She bore him a daughter Zohra Begum, who Siraj valued more than life itself.

 In May 1752, with immense pride Alivardi Khan declared Sirajuddaula as his successor. On this happy occasion the European trading companies in Bengal also greeted him.

After 16 years of sensational ruling of the provinces, Alivardi Khan deceased on the 17th of April 1756, suffering from dropsy and his broken spirit at the heartbreaking news of his brother Haji Ahmed being tortured to death by the Afghan rebels, his nephew Zainuddin being assassinated and his grandson Ikramuddaula Fazle Ouli's perishing in the hands of small pox. It was a devastating loss for the provinces.

Immediately before his death, the old Nawab advised Siraj to strive for the repression of the enemies of the province and devote himself to secure the welfare of the subjects by eradicating all evils and disorders. He implored Siraj to nurture the amity of the people and follow his legacy. On Alivardi's deathbed, Siraj swore to never drench his throat with any intoxicating liquors and stood by his word till his very last breath. This further proves Siraj to have an iron-clad tether to his willpower and be loyal to his oaths.

Out of pure jealousy and spite, Ghaseti Begum, the sister of Siraj's mother by blood, did not portray any hesitation to conspire behind her nephew's back, with the arms of Mir Jafar, Shawkat Jung and Raja Rajballabh. Sirajuddaula's unvarnished suspicions lead him to act promptly against his conspirators, but without raising any alarms himself. After apprehending serious opposition, he separated the birds of the same flock, trying to cripple them. And so he plucked out root and stem of malicious Ghaseti Begum's sources of power, which were her very deep pockets. He seized her wealth from her Motijheel Palace and placed her in confinement.

Upon further inspection, Sirajuddaula was proven of his genuine grievances against the workings of the English East India Company. His charges against the company were that they strengthened the fortification around Fort William without his approval, grossly abused the trade privileges, by which the government incurred heavy loss of custom duties and also that they gave shelter to his officers like Krisnadas, son of Raja Rajballabh who embezzled government funds from the treasury.

The just nawab also made his intentions clear, of forgiving them if they erased his complaints and abided by the terms and conditions of trading as they did during the time of Murshid Quli Khan. But the company paid no heed to the nawab's demands. The blatant disrespect multiplied tenfold when Governor Drake of the Calcutta Council insulted Naraigan Singh, special envoy to Fort William and turned out the messenger that Siraj sent in request to visit the factory in Kasembazar.

 The enraged Nawab retaliated by invading Kasembazar and all available Englishmen there were taken to custody. From Kasembazar the thunderous Sirajuddaula attacked Calcutta and encamped in Amarchand's garden in the place called Simla, after covering 160 miles in 11 days. 160 men comprising of Dutch and English were present to defend the fort of Calcutta. To facilitate defense, the English people set fire to the huts and thatched structures roundabout the present Dalhousie Square and the great bazar. Some English ships that were anchored down the Hugli River, tried to get along the fort; but most of their ships went aground in midstream. Sirajuddaula's army pursued victory further. Governor Drake, the coward that he was, escaped to a ship lying in midstream, leaving Jon Holwell as Governor and commander of Calcutta. Holwell's commands weren't heard by his heavily drunk and useless soldiers. Knowing which side would emerge as victors, the Dutch contingent joined hands with the nawab's army. Finding further resistance futile, the English people surrendered. Sirajuddaula left Calcutta in charge of Manikchand, a Sikh banker and the dewan of the Raja of Burdwan.

In June 1756, Nawab Sirajuddaula entered the fort of Calcutta formally, accompanied by Mir Jafar who at that time was restored to the command and gained Siraj's trust again. The Nawab discovered only 50 thousand rupees in the fort's coffer, as some of the English had escaped with the rest of the money. About 50 Englishmen were taken into custody among which a few were thrown into a room to be further questioned, measuring 18x15 feet with a door and a small window.

This room was called a 'Black-hole' by the people of the fort as it was used for punishing disorderly soldiers. The European chroniclers made a capital story out of this incident in attempt to damn the Muslim rule. They alleged that 145 prisoners were thrown into this minuscule room of which only 23 and one woman survived. The Hindu compatriots proved the fallacy to be nothing but a fabrication by facts and figures.

Shawkat Jung, Siraj's young cousin, a dullard, drunkard and debauch, insulted, reviled and drove away all well-wishers of his family, consulted rash sycophants who leeched onto his shoulders and wrote to Siraj demanding that he quit the Musnad in his favour, retire to some place and get his pension. Receiving this patronizing note, Sirajuddaula ordered Mir Jafar and Raja Mohonlal Kashmiri to proceed to Purnea immediately with some divisions of the army. Both armies met close to Purnea and a major clash commenced. Shawkat was atop an elephant in a drunken state even during the battle. When he was bracing up his army, a musket ball struck his head, his jeweled turban rolled down on the dust and he perished. Mohonlal entered Purnea, seized Shawkat's family and wealth and returned to Murshidabad.

Meanwhile, the English resorted to vigorous political and secret activities to overthrow Sirajuddaula and reinstate a puppet in his place. For this, the company connived against the Nawab with the support of his own uncle, power-hungry Mir Jafar, Jagat Sheth and other disaffected courtiers. After all their schemes were finalized, the company's forces under Robert Clive and Charles Watson moved towards Murshidabad.

The battle of Plassey is known to history as a bloodbath never seen like before. In June 1756, Siraj faced his enemies with determination in the fields of Plassey. A heavy cannonade commenced from both sides, but Siraj was undoubtedly on the winning side of the scales. The cataclysm came when the faithful Mir Marden, the Commander of Siraj's army, was struck by a cannon ball and perished before Siraj's own eyes. With grief and helplessness depleting all his common sense, Sirajuddaula beseeched Mir Jafar to protect the honour of the country.

This treacherous snake, who already had schemed with the English, despite his repeated vows on the Holy Quran to help the Nawab, brazenly watched the tide of the battle, with a large division of the army on the extreme left of the main formation. Mir Jafar watched the Nawab's tired troops, getting slaughtered without even moving a muscle. Even blood betrays blood.

Nawab Sirajuddaula fought till fear latched onto his shoulders and paralyzed him, at the precipitate flight of his troops and men. He mounted on a swift-moving camel and slipped towards his capital accompanied by a few of his guards. Spurned by fate, Siraj hugged his beloved daughter Zohra and his devoted wife Lutfunnisa Begum close to himself and left Murshidabad incognito on a carriage. At Bhagwangola he hired a boat and continued his helpless journey further. He sought sustenance and shelter from a Pirzada Dana Shah.

Though he was received politely, the secret was divulged to Mir Kasem Ali Khan, who was in pursuit of Siraj. Mir Kasem captured and inflicted every torture and humiliation possible upon Sirajuddaula. He placed Siraj and his companions on an ordinary cow cart and paraded them down to Murshidabad, where Siraj was delivered to Miran, son of Mir Jafar.

Miran threw Siraj into prison and offered a reward to anyone who would kill him outright. No one stepped forward to perform such a diabolical act till Muhammedi Begi, who was brought up from infancy by Alivardi Khan, delivered himself onto the stage. Sirajuddaula was hacked to death by several blows and thereafter his headless trunk was laid hanging from the bare back of a she-elephant and paraded in the streets of Murshidabad.

On hearing of the tragedy, Siraj's mother, Amina Begum, ran bare feet in a disheveled state and threw herself at the feet of the elephant.Mir Jafar and Miran entered Siraj's palace and hounded all his jewels, treasure and concubines.

Blood betrays blood. Sirajuddaula was a freedom fighter who questioned the decisions of his predecessors, for the goodwill of his people. Sirajuddaula deserved justice. The world he lived in didn't deserve such a man with a heart of gold. We should learn from him that even now, our worst enemies breathe right behind our shoulders and can kick us down a cliff, if it means that they will kiss the crown.

The writer is chairperson of Siddiqui's International School & treasurer of Bangladesh English Medium Schools' Assistance Foundation (BEMSAF)

-Riffat Ahmed

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