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Buxar, Battle of


Buxar, Battle of (1764) marked the final ascendancy of the English in Bengal. After the battle of palashi (I757), the English east india company was seized with bottomless greed, believing that the wealth of Bengal was inexhaustible. The Directors of the company, therefore, ordered that Bengal should pay the expenses of the Bombay and Madras Presidencies and purchase out of its revenue all the company's exports from India. The company was bent upon using its control over the nawab of Bengal to drain the wealth of the province. mir jafar, the new nawab of Bengal, soon discovered that it was impossible to meet the full demands of the company and its officials who, on their part, began to criticise the nawab for his incapacity in fulfilling their expectations. Therefore, they forced him to abdicate in favour of his son-in-law, mir qasim, who rewarded his benefactors handsomely. He, however, belied English hopes, and soon emerged as a threat to their position and designs in Bengal. He believed that since he had paid the company and its servants adequately for putting him on the throne, they should now leave him alone to govern Bengal.

The English disliked the nawab's attempts to check the misuse of the farman of 1717 by the company's servants, who demanded that their goods whether destined for export or for internal use should be free of duties. He sought to take measures to stop the company from selling illegally the dastaks or free passes to friendly Indian traders, thereby enabling them to evade internal customs duties and gain an unfair advantage on honest traders. He tried to save the Indian officials and zamindars from being forced to pay presents and bribes to the company's servants, and hoped to make Bengal strong by freeing himself from the company's control. All this was not to the liking of the English. The alien merchants were no longer willing to tolerate equality between themselves and Indians. The truth of the matter was that there could not exist two masters in Bengal. While Mir Qasim believed that he was an independent ruler, the English demanded that he should act as a mere tool in their hands, as they had put him in power. War was inevitable.

The conflict was precipitated at Patna where an irascible English chief and an embittered nawab provoked each other beyond endurance. A regular campaign ensued during the summer of 1763, during which the nawab's new army was defeated in four pitched battles. Mir Qasim fled to Patna, and then to Oudh. Here he enlisted the support of Shujauddoulah, the nawab wazir of Oudh, who was joined by the wandering Emperor Shah Alam II. Fighting resumed in the autumn of 1764 and the campaign concluded by the resounding victory of the English at Buxar (in Bihar) on October 22. Shah Alam once more joined the British camp, Shujauddaulah fled to Rohilakhand while Oudh was overrun, and Mir Qasim disappeared into obscurity.

Buxar was a decisive battle. It riveted the shackles of company rule upon Bengal. Hitherto they had been rivals and manipulators of existing authority and their power was fortuitous and hedged with doubt. It was now unchallenged and about to receive imperial recognition. Buxar also placed Oudh at the mercy of the company. It marks the final establishment of British ascendancy in Bengal. The nawab depended for his internal and external security on the British. By a treaty signed with the company on 20 February 1765, the titular nawab of Bengal was to disband most of his army and to administer Bengal through a deputy subahdar who was to be nominated by the company and who could not be dismissed without its approval. The company thus gained supreme control over the administration (or nizamat) of Bengal. From Shah Alam 11, who was still the titular head of the Mughal Empire, the company secured the diwani or the right to collect revenue, of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Thus, its control over Bengal was legalised and the revenues of this most prosperous of Indian provinces were placed at its command. As the diwan, the company directly collected its revenues, while through the right to nominate the deputy subahdar on behalf of the nawab, they had their say in the administration. They controlled the finances of the province and its army directly, and its administration indirectly. Thus the British now had the power without responsibility. The nawab and his officials had the responsibility of administration but not the power to discharge it. [Mohammad Shah]