Young & wayward Siraj-ud-Daulah becomes Nawab of Bengal

Childhood and education

As a future heir to the masnad (throne) and the firm favourite of his grandfather Alivardi Khan, Siraj developed a reputation as a 'spoilt child'. Alivardi had Siraj educated in his house. He tried to teach him the art of government and administration and all the noble traits that befit a ruler of men. So much so that every misdeed done by Siraj was treated by Alivardi as he had not seen it or heard of it.

Siraj received basic formal education but one not calculated to aid his role as a future crown prince. Owning to the ungrudging affection of his nana (maternal grandfather), and surrounded by sychophants who were quick to quick to clap his all wrongdoings, Siraj committed some excesses in his early years which Alivardi ignored.

Every thorn that he [Alivardi] imagined in the path of Siraj transfixed his own living heart, and he considered it his duty to remove it. He could not pass a single moment without thinking of Siraj. But all this does not seem to have produced a very wholesome effect.

Siraj-ud-Daulah's education may have been of the usual formal type, marked by rudiments of ordinary knowledge and not well calculated to foster higher virtues. Due to excessive dotage of the old grandfather the boy naturally developed unruly impulses and obstinacy. There may not have been dearth of sychophants, who out of their personal interests flattered him and pandered to his low tastes. He occasionally committed thoughtless acts in his early years. But Alivardi did not mind all these and humoured him in various ways.

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Siraj's notoriety surpassed known records. He was a spoilt child, reckless and insolent, who did not receive proper education for his future duties.

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Siraj's reputation as a young man, particularly before becoming Nawab, was of a ruthless and cruel character. However, this impression is given by contemporary European writers and Persian chroniclers. There are few contemporary Bengali accounts of the Nawab. Almost all the principal sources for his life are the writings of such Englishmen who were responsible for his overthrow.

Within India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, Siraj-ud-Daulah is proclaimed as a freedom fighter for his opposition to the British. Whatever might have been his fault, the verdict of history is that Siraj-ud-Daulah did not sell his country.

Whatever may have been his faults, Siraj-ud-Daulah had neither betrayed his master nor sold his country. Nay more, no unbiased Englishman sitting in judgement on the events which passed in the interval between 9th February and 23rd June [1757] can deny that the name of Siraj-ud-Daulah stands higher in the scale of honour than does the name of Clive. He was the only one of the principal actors in that tragic drama who did not deceive

G.B. Malleson, author of 'Decisive Battles of India From 1746 to 1849' (1883)

Military duties

When Alivardi was making some changes in the administration after seizing the masnad of Bengal in 1740, he nominally bestowed the superintendentship of the State fleet at Dacca on Siraj-ud-daulah. Siraj's younger brother Ikram was invested with a similar command over the army at Dacca. Siraj was kept in Alivardi company even during military campaigns. Thus 7-year-old Siraj was with his grandfather during his Orissa campaign in 1740 - 41 and later during Alivardi's military campaigns against the Marathas in 1746.

Wives of Siraj-ud-Daulah

Siraj-ud-Daulah had wife and concubine but nobody knows the exact number.

It is believed that a daughter of Rabia Begum, Siraj's fufu (dad's sister i.e. paternal aunty), was betrothed to Siraj but died before the marriage. Another daughter married the young Ikram-ud-Daulah. In keeping with the custom of the time, people married at young age. Early marriage prevailed even in the upper class families. Rabia Begum, daughter of Haji Ahmad, married one of the leading elder nobles, Ataullah Khan Sabut Jang, who held the Faujdari of Rajmahal and Bhagalpur.

In the short respite after repeated campaignings against the Marathas, Alivardi celebrated Siraj's marriage at the commencement of the rainy season in 1746. Amidst much pomp, expense and magnificence, Siraj was married to Umdatunnisa Begum, a daughter of Mirza (Muhammad) Iraz Khan. Iraz Khan (also known as Irij Khan) was a Persian noble residing in Murshidabad.

It was a grand occasion, enriched by splendid festivities, which the inhabitants of Murshidabad had not witnessed before. They city was decorated beyond any imagination. Dazzling illumination continued for several days. Dance, music and various entertainments, kept the towns-men happy and absorbed.

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In the marriage of Ikram-ud-daula one thousand Khilats and in Siraj-ud-daula's two thousand Khilats were given to musicians. The cost of a khilat ran between hundred to thousand rupees and some of them were more costly.

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Siraj had no children with Umdatunnisa (also spelt Umdat-un-nisa), who was known as Bahu Begum. But Siraj fell in love with Rajkunwar, a Hindu slave girl working for his mother Amina. She was known for her beauty and manners, which spellbounded Siraj. At his request Amina gave away Rajkunwar to Siraj and the pair got married. Siraj renamed her 'Lutfunnisa Begum' (also spelt Lutf-un-nisa Begum). The new couple had a daughter named Zohra Begum, who was Siraj's first and only child.

Historians have debated about the legitimacy of Siraj's relationships. Whatever the case might be, it is certain that Lutfunnisa enjoyed the nawab's favour more than any other woman. Lutfunnisa returned the love of Siraj and was faithful to him. Her presence had overshadowed Umdatunnisa who had been pushed to insignificance. It was Lutfunnisa who was her husband's partner in all matters. When Siraj fled from Murshidabad after the battle of Plassey, he took Lutfunnisa with him. It was Lutfunnisa who tried to comfort the nawab during his flight.

Luft-un-nisa had gained eminence and occupied the lofty place of the nawab's spouse.

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Lutfunnisa Begum became Siraj's principal consort. His first wife Bahu Begum kept herself busy in pompous merry making.

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1750: Siraj rebels against nana Alivardi

Having squashed the rebellion of his Commander-in-Chief Mustafa Khan in 1745 then the Afghan rebellion in 1748 which resulted in the killing of his brother Haji Ahmad and nephew Zainuddin, a third rebellion was taking place two years later. And this one was coming from inside, by one of his own family member.

In 1750 Alivardi was forced to come to Patna again to withstand the rebellion of his favourite grandson Siraj-ud-Daulah. Siraj, who was only rescued two years earlier along with his mother and brother Ikram after his father Zainuddin and dada Haji Ahmad were killed in the Afghan rebellion, intended to assume independent power. Incited by Mehdi Nisar Khan, a dismissed and discontented general of Nawab Alivardi who was closely associated with Zainuddin, and other ill-intentioned associates, Siraj wanted to seize Patna and be the viceroy of the province.

Mehdi Nisar Khan was his principal advisor. He instigated Siraj to rise in rebellion and overthrow Jankiram. Siraj had no sense to distinguish between right and wrong and he easily accepted the suggestion of his counsellor.

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Raja Jankiram, in charge of Patna, was in a fix. How should he protect the city from the rebel prince and still fight against the future master? It was a huge dilemma. Siraj was confident that no one would dare to open fire at him or even touch him. He marched from Murshidabad to Patna with a small following of 60 men.

But the raja refused to hand over the city to him. Jankiram was fully prepared for war with a large number of soldiers around him. He was firm, yet dreading future consequence. So Siraj stormed the walls with his mini army. He succeeded in entering the city, but as soon as the garrison came up, his handful of men were overpowered. The leaders of the insurrection, Mehdi Nisar Khan, Mirza Madari Beg Deccani, and Amanat Khan were killed in course of the fighting. This scared the followers of Siraj and they ran out of the city. Siraj himself fled and took refuge in a house in the suburbs. He found found a safe protection in the house of Mustafa Quli Khan, brother of his father-in-law Muhammad Iraz Khan.

Alivardi had left Midnapur immediately on hearing of Siraj's march. When he arrived, the grandfather and his rebellious grandson were reconciled.

Though Alivardi never showed it, the three rebellions in quick succession in 5 years took heavy toll on him. The old man, known by the fearsome title of 'Mahabbat Jang' (Horror in War), was deteriorating. Unfortunately for him, more bad news were to follow very soon.

The third rebellion was a short-lived attempt of Siraj in 1750 to depose his grandfather and was remarkable on account of the extraordinary fondness for his profligate grandson displayed by the foolish old Nawab, who was far more anxious about the safety of Siraj than about the success of his own arms. Siraj was immediately forgiven, with every display of affection, although the insolent messages which he had sent to his grandfather ought to have convinced Alivardi of the utter worthlessness and shameful ingratitude of the young Prince.

During the remainder of Alivardi reign, Siraj was allowed to gratify his bloodthirsty and licentious tastes almost as he pleased. He procured the assassination of a large number of person who had offended him including Husain Quli Khan and his brother, who had been the favourites of Siraj's uncle the Governor of Dacca.

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1756: Alivardi passes away and 18/23-year-old Siraj-ud-Daulah becomes Nawab of Bengal

During the closing years of his reign, premature death of some family members shattered Alivardi both mentally and physically. His grandson Ikram-ud-Daulah (the only brother of Siraj) died of smallpox at a young age circa 1752. This plunged his foster parents Ghaseti and Nawazish with profound shock. Overwhelmed with grief, Nawazish died from attack of dropsy in 1755. According to his desire, he was buried by the side of Ikram in the Motijhil garden, a few miles north of Murshidabad.

To add to agonies of Alivardi, his only remaining nephew and son-in-law Sayyid Ahmed Khan also passed away. Finally, the old nawab himself died of dropsy on 9/10 April 1756 at the age of 80 (or above). He was buried in Khushbagh, Murshidabad district, on the west bank of the Bhagirathi River. Khushbagh, meaning Garden of Happiness, is the garden cemetery of the family of the Nawabs of Bengal. It is reputed to be the resting place of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah, along with his wife Lutfunnisa, and Alivardi Khan's mother and others.

The tide of general disorder could by no means be stemmed; and the European traders were consequently emboldened to interfere in the politics of Bengal, just as they had been doing for some years past in southern India.

The calamities produced a terrible depression in the mind of the old nawab, which took a heavy toll upon his health. He fell seriously ill, and feeling that his days were numbered, he summoned his grandson Sirajuddaula before him, gave him counsel regarding the craft of administration and nominated him his successor. The nawab's disease proved fatal and he passed away on 9 April 1756 at the age of about 80.

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Immediately before his death the nawab advised Siraj to strive for the suppression of the enemies (of the province) and devote himself to secure the well-being of the subjects by removing all evils and disorders. He implored Siraj to nurture the goodwill of the people and follow his (Alivardi's) footsteps. Luke Scrafton relates that Sirajuddaula swore on the Quran at the deathbed of his grandfather that he would not touch any intoxicating liquor in future and that he kept the promise ever after.

Siraj ruled for little over one year (April 1756 to June 1757) and the Masnad of Bengal was full of thorns for him. During his short-lived administration the young nawab faced enemies from within the family as well as from outside.

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In-fighting blights ascension

But Siraj-ud-Daulah faced internal struggle. Large discontent flourished in his own court notably from the demoted army chief Mir Jafar, Hindu bankers and traders of Bengal Jagat Seths, former dewan Rajah Durlabhram Mahindra (popularly known as Rai-Durlabh), Yar Lutuf Khan and Sikh merchant Omichund. On ascending the throne, Siraj-ud-Daulah made the controversial decision of elevating a Hindu kayastha bureaucrat named Mohanlal as his supreme Dewan. This elevation of a Hindu to such a prominent position caused the established Muslim nobility, and in particular Mir Jafar, great offence. The 66-year-old was originally the Bakshi or Paymaster of the armed forces, second only to the Nawab, and the elevation of Mohanlal to a post above him was taken almost as a personal insult. He became determined to overthrow and dethrone Siraj-ud-Daulah and gain the Nawabi for himself.

  • # Mir Muhammad Jafar Ali Khan (Mir Jafar) ()

Others were motivated to act against Siraj on the basis of greed. Jagat Seths (Mahtab Chand and Swarup Chand) were always in fear for their wealth under the reign of Siraj and seeked help from Yar Lutuf Khan in case they were threatened in any way. Omichund relied on close network with the British for his affluent lifestyle.

After Alivardi Khan's death Mir Jafar sent a secret letter to Purnea urging Shaukat Jang to invade Bengal, assuring him of his own support as well as the support of other disgruntled elements in the army and the court of Murshidabad. His unbridled ambition made him plan for the dethronement of Siraj-ud-Daulah, and with that aim in view he started intrigues at the Delhi Imperial Court for a farman granting Shaukat Jang the three eastern subahs. But the conspiracy became known to Siraj-ud-Daulla, and he foiled it in time. Siraj-ud-Daulah reshuffled appointments, placing his own partisans in important posts. Mir Jafar was replaced by Mir Madan as the bakshi.

British build up fortification in defiance of Siraj-ud-Daulah

Both the English and French were bitter rivals and fought in the Seven Years' War (1756 - 1763) in Europe. Fearing a similar outbreak in Bengal and in a bid to consolidate their power over other foreign powers (namely the Dutch and Portuguese), both the English and French were building additional fortifications in Bengal. Disapproving of this and suspicious of the large profits made by the European companies in India, Siraj-ud-Daulah ordered both parties to demolish the additional fortifications erected without his permission. The French abided by Siraj-ud-Daulah’s command, but the English did not carry out any of his orders.

However, Siraj-ud-Daulah would not take this 'act of hostility' lightly. Once he had defused some of the internal tension that followed his rise to the masnad, he turned his attention to the English.

It would be under the governorship of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah that the history of India was to change forever.

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