In 1743, his father tried and secured a job for Clive as a writer (junior clerk) in the ‘East India Company.’ In March 1743, he began his journey to Madras, aboard “East Indiaman” ‘Winchester.’ The ship got delayed in Brazil, where it was forced to spend 9 months for repairs. Thus, he arrived at ‘Fort St. George,’ Madras, in June 1744.
For the next 2 years, Clive worked in the company office and dealt with the merchants supplying to the ‘EIC.’ In his spare time, he read avidly at the ‘Governor’s Library.’
At the time, India witnessed various power struggles. After the death of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, the decaying empire was mainly ruled by local leaders. The European traders (mainly from France and Britain) had rivalries amongst themselves and were also trying to exploit local political situations. They were using troops not only to protect their trade interest but also to attach territory and land revenues.
On September 4, 1746, the French attacked Madras. It was a reflection of the European war of Austrian Succession in the Indian subcontinent and was known as the First Carnatic War.’ The British and the French supported rival Indian factions. The British officials were taken captive. Clive escaped to the ‘EIC’s post at ‘Fort St. David.’ He registered in the company army and helped defend the fort against the French attack on March 11, 1747.
Clive also proved his courage during the British siege of Pondicherry (1748) against the French. Finally, the British regained Madras in 1749. Noticing his valor during the Tanjore expedition (to support the local claimant to the throne), Major Lawrence, the in-command of British troops, made Clive a commissary at ‘Fort St. George’ in 1749.
In 1750, Clive was sent to Bengal, as he suffered from a nervous disorder. He returned in 1751. The Second Carnatic War was for the seat of the Nawab of Carnatic. The French wished to install their supporter Chanda Sahib, against British ally Muhammad Ali Khan Walajah. Leaving his seat in Arcot, Chanda Sahib participated in the siege of Trichinopoly (1751), where Muhammad Ali was stationed. Due to the lack of a proper commanding officer, the British army was in disarray. Clive showed his readiness to attack Arcot, to distract Chanda Sahib and his forces from the siege. He was provided with a small contingent of 500 soldiers (200 Europeans and 300 local sepoys). Despite the rainy weather, he attacked the fort and captured it without any resistance, as the enemy fled away.
Immediately, Chanda Sahib sent his troops to besiege Arcot. Clive bravely returned the repeated enemy attacks and defended the fort for 53 days, till the arrival of British help. Later, he helped British supporter Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah take over the throne. The courage he displayed in this war brought him immense fame. The British prime minister, William Pitt the Elder, praised him as a “heaven-born general.”
Clive left for England in 1753, with the wealth he had earned. He used his money for his family. He also tried for a parliamentary seat but lost due to political connivance. In July 1755, he began his journey for his second India visit. He was made a lieutenant colonel and was appointed as the deputy governor of ‘Fort St. David’ in Cuddalore. During the journey, he lost a lot of his wealth.
Clive first reached Bombay/Mumbai and joined an expedition to conquer the sea-fortress at Gheriah. After this victory, he reached Madras in May 1756. At that time, the new Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-Ud-Daulah, attacked and took over Calcutta’s ‘Fort William.’ The captured British were imprisoned in a tiny cell, later labeled as the “Black hole of Calcutta,” where many died of heat and infections. Clive and Admiral Charles Watson were sent to recapture Calcutta.
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On January 2, 1757, Clive and Watson took back the city. In February 1757, Clive took on the large army of the Nawab. The British troops suffered casualties, but he signed a treaty with the Nawab, who agreed to pay adequate compensation to the British and then handed over Calcutta on February 9.
Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daulah then sought help from the French. Following this, Clive sent his forces and captured the French colony of Chandannagar on March 23, 1757. On June 21, 1757, Clive confronted Siraj-Ud-Daulah’s 50,000-strong force with his small army of 1,100 Europeans and 2,100 local sepoys. There was dissent among Nawab’s army, as his commander-in-chief, Mir Jafar, was persuaded by Clive (with a promise of making him the next Nawab) to change sides.
The armies met near the mango groves of Palashi/Plassey. At the time, Clive had some doubts about attacking the large force. However, as he had planned, the commander-in-chief and his army went against the Nawab. Later, Siraj-Ud-Daulah was executed by his own army and Mir Jafar was made the next Nawab by the British. Thus, Clive is best remembered for the Battle of Plassey, which was won by enticing the enemy and not by brave fighting or military tactics.
Mir Jafar was merely a nominal ruler of Bengal. He was under the control of the British and Clive. Clive acquired a revenue amount of £100,000 per year and money for military expenses and maintenance for the ‘EIC.’ He got the revenue for 24 Parganas (districts) for the company. Clive and his corrupt officers accepted large amounts for themselves. Clive received £234,000 and also a personal “jagir” (land grant) with a land revenue amount of £30,000. With Mir Jafar as a puppet, Clive became the effective ruler of Bengal. He was made the governor of Bengal.
Mughal crown prince Ali Gauhar, with the help of the Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-Ud-Daula, proceeded toward Calcutta to eliminate the company rule and Mir Jafar and also to get back the rich province of Bengal and make it part of the Mughal Empire. However, his efforts were thwarted by the company troops. Later, when the Dutch planned an attack, Clive successfully retaliated, thus removing the Dutch from the province. He also sent Col. Forde to the northern districts of Madras, where they won the Battle of Condore (1758).
In February 1760, Clive returned to England with great wealth and property. He was made Baron Clive of Plassey and also became an MP for Shrewsbury in 1761. He was bestowed with the “Knight of the Order of Bath” in 1764. Clive had many clashes with the ‘Court of Directors’ of the ‘EIC’ when he proceeded to reorganize the company system.
In India, Mir Jafar started protesting against the money he had to pay to the British. Additionally, the company officials and their prevalent corruption became a thing of concern. Many wrong practices were rampant. The tax collectors were guilty of human rights violation. As crops were taken away repeatedly as land revenue, the land had turned infertile (resulting in a famine later). There were other corrupt practices, too. Thus, Clive was sent as the governor of Bengal and also as the commander-in-chief. When he reached India in May 1765, he was faced with a mutiny of the Bengal army, which was crushed with rapid action.
In August 1765, he succeeded in getting a “shahi firman” from Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. The “firman,” which was the most important document in the history of British India, granted the “diwani” rights of Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha to the ‘EIC.’ The company became the ruler of the province with a revenue amount of £4 million. This was the foundation of the British Empire in India.
Clive made reforms to curb corruption. The practice of accepting gifts from Indians and participating in inland trade was stopped by regulations. He increased the salaries of civil servants and restructured the army. Clive left India in February 1767.
In 1768, Clive was made a “Fellow of the Royal Society” (FRS). He bought an estate at Claremont in Esher, Surrey. In 1772, he had to face an inquiry about the wealth he had obtained in India. In his defense, he stated: “I stand astonished at my own moderation,” implying that a lot more was on offer. However, he managed to escape censure by the parliament.
A massive famine in Bengal in 1769 drew attention to the wrong practices of the company. In 1773, he faced attacks again for his acquired wealth. However, he was not only absolved but was also applauded for his “great and meritorious service” to the country.