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Last Updated: Friday, 29 June 2007, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Plassey rekindles Indian anti-imperialism
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Plassey

Siraj Ud Daulah memorial
Siraj Ud Daulah is now revered by many
As India observed the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Plassey last weekend, politicians have used the historic battle site to promote contrasting nationalist visions.

The forces of the British East India Company led by Robert Clive defeated the army of the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah on 23 June, 1757 at this rural outback of lush green fields of jute, paddy, sugarcane and mango groves.

"Plassey was no great battle, the nawab's army was routed in a few hours, but the battle site evokes strong nationalist sentiments now and Siraj Ud Daulah is seen as a fallen hero, a tragic hero," said historian Gautam Basu.

Many believe that Plassey should always serve as a warning for modern Indians.

'Uncompromising stance'

"It should remind us that we can never slacken on security and intelligence," said school teacher Rais Ali, recounting how betrayal by court nobles led to the nawab's defeat.

No wonder then that politicians turned up in strength at Plassey on the 250th anniversary of the battle to cash in on the popular sentiments.

Robert Clive (picture: the National Trust)
Clive of India committed suicide in 1774 after amassing a huge fortune

A bronze bust of Siraj Ud Daulah was installed right in front of the white memorial of Plassey erected by the British 100 years ago to commemorate the historic victory.

Supporters of the left nationalist Forward Bloc, a party started by India's independence war hero, Subhas Chandra Bose, argued for demolishing the British monument.

But the Forward Bloc's general secretary, Debabrata Biswas, put such views to rest.

"Both monuments will remain, one to remind us of the price for loss of freedom, the other to remind us of Siraj and his uncompromising stance against the British. We need both," said Mr Biswas.

Local leftists displayed huge cut-outs of Siraj and Clive alongside Iraq's hanged leader Saddam Hussein and US President George W Bush. Cut-outs of Subhas Bose and Bangladesh's first leader, Sheikh Mujib, were also there.

South Asian unity

"Imperialism has not gone away, it has only changed colours. Plassey will help us emphasise the need for Asian unity against Western imperialism again," said Mr Biswas, who leads the newly-formed India-Pakistan-Bangladesh People's Forum.

The forum organised a huge rally last week at Plassey, with its leaders vowing to unite the people of the three countries "in the fight against poverty, authoritarianism, globalisation and imperialism".

Poster at the Plassey battleground
Anti -Western banners were on display at the anniversary

"Our problems are similar even though we were divided 60 years ago. To overcome our problems, we need to fight together and India needs to support the fight for democracy in Pakistan and Bangladesh," said Mahbub Alam of the Baksal party in Bangladesh.

Across the field of Plassey lay posters, banners and cut-outs stressing the need for unity in South Asia.

But while the Forward Bloc and other left parties warned the people against "globalisation as a new form of imperialism", a rally organised by India's governing Congress party talked of the country's new-found image as a global player.

'Autocrat'

Congress lawmaker Adhir Choudhury led a procession of 1,000 supporters on motorcycles into Plassey, and reminded the big crowd gathered outside the monument that India would "soon be a superpower".

"Our days of glory are back. Plassey is the past but we must remember it," said Mr Choudhury.

Poster of Siraj Ud Daulah
Siraj Ud Daulah's image is now widely displayed

The Congress party, led by economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is pushing for special economic zones, rapid foreign investment and globalisation to speed up India's progress as a major player on the global stage.

"Siraj may have been a bad ruler, an autocrat and a useless military leader. But he is now seen as a victim of British guile and conspiracy, and as the last independent ruler of undivided Bengal, he provokes much warm sentiment in both West Bengal and Bangladesh," said historian Gautam Basu.

Such is the affection now felt for the failed war leader, that the India-Pakistan-Bangladesh People's Forum has even suggested that the forthcoming passenger train service between West Bengal and Bangladesh should be named after Siraj Ud Daulah.


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