June 23 seems to have a special place in the history of the British people. While the date in 2016 is significant for the people of the country will determine in a referendum on this day whether to remain a part of the European Union (EU) or leave it, it was exactly on this day 259 years ago that the Britishers had tamed the Nawab of Bengal and his allies in the Battle of Plassey to lay down the foundation of the future British empire in India that ruled for almost 200 years. [What is Brexit and why is it important?]
259 years ago, the British East India company had defeated the Nawab of Bengal to lay foundation of British rule
Though the Battle of Plassey was more of a skirmish than a battle, the Britishers' victory under Robert Clive was a significant in the history of India. The young Nawab, Siraj-ud-daulah had taken over Calcutta (now Kolkata) from the British East India with a huge army in June 1756. [Will UK leave EU today?]
The news had reached the Company officials in Madras (now Chennai) in August and in October, Clive left for Calcutta with a force of some 2,500 men comprising Europeans and Indians. Siraj's army was driven out in January 1757 and Clive decided to secure the Company's interests in Bengal by replacing Siraj with a more friendly face in Mir Jafar, a disgruntled elderly general. Jafar signed a secret agreement with the British following promises of enormous bribes to all concerned quarters and Siraj came to know about it. He, thereafter, moved south to Plassey in today's Nadia district. [Will Brexit see a Domino effect in Europe?]
On June 13, 1757, Clive mobilised forces and artillery to the north and despite falling short of confidence, he came from an hour-long meditation and ordered his army to move to Plassey.
The encounter took place on a cloudy morning near the Bhagirathi-Hooghli River. The British army had 2,000 Indian sepoys and 600 British infantry of the Thirty-Ninth of Foot besides 200 artillerymen with 10 field pieces and two small howitzer and was divided in three divisions. Siraj's army, on the other hand, had 40,000 men besides war elephants and around 50 cannon. [Will Brexit make UK's security vulnerable?]
The British won the battle decisively and made advancements in India
The skies opened up around noon and although the British armymen covered their cannon and ammunition from the rain, Siraj's men failed to do so. But they assumed that the British artillerymen also faced a similar experience and progressed only to face a storm of fire. Siraj lost his nerve and fled in a camel when Clive's army advanced and it left his army a demoralised lot. Siraj was later caught and killed. The administration of Bengal fell into the hands of the British and Mir Jafar was made the Nawab.
On June 23, 2016, the British are thinking of retreating from the EU
Fast forward by 259 years and we have another June 23. And this time, it is the Britishers' turn to retreat---although in an age of democracy. The people of Britain will decide in a referendum whether to stay in the EU, the union which had evolved in the post-Second World War period to help the devastated Europe stand on its feet again.
The UK, being a major member of the 28-member EU, is now divided over continuing in the union over questions like immigration, security, currency and sovereignty. Though opinions are polarised on the possible consequences of what is being termed as 'Brexit' (Britain's exit from the EU) but there is no denying the fact that the voice over a UK able to decide on its own future has gained strength over the years.
Only time will tell whether the pro-exit or anti-exit camp wins in the voting, but June 23 remains a crucial date in the history of Britain, even after centuries.