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Management lessons from Battle of Plassey

Text: Utkarsh Rai

March 27, 2009

Throughout history, wars have left an indelible mark on human psyche. Serious debates have been held on the morality of and the strategic necessity for war. And yet, like every dark cloud that has a silver lining, wars too at times leave a society wiser.

India is no stranger to wars. And there are many lessons to be learnt from each of those battles -- management lessons, to be precise. Here we present the fourth in a series of articles on management lessons drawn from Indian history. This one looks at the Battle of Plassey. Read on. . .

The Battle of Plassey (1757 AD)

Mir Jafar, alias Sayyid Mir Muhammed Jafar Ali Khan, is to India's history what Benedict Arnold is to that of the United States.

Mir Jafar came to Bengal as a traveller and took up a job in the army of Ali Vardi Khan, then Nawab of Murshidabad (near Kolkata). He fought many successful battles for the Nawab. This earned him a promotion and his career saw a meteoric rise under Khan.

Apart from showering many favours on Mir Jafar for his service to him, Nawab also married off his half-sister to him. This helped him gain an important position in the Nawab's court.

But Mir Jafar's thirst for power was not satiated by this 'meagre' progress. He had his eyes on the Nawab's throne. Ali Vardi's state had weakened considerably because of its constant conflict with the Marathas.

Mir Jafar wanted to make the most of this situation and conspired to murder and overthrow the Nawab. But unfortunately for him, the Nawab came to know about his plan and stripped Mir Jafar of all his powers.

Lesson: No management should let an incident of misconduct or treason pass. Unethical conduct by any person warrants eviction. A routine step like job rotation or transfer doesn't help. An immediate disciplinary action, on the other hand, sets a precedent for others. No organisation should tolerate any behaviour not aligned with its policies.

Image: Mir Jafar

Also read: Management lessons from wars in India

The author, based in Bangalore, is the managing director of an IT multinational firm. He has also written two books: Offshoring Secrets, and the forthcoming Myths & Realities @ the Office.

Disclaimer: Since history is replete with different versions of the same event, chances are that some of the stories written here might not match with the version that the reader is conversant with. However, the article has been written not with the intention of being unerringly accurate on the historic account, but to use the event as a source of information from which to draw strategic management lessons.

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