During the rule of Aurangzeb’s great grandson Muhammad Shah (1719-1748), the governor of Deccan was one Nizam-ul-Mulk. In 1723 he decided to carve himself a kingdom. Another Mughal functionary, Mubariz Khan had created a near independent state in Hyderabad, which was attacked by the Nizam in 1724. After forsaking his capital in Aurangabad, the Nizam moved to Hyderabad and founded the strongest independent Muslim state of the South. After British power rose in and around Madras, Hyderabad played an important role, especially in the struggle between the British and the French of Pondicherry. Nizam–ul-Mulk was ruling most of what today is the state of Andhra Pradesh whereas in the south the Nawab of Arcot was controlling parts of Tamil Nadu. Nawab-ul-Mulk died in 1748 and a succession battle ensued and spilled over to Arcot. The Anglo-French war intensified and puppet nawabs were placed in both Arcot and Hyderabad and played like pawns in a chess game by both the British and the French. Robert Clive a clerk and junior merchant of the East India Company fought the French and restored Muhammad Ali as Nawab of Arcot while the French controlled Hyderabad and seated Muzaffar Jang as the Nawab there. Later, when the French suffered defeat by the British, the Nizam of Hyderabad switched his allegiance to the British and promised them more land in the coastal Andhra Pradesh.
The Marathas had control of Tanjavur but with the help of Hyderabad both French under de Bussy and British under the command of their hero Robert Clive started their incursions deep into Maratha lands in the west. Eventually the French would lose to the British, who utilized to their advantage, the ‘farman’ (imperial directives, a sort of protection) they had obtained, using trickery, from the Mughal ruler, Farrukshayar, Aurangzeb’s grandson in 1716. Robert Clive sailed to Bengal when Siraj-ud-daula evicted the British from Calcutta and in what is known as ‘two hundred day war’ defeated the Nawab of Bengal (battle of Plassey) and installed a puppet nawab, just like in Arcot. Later the British, using the ‘farman’ as an excuse forced the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II to recognize Bengal as part of British territory. Later the Nizam of Hyderabad aided the British in their battles against the menacing Tipu of Mysore and consequently remained in their favor. Nizams of Hyderabad continued to rule their kingdom with British protection and would survive for another 150 years, until the independence of India in 1947.
The French in the face of defeat in Madras courted a Haidar Ali who was rising in power in Mysore. They had already lost the support of the Nizam of Hyderabad who had switched sides and was now a pawn of the British. Haidar Ali was in the service of the Wodeyars of Mysore, a little known kingdom of not much consequence in southern Karnataka. The Wodeyars were left over chieftan-nayaks from the Vijayanagara Empire and at various times had been overpowered by the Bijapur sultans as well as the Marathas. However, they remained inconspicuous and of little stature and escaped notice for a long time. The Wodeyars had lost their kingdom to two brothers in whose service a devout Muslim with ties to erstwhile Bijapur sultans through his ancestors, rose to prominence as an able soldier and leader. Haidar Ali learned by observing the power struggle between the French and the English and was fascinated with the European tactics of warfare. After protecting Mysore from invading Marathas in 1758, Haidar Ali deposed the brothers and became the undisputed ruler of Mysore in 1761.
Meanwhile Nizam Ali had deposed the nizam of Hyderabad who was his brother. Ali, in his quest to be seen with favoritism by his British overlords, proposed to attack Mysore. Haidar Ali was flexing his muscles and had gained considerable grounds in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The first Mysore war was fought in 1767, when the British-Hyderabad alliance suffered a crushing defeat. Haidar Ali’s reputation soared. The treaty and peace terms in favor of Haidar Ali were shamelessly reneged by the British and soon a second Mysore war ensued from 1780 to 1784. With his son Tipu as an able warrior, Haidar was winning the war when he died in 1783. He had captured Arcot from right under the nose of the British company. When troops from Bengal joined the fight, Tipu had to sue for peace and the Peace of Mangalore was drawn (which eventually proved to be meaningless).
Tipu was unhappy with the French support he had received. He then sent a delegation to Versailles as well to the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople. The delegation received a warm welcome in France but little military help. Tipu’s territories had included the Malabar Coast from where he was able to launch successful trade with Arabia and his kingdom became prosperous. He was also interested in agriculture and sought experimental seeds and new crops from all over Asia and France. Srirangapatnam was a converted to an admirable botanical garden and he introduced silkworm cultivation to Mysore (for which the region is well known even today). Tipu’s rule became the envy of the neighboring states and this did not bode well for him in the long run. Educated, possessed with a curious mind and with the ability to rule his subjects well he gained the nickname ‘Tiger of Mysore’. This is not to say Tipu was not ruthless. He showed no mercy when it came to people he considered enemies of the state. The torture that Tipu inflicted on his enemies are legendary.
The Marathas aside, the British were very nervous about Tipu’s success and never ceased their complicity against him. A third Mysore war was fought from 1790 to 1792 with the pretext that Tipu had attacked Travancore. Lord Cornwallis pursued Tipu with vigor into Bangalore and Srirangapatnam with the help of Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad. Tipu was outnumbered and had to pay indemnity to release his two young sons, ages eight and ten, who had been taken into British custody as assurances.
Tipu was in no position to renew his hostilities with the British as his power had been truncated by them. But the new governor Wellesley, sensing a weakened tiger attacked in 1799 with massive force from which there was no escape for Tipu. The pretext for the unprovoked attack was that it was thought that Tipu had made overtures to Napoleon to help him ward off the British. The siege of Srirangapatnam lasted for three months and Tipu’s body was found among the dead, cut with bayonets and shot twice. His prized and famous jeweled sword-belt had been stolen. This single victory paved the way for the British supremacy of India.
Mysore was tamed as well as its tiger. A child of the Wodeyar dynasty was installed as the ruler and was treated as a subordinate. The British now had control over coastal Karnataka and free access to the sea trade routes.
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