The search for strategic partners
FRENCH AND OTHER CONNECTIONS
-THE SEARCH FOR STRATEGIC PARTNERS
“You have been already informed of my arrival on the borders of the sea, with an invincible army, full of the desire of delivering you from the iron yoke of England”
- Napoleon Bonaparte, in a reply letter to Tipu Sultan
“When a person travelling through a strange country, finds it well-cultivated, populous with industrious inhabitants, cities newly founded, commerce extending, towns increasing and everything flourishing so as to indicate happiness, he will naturally conclude to be under a form of government congenial to the minds of the people. This is a picture of Tipu's country, and this is our conclusion in respect of its government.”
-Edward Moore, the Captain of a contingent that participated in the third Mysore War to humiliate Tipu
“Tipu possessed energy of character unknown to eastern princes, and ruled with arbitrary sway a people among whom every improvement in the art of war was sedulously cultivated. Such a man ought to be crushed at once or at least, so weakened as to render him forever innocuous”.
- Thomas Munro1, a contemporary British
1.Tipu never spared his enemies. While the British were undoubtedly the most formidable of his enemies, any and every ruler who aligned with the British either out of compulsion or for convenience was considered an enemy. Tipu's entire focus was the expulsion of the British colonists, and anyone who was seen, even as a collaborator deserved equal punishment. He soon realized that his neighbors, the Marathas and the Nizam had fallen prey to British intrigue and had aligned themselves in a confederacy against Mysore. The squabbling feudal lords and minor rulers whose rivalries and ambitions had caused great confusion in the region, needed to be suppressed. This not only caused frequent wars but also acted as distractions from the main objective of establishing a capable central power that would serve the collective needs of the entire region better. At a time when petty and myopic treason was rife amongst rulers who were neither interested nor capable of viewing things in a larger perspective, and were handing India over on a platter to the British, Tipu stood like an epitome of integrity, struggling to free the homeland from alien rule.
2.Myopia Galore. The inability of the Indian rulers to unite even at the doorstep of imminent national danger closed all options for Tipu except, the one he chose, foreign military and strategic alliances. The reality is that the struggle for freedom from colonialism emanated from Tipu long before the war of 1857. While his father's friendly alliance with the French had been continued by Tipu, the French had not been very consistent. They would often promise assistance and then support the Marathas which prompted Tipu to look elsewhere for assistance.
3.Turkey had remained the strongest muslim kingdom for a long time. The Sultan of Turkey was the caliph of the mohamadens, and the supreme political power of the muslim world. Tipu had immense respect for the Turkish Sultanate even though the decline had set in already for, they remained the power that prevented the progress of the Russians. Thus, Tipu decided that he would need to reach out to players other than the French. He thought, in the event of the French playing truant and the Indian neighbors remaining blinded by British intrigue, he would need the support from elsewhere. He therefore, turned towards Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan.
4.Missing Blue Blood. Tipu had a unique problem. He as his father, had, a rather weak political standing. Tipu had a nonexistent royal lineage and he was and the rest of the world was aware of this. The British in fact, were not just aware of this but they also exploited this fact to a great extent to instigate the Mughals, the Nizam and to a lesser extent even the Marathas. While the Nizam was the Viceroy of the entire southern Hindustan with the Nawab of Carnatic under him as his deputy, the Marathas had the ‘sanads' or, permission legally from the Mughals, the Raja of Mysore had been a tributary to the Marathas and legally under the Mughals. Even the British had obtained legal permission from the Mughals, albeit out of cunning and deceit, the privileges of Diwani, where they could govern the area that they had directly under them. So, it was evident that everyone except Tipu Sultan had the legal standing and right to govern their respective domains.
5.The new chief of Mysore, as Tipu had grown to become, did not have a place in the legal structure of the country. While Haider had never attempted to correct this and had no intent reinforce his power with legal approval and had remained a nominal ‘dalvoy', or deputy of the Raja of Mysore, his son had decided to severe even the figment of dependence on the raja of Mysore. Tipu had infact attempted to gain some legal standing in the governance of India by applying for the Nawabhsip of Carnatic. The Mughals, he thought, would be eager to hand over the legal reins of the south to his able hands he presumed. The incumbant Nawab had been bought out by the British, he had played completely into their hands and handed near supremacy to them as regards to governance policies and such other issues. Even the French, for reasons that were rather apparent, were eager to see Tipu as the Nawab of Carnatic. The French had hoped that with Tipu as the Nawab, he would definitely curb the progress and growth of their main adversary, the British. In addition, Tipu had applied to be legally approved as the ruler of Arcot. The French senior officer being represented at Delhi had pushed Tipu's case and had almost convinced the Emperor that the only way out was to take French assistance to oust the British. They nearly pulled it off but for the Vazir of Delhi was a puppet in the hands of the British. Major Browne, the British representative at Delhi managed to successfully foil the French attempt. No one understood the far reaching consequences of this foiled attempt better than the British. This was as early as 1783. Even after this rebuttal, Tipu remained respectful of the declining Mughal empire. He kept the Emperor informed of all the important proceedings like the Treaty of Mangalore and such. He often tried to rekindle the warriors in the Mughal empire by attempting to stir the religious sentiment in a last ditch effort to gain support and official recognition. But the British, to a great extent and the sheer greed and lack of foresight of the Mughals had ensured that Tipu remained a political outcast.
6.The only solution to this ‘non-recognition' was to dethrone the Raja of Mysore and insisting on being recognized as the ‘Padshah' of Mysore. The Nizam and the Marathas were however, reluctant to call him Padshah and would only address him as Nawab. The recognition that wasn't forthcoming within the country was sought from foreign shores. Furthermore, even the court of Shah Alam had no longer remained free of British mechanizations and any title under the Mughals would bring him under the British puppetry. The recognition would be mandatory if Tipu was to strike deals and agreements with the rulers across the seas. His agreements would have no legal standings if he were not an independent ruler. He would not be in a level playing field if he was not independent. This, Tipu had realized rather early.
7.The much yearned recognition came from non less than the Caliph of the muslim world, the Sultan of Turkey. The emissaries dispatched by Tipu travelled from Mangalore to Muscat, Basra, Bushire, Bhagdad and finally to Constantinople with clear instructions to focus on winning the support of all the rulers of the visited countries and finally of the Ottoman Empire in terms of military, political as well as economic collaborations. The wise men from Mysore had been briefed extensively to leave no stone unturned to win over the rulers of Muscat, Iran and the Sultan of Turkey. The main focus however, was to be the most essential recognition of Tipu as an independent ruler. The entourage had travelled with expensive gifts that even included elephants. Artifacts, merchandise from Mysore that included Sandalwood, Spices, Terrecotta items, Silk, gold and silver coins from Tipu's mint etc had been carried to showcase the workmanship of the Indian industries. The envoys were treated with great respect and courtesy, entertained publically, some made enquiries and promises about sea trade, for example, the but Governor of Bushire had evinced interest in acquiring the port of Mangalore for excusive trading rights, the agents of the French at Basra had agreed to allow Basra to be taken up for trade by Tipu. But what was not forthcoming was the military support against the British.
8.The Sultan of Turkey, in his reply to Tipu, addressed him as the ‘Nasirul-Islam-wal-Musallimin', which translates to ‘The defender and protector of Islam', he attributed the inability to commit troops to the marauding Russians. He said Turkey was garnering troops themselves to ward off the Russians and also the Austrian-German alliance that was set to cripple the Ottaman Empire. The traditional allies of Turkey, the French were also in great tangles across the globe. Amidst this great internal turmoil to defend Constatinople, the only support that had been promised to the Caliph had been by the British. It paid rich dividends for the British to appear friendly to the Ottoman empire at this juncture, and that was precisely what they did, as they had been watching the developments at Constantinople between the Sultan and the emissaries with keen interest. That the British were pleased with the outcome of the diplomatic meeting would be an understatement.
9.The Title and No More. What did emerge in Tipu's favour was the elusive recognition. The Caliph, Sultan of Turkey addressed Tipu as an independent ruler. This confirmation coming from the highest religious and military power of the muslim world, brought in the requisite legality to Tipu's position as the King of Mysore. With it came various privileges that included striking alliances, negotiating treaties that only a king could exercise. The Turkish attempts were therefore not entirely futile.
10.The French connections over the years had disappointed Tipu time and again, their reluctance to get directly involved in the wars between the Indian princes often confused Tipu. The French believed that the balance needed to be maintained in the region to keep the British at bay. The allegiance of the Marathas to the British, the inability of the Nizam to act independently and the raging anger of Tipu meant that these forces would never be in a position to form an alliance. Each of these Indian rulers would find it almost impossible to shift the regional balance on their own and this state of neutrality was what the French desired. But what was disturbing was their inability to maintain a steady posture. The signing of a separate treaty with the British at the end of the second Mysore war without the consent of Tipu had angered him no end, but when the support they had promised to Tipu against the Marathas, was not honoured, Tipu realized the futility of relying on the French for any extraordinary support. But he was aware of their internal dilemmas and hoped that they would be able to assist him militarily sooner rather than later and that was why Tipu maintained cordial relations with the French. It was rather interesting to note that right through these Mysore wars, Tipu had maintained a corps strong French troops under him in the Mysore army.
11.Purely Economics Please. The French too were extremely keen to keep the trade with Mysore undisturbed. Mysore had established itself as a thriving industrial hub with further potential for growth, the French were not ready give up on this plum prospect. It was therefore understandable why French treated the envoys from Mysore who had visited Paris with great respect and honour. The envoys had been sent with exquisite gifts as well as extensive instructions to highlight the possibility of a strong alliance between the French and the Mysoreans. Tipu had now attempted to reach beyond the French company in India. The company, unlike the East India company was not an independent entity and had no decision making capability and authority really. Realising this, Tipu decided to contact the highest office of France. Extensive cross trade plans, that included duty exempted ports, exchange of tradesmen, skilled artisans was proposed. This however, was not the only proposal.
12.Tipu's plans, though appearing ambitious, were logical and highly executable, the only ingredient missing to make this a winning recipe was cohesive intent. He proposed the formulation of a treaty with five clauses wherein the French would allot 10,000 troops to be directly under Tipu that would include experienced officers. These troops would be completely provided for by Tipu. These French chiefs and their troops would be dealt with thereafter as per the laws of the Tipu government. Tipu also proposed that the envisaged war against the British would only end with the cessation of Madras, Bengal, Bombay and the Carnatic and no peace negotiation should be entertained. The Fort of Madras would be attacked first and thereafter, the armies would progress by sea and land to the coastal states of Bengal and Bombay. The division of the territories won had also been thought out by Tipu. Multiple embassies had been despatched to bring about the signing of this treaty. While the reception and the honour rendered to the embassy was grand and elaborate, King Louis XVI had received them in public. He professed great admiration and respect for Tipu Sultan but ever so politely evaded the main subject of direct military support. The two primary factors that justified this were the internal turmoil on the French soil that was attributable purely to the degenerative rule, or misrule over the years and the fact that the Minister of Marine affairs in the French government, a great friend of Tipu's and a sympathizer of Tipu's efforts had retired only recently. With his retirement, the new incumbent had ensured that the active offensive policy of the French in India had been discarded for a more moderate and cooperative stance against the British. The focus of the French company was being realigned towards economic and trade activities, therefore, whilst the French were reluctant to engage Tipu politically or militarily, they were rather keen to secure trade and economic privileges. They asked for the monopoly of pepper, sandalwood, cardamom etc in exchange of cannon, gun powder and other war materials. They wanted duty free rice, permission to build warehouses on both the coasts, but, most importantly, they wanted to remain neutral and not assist any Indian ruler. These proposals were clearly self centered and would have given the French monopoly of the entire trade, sea or otherwise. Tipu rejected them out right and thereafter maintained a friendly but distant relationship. It was a kind of stalemate, with the French reluctant to join Tipu fearing that the British would respond by joining the Marathas. The British refrained from joining the Marathas not wanting the French to join Mysore in retaliation. Each was careful not to upset the uneasy equilibrium that prevailed upto the 1790s.
13. Tipu was however, clear that the French could help him rid the country of British in the future. He overlooked the disappointments meted out to him by the French each time, and continued to maintain a French corps in his army which had remained a distinguished part of his army. With the peace agreement of 1792 between the British and Tipu, the British had gained ascendency and this disturbed the French no end, they immediately agreed to enhance the troops in the mysore army from 600 to 1800 which included about 600 Europeans. There was an impending Anglo-French war brewing and they wanted to secure Tipu's support. Tipu had understood the ways of the Europeans, he insisted on a ratification from the National Convention at Paris for the agreement of cooperation. He had been left confused enough over the years not to be overwhelmed by the French and their mechanizations. He placed his demands to sign the agreement; 10,000 troops, artillery etc directly under his command, with the clause to keep the interior states and leave the coastal states to the French. The French Governor would have none of this and the deal fell flat before it was signed. Tipu chose to remain a spectator when the last French bastion fell to the British with the defeat at Pondicherry in 1793. The French had to change their stance after Pondicherry and increased their troops in the armies of the Indian rulers.
14.The Travancore Query. The attack of Travancore by Tipu allowed the British to break the clauses of the Act of parliament of 1784 which had thus far prevented them from entering into an offensive alliance with any Indian ruler against any Indian prince. Now Tipu had attacked Travancore to retrieve the two forts which the Raja of Travancore had bought from the Dutch, much against the advice of all three; Dutch, Tipu and even the British. Now, while Tipu and the British had been upset at the nonchalance of the Raja, it was also believed that this was a ploy to instigate Tipu to attack Travancore, which would give the British the legitimate reason to break the act of parliament clause. Which is exactly how things evolved. The British had built a confederacy with the Marathas and the Nizam. This formidable confederacy was supposedly being formed to provide protection to the Raja of Travancore but everyone including Tipu understood that this was in preparation for the third Mysore war. .......
15.The confederates struggled hard against Tipu for nearly two years from 1790 to 1792. Finally, Lord Cornwallis, who had surrendered to the Americans at Saratoga, assumed command in India, and in a surprise night raid entered the island of Srirangapatna on Feb. 6, 1792. The treaty of Srirangapatna had Tipu suffering both politically as well as personally where he settled a peace accord paying heavy personal price. He concluded the deal only after he pledged his two sons as hostages and lost a lot of his territories to the Nizam and the Marathas. Not the one to be subdued, the moment he was able to recoup, pay the indemnity, and recover his sons, he intensified his contacts with the French, the Turks and the Afghans, and this time even the Nizam became friendly.
16.Famous Allies. The meteoric rise of Bonaparte had re-kindled hopes of a resurgent French intent prompting Tipu to reach out to France. Bonaparte not only agreed to help but also, invited Zaman Shah of Afghanistan to rally against the English. When all these plans were about to mature, destiny willed otherwise. Napoleon was defeated at Acre in Syria and forced back to France, and Zaman was made to beat a hasty retreat to Kabul when British machinations brought about a rear action from Iran on Afghanistan. The British had got hold of the letters written by Napoleon to Tipu and were therefore aware of the imminent and grave danger that was presenting itself. While Napoleon's defeat at Syria was attributable more to destiny than to the British, the withdrawal of the Shah of Afghanistan was completely orchestrated by supreme foresight and planning. Tipu's direct approach to Napoleon was preceded by Tipu sending a secret mission to the French Governor of Mauritius. The Governor gave a public reception to the mission but also issued a public statement for volunteers to serve under Tipu. This public announcement revealed Tipu's plan and alerted the British.
17.Tipu struck a rapport with Zaman Shah, the ruler of Afghanistan who had ascended the throne in 1792. Even before the accession of Zaman Shah, Tipu had negotiated with Kabul for secure assistance4. He had written in 1790-91 to Timur Shah, Zaman Shah's father. In 1796, two emissaries were sent to Kabul to induce the Shah to undertake his mediated attack on Delhi to rescue the Mughal Emperor and to form an alliance with Tipu against the English. Like with the Sultan of Turkey, Tipu also played the ‘religion' card to instigate the Shah against the British and to ensure a positive response to his request. Following his father's legacy, Zaman Shah had progressed towards India and had reached as far as Lahore. The British think tank was furiously working towards preventing Zaman Shah's arrival at the scene of action. By January 1799, the English had successfully engineered a rear action on his western frontier by inducing two Persians to seize the opportunity of his absence to attack Afghanistan. Wellesley had dispatched a Shia from Moradabad to Iran who had stirred Shia- Sunni differences. With Kabul burning, the Shah returned post haste. The British war planners had successfully warded off certain danger and perhaps scripted history.
18.The Shia- Sunni tensions were utilized again by the British to ward off the commercial alliance emerging between Iran and Mysore. While both the states were eager to commence and thereafter sustain trade, the British clearly had a different take on the development. Exclusive and extensive mutual trade clauses both by land as well as sea was being chalked out by Tipu and the Shah of Iran. Tipu had proposed to revive the old trade routes to Europe via Iran which would see Iran emerging as a commercial hub with similar facilities at Mysore for the Persians. While, Iran had been making steady progress in the economic sphere, it had remained a rather weak military power. Tipu was aware of this but saw the vital role Iran could play towards the economic evolution and financial independence of Mysore. Being financially liberated and economically evolved was extremely important as this would also contribute to the stability and military growth of the state of Mysore - no one understood this better than Tipu Sultan and....the British !
19.The thinking was much ahead of time, the ideas were logical, executable but perhaps a bit ambitious. The planning had been continuous and thorough; every minute detail of how a campaign would progress had been chalked out. The intent, effort and importantly, the execution of the intent had been sincere. Tipu had left no stone unturned to rid the region of the British occupation and influence. The state had been governed differently, the troops had been trained differently, modern equipment, advanced tactics and ingenious methods had been employed. The near complete isolation and seclusion in the region was perhaps the only reason for why success eluded Tipu and the Mysore army. The promises had been made but not honoured. Tipu had convinced many but none stood by him. The British had proven to be masters of politics and diplomacy. They had managed to thwart each and every move of Tipu. They had in fact pre-empted some of his moves and countered them well in time. They had managed to throw in a counter attack each time they felt the initiative slipping away. The sheer brilliance of their think tanks had hypnotized the Indian rulers into a false sense of security and complacency. Every attempt by Tipu to form an alliance with the Marathas or the Nizam had been disrupted by the British. Success may had eluded the tiger of Mysore, but nobody can fault him for not trying till his valiant death.
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