The English East India Company’s schemes of territorial conquests and political domination, which had been frustrated by Aurangzeb at the end of the seventeenth century, were revived during 1740s because of the visible decline of Mughal power.
Nadir Shah’s invasion had revealed the decay of the central authority. But there was not much scope for foreign penetration in western India where the vigorous Marathas held sway and in eastern India where Alivardi Khan maintained strict control.
In southern India, however, conditions were gradually becoming favourable to foreign adventurers. While central authority had disappeared from there after Aurangzeb’s death, the strong hand of Nizam-ul-Mulk Asafjah was also withdrawn by his death in 1748.
Moreover, the Maratha chiefs regularly invaded Hyderabad and the rest of the south collecting chauth. These raids resulted in politically unsettled conditions and administrative disorganization. The Carnatic was embroiled in fratricidal wars of succession.
These conditions gave the foreigners an opportunity to expand their political influence and control over the affairs of the south Indian states. But the English were not alone in putting forward commercial and political claims.
While they had, by the end of the seventeenth century, eliminated their Portuguese and Dutch rivals, France had appeared as a new rival. For nearly 20 years from 1744 to 1763 the French and the English were to wage a bitter war for control over the trade, wealth and territory of India.
The French East India Company was founded in 1664. It was firmly established at Chandernagore near Calcutta and Pondicherry on the east coast. The latter was full fortified. The French Company had some other factories at several ports on the east and the west coasts. It had also acquired control over the islands of Mauritius and Reunion in the Indian Ocean.
The French East India Company was heavily dependent on the French government which helped it by giving it treasury grants, subsidies and loans, and in various other ways. Consequently, it was largely controlled by the government which appointed its directors after 1723. State control of the Company proved quite harmful to it.
The French state of the time was autocratic, semi-feudal, and unpopular and suffered from corruption, inefficiency, and instability. Instead of being forward-looking it was decadent, bound by tradition, and in general unsuited to the times. Control by such a state could not but be injurious to the interests of the Company.
In 1742, war broke out in Europe between France and England. The war in Europe between England and France soon spread to India where the two East India Companies clashed with each other. In 1748, the general war between England and France ended. Though war had ended, the rivalry in trade and over the possessions in India continued and had to be decided one way or the other.
Dupleix, the French Governor-General at Pondicherry at this time, now evolved the strategy of using the well disciplined, modern French army to intervene in the mutual quarrels of the Indian princes and, by supporting one against the other, securing monetary, commercial or territorial favours from the victor.
Thus, he planned to use the resources and armies of the local rajas, nawabs, and chiefs to serve the interests of the French Company and to expel the English from India.
The only barrier to the success of this strategy could have been the refusal of Indian rulers to permit such foreign intervention. But the Indian rulers were guided not by patriotism, but by narrow- minded pursuit of personal ambition and gain. They had little hesitation in inviting the foreigners to help them settle accounts with their internal rivals.
In 1748, a situation arose in the Carnatic and Hyderabad which gave full scope to Dupleix’s talents for intrigue. In the Carnatic, Chanda Sahib began to conspire against Nawab Anwaruddin, while in Hyderabad the death of Asaf Jah, Nizam-ul-Mulk, was followed by civil war between his son Nasir Jang and his grandson Muzaffar Jang.
Dupleix seized this opportunity and concluded a secret treaty with Chanda Sahib and Muzaffar Jang to help them with his well- trained French and Indian forces. In 1749, the three allies defeated and killed Anwaruddin in a battle at Ambur.
The tetter’s son, Muhammad Ali, fled to Trichinopoly. The rest of the Carnatic passed under the dominion of Chanda Sahib who rewarded the French with a grant of 80 villages around Pondicherry.
In Hyderabad too, the French were successful. Nasir Jang was killed and Muzaffar Jang became the Nizam or Viceroy of the Deccan. The new Nizam rewarded the French Company by giving it territories near Pondicherry as well as the famous town of Masulipatam. He gave a sum of Rs 500,000 to the Company and another Rs 500,000 to its troops. Dupleix received Rs 2,000,000 and a jagir worth Rs 100,000 a year.
Moreover, he was made honorary governor of Mughal dominions on the east coast from the river Krishna to Kanya Kumari. Dupleix stationed his best officer, Bussy, at Hyderabad with a French army. While the ostensible purpose of this arrangement was to protect the Nizam from enemies, it was really aimed at maintaining French influence at his court.
While Muzaffar Jang was marching towards his capital, he was accidentally killed. Bussy immediately raised Salabat Jang, the third son of Nizam-ul-Mulk, to the throne. In return, the new Nizam granted the French the area in Andhra known as the Northern Sarkars, consisting of the four districts of Mustafanagar, Ellore, Rajahmundry and Chicacole.
The French power in south India was now at its height. Dupleix’s plans had succeeded beyond his dreams. The French had started out by trying to win Indian states as friends; they had ended by making them clients or satellites. But the English had not been silent spectators of their rival’s successes.
To offset French influence and to increase their own, they had been intriguing with Nasir Jang and Muhammad Ali. In 1750, they decided to throw their entire strength behind Muhammad Ali. Robert Clive, a young clerk in the Company’s service, proposed that French pressure on Muhammad Ali, besieged at Trichinopoly, could be released by attacking Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic.
The proposal was accepted and Clive assaulted and occupied Arcot with only 200 English and 300 Indian soldiers. As expected, Chanda Sahib and the French were compelled to raise the seige of Trichinopoly. The French forces were repeatedly defeated. Chanda Sahib was soon captured and killed. The French fortunes were now at an ebb as their army and its generals had proved unequal to their English counterparts.
In the end, the French government, weary of the heavy expense of the war in India and fearing the loss of its American colonies, initiated peace negotiations and agreed in 1754 to the English demand for the recall of Dupleix from India. This was to prove a big blow to the fortunes of the French Company in India.
The temporary peace between the two Companies ended in 1756 when another war between England and France broke out. In the very beginning of the war, the English managed to gain control over Bengal. This has been discussed later in this chapter. After this event, there was little hope for the French cause in India.
The rich resources of Bengal turned the scales decisively in favour of the English. The decisive battle of the war was fought at Wandiwash on 22 January 1760 when the English general, Eyre Coot, defeated Lally. Within a year the French had lost all their possessions in India. The war ended in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
The French factories in India were restored but they could no longer be fortified or even adequately garrisoned with troops. They could serve only as centres of trade; and now the French lived in India under British protection. The English, on the other hand, ruled the Indian sea. Freed of all European rivals, they could now set about the task of conquering India.
During their struggle with the French and their Indian allies, the English learnt a few important and valuable lessons.
First, in the absence of nationalism in the country, they could advance their political schemes by taking advantage of the mutual quarrels of the Indian rulers.
Second, the Western trained infantry, European or Indian, armed with modern weapons and backed by artillery could defeat the old-style Indian armies with ease in pitched battles.
Third, it was proved that the Indian soldier trained and armed in the European manner made as good a soldier as the European.
And since the Indian soldier too lacked a feeling of nationalism, he could be hired and employed by anyone who was willing to pay him well. The English now set out to create a powerful army consisting of Indian soldiers, called sepoys, and officered by Englishmen.
With this army as its chief instrument and the vast resources-of Indian trade and territories under its command, the English East India Company embarked on an era of wars and territorial expansion.