By Prof. B. Shaik Ali
The central theme of Tipu Sultan’s external policy was that a new political development had taken place in India, which had completely upset the traditional balance of power in the land, and that unless that balance was restored, the national identity would be lost. He was the solitary figure of the 18th century who realized the true intentions of the British to reduce the Indian rulers the position of a pensioned Nawabs or Rajas. He attempted first to secure the support of his Indian neighbours, the Marathas and the Nizam. When he failed to secure the necessary response, he turned his attention to such foreign powers as France, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. The main intentions of his foreign policy were two : to gain military and political assistance from abroad so as to eliminate the British from India; and to establish economic contacts so as to promote the well-being of his people at home.
SRIRANAGAPATNA : "The bridge across river Cauvery that
remained testomony to the role of Tipu Sultan"
His external relations aimed at seeking support of the foreign power for a concerted action against the English, whose commercial company had become the most dominating political authority in India. His embassies to distant places like Paris and Constantinople, his numerous letters to France and Turkey, his invitation to Zaman Shah of Afghanistan to rescue the Mughals from English hands, and his correspondence with Napoleon, were all focused on the single point of his confrontation with the English. Even if such contacts did not bear good political results, he would at least have the satisfaction of promoting the trade and commerce of his country. Mysore, situated as it was with good harbours, produced such valuable commercial commodities as pepper, cardamom, sandalwood, ivory, silk, tobacco and elephants which were in great demand outside. Tipu developed commercial relations with a number of foreign countries such as the Ottoman Empire, China, Muscat, Pegu, Armenia, Jeddah, Ormuz and Basra. But more important than these commercial contacts were the political objectives.
Relations with Turkey
Turkey in the 18th century was still a force to reckon with. She had resisted Russian expansion and held vast territories in eastern Europe. Tipu viewed the expansion of the British as a threat to the entire Islamic World and called the English “the enemies of the faith”. He desired the Turkish Sultan to lead a crusade against the Europeans. For this purpose Tipu sent an embassador to Constantinople in 1784 under Usman Khan. The response of his mission being favourable, he maintained an enlarged embassy of four persons in 1785. The purpose was to conclude a political and military treaty against the English. In his letter to Sultan Abdul Hameed, Tipu wrote about the excesses the British had committed in India and sought military support. The fourth article of the proposed treaty spoke of military cooperation between Mysore and Turkey. This treaty has five clauses, one of which referred to trade facilities in Basra in exchange for similar facilities in Mysore. Yet another clause stipulated that Turkey was to spare as many technicians as possible to assist Tipu in gun and cannon-making. Tipu said that the neglect of commerce and industry was the main cause of the decline in the east.
The envoys were treated with great courtesy in constantinople, but the main issue of the treaty was evaded. Sultan Abdul Hameed said that the Russians had set their eyes on the Ottoman Empire, and he was engaged in resisting their menace. The British had shrewdly exploited this weakness of Turkey to keep it on their side, and the Turks would not alienate the English at a time when Russia was at their door. The ambassadors returned to India empty-handed.
Relations with France
It was with France that Tipu had the closest relations, he was very hopeful of their support, for their historic role in the American war of Independence had removed the English from their thirteen rich colonies in the new world. Moreover, Tipu was aware of the fact that the British were building up their empire in India by making one prince fight against the other. This aspect of the western technique of divide and rule had an echo in Tipu in his efforts to woo the French, who were the traditional rivals of the English. The Anglo-French animosity went back to the days of Crecy and Agincourt and it lasted all through the centuries until the first World War of 1914. Thus the bitter opposition to the British was one common cause between the French and Tipu, who regarded them as his natural allies. Just as the English were making the Indians fight against the Indians, Tipu too would make the Europeans fight against the Europeans. There were certain definite advantages in such a policy, for the Indians would get a respite, both western powers would get exhausted; both would seek Indian support; and in the confusion either of the two European powers would be eliminated. If the English were to be eliminated, it would be good for India, for greater danger seemed to lurk from them. Tipu was also aware that in the struggle for supremacy the Dutch had eliminated the Portuguese, and the English had eliminated the Dutch from India, but the French and the English were still present. The French were not as weak as the Portuguese or the Dutch, and their support had proved decisive in the new world. The constant presence of a French regiment in his army, their influence at his court, their consistent support to Mysore since Haider’s days, and the frequent visit of Franch adventurers to his capital, raised Tipu’s hopes that the drama of American war of Independence could be repeated in India.
The French in India had disappointed Tipu in his expectation of close co-operation. Therefore, he thought of approaching their superiors in Paris. The French adventurers at Tipu’s court encouraged him to hope for effective aid, if he were to send an embassy to the court of Louis XVI. Therefore, three ambassadors with 45 men sailed for Europe from Pondicherry in July 1787 to conclude an offensive alliance against the English. Tipu asked for 10,000 troops to serve under his direct command. The first article of the proposed treaty stated that war was to be declared against the English, and was to be fought until the capture of Madras, Bombay and Bengal. The south was to be subjugated first, and then the north. The envoys reached Joulon in June 1988. The French king had sent his own carpets to receive them.
But the main purpose of the mission remained unfulfilled. Louis XVI received them on 3rd August 1788 and professed great friendship for Tipu, but evaded the main issue of an alliance, as France was on the eve of its great revolution. The ministry had changed and in the place of Marechal de Castries, who was Tipu’s friend, Comte de La Luzerene, had succeeded who was not for any bold policy. Far from sending more troops to India, he had withdrawn those that were in India to be stationed in the isle of France. The embassy left Paris in October 1788 and reached Pondicherry in May 1789. Louis XVI sent his own representative, Macnemera to pay a courtesy call to Tipu. A few technicians too came from France to help Tipu’s industrial programme.
Despite this failure, Tipu was constantly in touch with the French drilling into their ears that there was yet a golden chance for them to revive their influence in India provided they took a firm decision, and stood solidly behind him. But all his pleadings were ineffective until Napoleon came to power. He realised that Tipu could be an effective instrument in forcing the English out of India. He wrote to Tipu from Egypt in 1798 to wait until his arrival in India for a major revolution that might liberate the Indians from the English yoke. Napolean assured Tipu that he would surely assist him to make his dream come true. But meanwhile other factors conspired to defeat the whole scheme. Napoleon himself was defeated at Accre in Syria which forced him to escape to France steathily. But Tipu did not leave any stone unturned to serve the cause of his country. He had come so close to French revolutionary ideas as to declare himself as “Citizen Tipu”, start a Jacobin Club at his court, and plant a ‘Republican’ tree outside his palace. In history it is not always success that deserves notice but the presence of a new idea which has the potentiality of far-reaching results. His dream of a “Republic” came true about 150 years later when India ushered itself into a new era on 26th January 1950.
Relations with Afghanistan
Tipu contacted Zaman Shah, the ruler of Afghanistan who ascended the throne in 1792. He was the grandson of Ahmed Shah Abdali, and like him a man of great military reputation. Even before the accession of Zaman Shah Tipu had negotiated with Kabul to secure assistance. He had written in 1790-91 to Timur Shah, the father of Zaman Shah, and to the ministers of the court seeking military aid. In 1796 two ambassadors were sent to Kabul to induce the Shah to undertake his meditated attack on Delhi to rescue the Mughal emperor, and form an alliance with Tipu against the English. The Shah responded favourably to Tipu’s request, and said that he would very soon carry out his intention of liberating the Mughal emperor from the English hands.
Accordingly, Zaman Shah moved towards India in December 1798 and came as far as Lahore, when in January 1799 he was compelled to beat a hasty retreat to Kabul, because the English meanwhile had engineered a rearguard action on his western frontier by inducing the Persians to seize the opportunity of his absence to attack Afghanistan. Wellesley had despatched Shia from Moradabad to Iran who had excited Shia-Sunni differences, and had thus successfully warded off the impending danger. Otherwise, as Wellesley put it, “... the glare of victory, the influence of religion and the allurement of plunder will draw to his standard numbers probably greater than have appeared united in one cause since the days of Aurangzeb.” Here too Tipu was frustrated in his efforts to organise a grand confederacy against the English.
Relations with Iran
Iran was yet another country with which Tipu had contacts. In 1797 the Prince of Iran having quarrelled with his father arrived at Srirangapatna, was received with dignity and honour. Tipu lodged him in the suburbs of Sanjam, visited him frequently, and said at the time of his departure, “After you have made arrangements regarding the capital of the Sultanate of Persia, it is my wish that you and I in concert with Zaman Shah endeavour to regulate and put in order the countries of Hindustan and Dekhan.” The Prince agreed to the proposal and promised to co-operate.
Tipu was more anxious to build commercial relations with Iran, knowing well its military weakness. He desired to revive the old trade routes via Iran to Europe, and to establish commercial centres in Iran in return for similar facilities to the Persians in Mysore. He wrote a letter to this effect to the Shah of Iran, and also sent an agent, Nurullah to impress on the Shah the importance of political and commercial contacts. Here also the British defeated Tipu’s designs by promoting Shia-Sunni differences.
Thus Tipu’s efforts to build international contacts for his political and military designs failed because of the superior diplomacy of the British, and also because of the unknown cause such as the out-break of French Revolution. Neither the French, nor the Turks nor the Afghans were in a position to help him. A series of circumstances caused serious impediments in his way, while step by step they paved the way for British ascendency in India.