The Carnatic Wars: A Turning Point in Indian History

The first French company to successfully establish permanent trade relations with India was Compagnie des Indes, chartered by King Louis XIV and planned by Colbert, the minister, in 1664. Its initial factory was founded at Surat in 1668 by Coron, a Dutchman in the French Service, and another was established at Masulipattinam in 1669. Francois Mortin founded Pondicherry, which became the capital of French India, in 1674. In Bengal, its first factory was set up at Chandranagar in 1690-92 on the bank of the River Hughli. In 1725, they acquired Mahe (Malabar), and in 1739, Karikal (Coromandel).

The king provided the company with a loan of 3,000,000 livres, free of interest. The French East India Company was granted a monopoly for twenty-five years to trade from the Cape of Good Hope to India and the South Seas.

The French obtained a firman from Aurangzeb, granting them permission to trade on the coast of Gujarat.

The Carnatic Wars were fought between the English East India Company and the French East India Company from 1746 to 1763. The English and French, being old rivals in Europe, sought to outdo each other wherever they crossed paths. The war on Indian soil was unique as these two outsiders fought to establish their trade monopoly, with the Indian rulers—the Mughals, the subedar of Deccan, and the Nawab of Carnatic—playing the role of mere spectators in this rivalry.

The First Carnatic War (1746-48)

The first Carnatic War was directly linked to events in Europe. The English and French were fighting over the issue of Austria's succession (1740-48). Once the war broke out in March 1740, the two companies in India started preparing for it. Dupleix, the French Governor-General in India since 1742, was the first to realize the necessity of obtaining political influence and territorial control. However, he faced many difficulties. The French East India Company, being the government's company, was in trouble. Although the company's trade had increased recently, its expenditure exceeded its income, leading to heavy indebtedness. To worsen matters, the rivalry between two senior leaders—Dupleix and La Bourdonnais—further strained the situation for the French. La Bourdonnais arrived near Pondichery in July 1746 with 10 vessels, 406 cannons, 2,350 white soldiers, and 700 black soldiers. He wanted to act independently, while Governor-General Dupleix considered himself superior.

On September 21, 1746, the French troops, led by La Bourbonnais, captured Madras, an important English trading centre since the mid-17th century. Anwar-ud-din, the Nawab of Carnatic, sent a large Indian army to drive the French out of Madras, guided by the English. In the Battle of St. Thonie (November 4, 1746), situated on the bank of the Adyar River, Mahfuz Khan, son of Anwaruddin, was defeated by French Captain Paradis. He had less than a thousand soldiers and had to fight 10,000 men, but the disciplined and organized French army, led by capable officers, won the battle.

On the other hand, the English besieged Pondichery from September 6 to October 15, 1748. Dupleix made a strong defense, forcing the English to retreat. This triumph made Dupleix a known and popular figure in the Indian courts. The war ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), under which Madras was given back to the English. The French received Quebec (Canada) in exchange for Madras, and the English promised not to attack Pondicherry.

The first Carnatic War taught the French the lesson that a small army of Europeans, aided by Indian troops and trained in the European fashion, could easily defeat much larger Indian armies.

To secure political advantages, Dupleix started interfering in the internal matters of Hyderabad and Carnatic. Chin Qilich Khan Nizam-ul-Mulk, the founder of the independent Hyderabad kingdom, died in 1748. Dupleix supported Muzaffar Jang, the grandson of Nizam, instead of Nasir Jung, the son. The Nawab of Carnatic, Anwaruddin, also died in 1749. Dupleix supported Chanda Sahib for the throne of the Carnatic against Mohammad Ali, the illegitimate son of the late Nawab. The English had no other option but to support Nasir Jung for Hyderabad and Mohammad Ali for Carnatic. Thus, the war of succession in these two kingdoms led to the second Anglo-French War (1749-54).

The Second Carnatic War (1749-54)

The war began at a time when the English and French were at peace in Europe, proving that their conflict in India was for commercial supremacy and not merely due to their traditional rivalry.

On August 3, 1749, French soldiers with sepoys (from 'Sipahi' of Persian) attacked Arcot in Ambur, the capital of Carnatic. Anwaruddin was killed, and his elder son, Mahfuz Khan, was captured, but his younger son Mohammad Ali Khan Wallajah fled. He took shelter at Trichinopoly, proclaimed himself the Nawab of Arcot, and received support from the English. Chanda Sahib and the French officer, Jacques Law, seized Trichinopoly. At this critical juncture, a young English officer, Robert Clive, seized Arcot, the capital of Chanda Sahib, on September 11, 1751, with only 200 European soldiers and 300 sepoys. The purpose was to free Trichinopoly from Chanda Sahib's siege. The plan worked; Chanda Sahib had to withdraw his large army from Trichinopoly to lay siege to Arcot to recapture it. Clive and his small army withstood the siege for 50 days. Chanda Sahib had to withdraw; later, the English defeated him and his Indian allies at several places; he surrendered and was finally executed. The French gave up their entire claim over Carnatic.

However, French supremacy over Hyderabad continued. Muzaffar Jung was installed as the Nizam and Subedar of the Deccan. In return, the French got command of a vast area from Krishna to Cape Comorin, which was the jagir of Valdavur. Although Muzaffar Jung was killed in 1751, his successor Salabat Jung continued his friendship with the French. Bussy, the French officer at Hyderabad, even succeeded in obtaining a firman from the Mughal emperor Ahmad Shah, confirming Salabat as the ruler of the Deccan.

The failure of the French in Carnatic was a great setback. The French Government, which was always in trouble, could not bear this defeat. So, it recalled Dupleix to France in 1754. The second Carnatic War ended with the English acquiring dominance in Carnatic and the French securing a place in the Court of Nizam.

The Third Carnatic War (1758-63)

The Third Carnatic War (1758-63) commenced with the Seven Years' War (1756-63) in Europe. Unlike its predecessors, this conflict extended beyond the Carnatic region. Robert Clive, the English governor of Fort St. David and Lieutenant Colonel, seized Chandannagar, the French settlement in Bengal, in 1757. He also secured a significant victory against Siraj-ud-daula, the Nawab of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey (June 23, 1757), ensuring the financial stability of the English East India Company.

However, the most decisive battles of the war unfolded in the Carnatic. The French appointed Count de Lally as the new governor of Pondicherry. He besieged Fort St. David and captured it on June 2, 1758, along with Nagur and Tanjore. Lally's call for assistance from Bussy, who was in control of Hyderabad, proved to be a blunder. Reluctantly, Bussy joined, and the British forced Salabat Jung to cede territory. After the victory at Plassey, English troops led by Col. Forde captured Northern Sarkar (December 1758) and Masulipattinam (April 1759). The most decisive battle occurred at Wandiwash (January 22, 1760), where Lally was defeated by English troops led by Eyre Coote. Lally retreated to Pondicherry, besieged by the English, ultimately surrendering in 1761.

The Seven Years' War concluded in 1763, and a treaty was signed in Paris (February 10, 1763). Among other provisions, Pondicherry would go to France, along with five trading ports and various factories, but solely as a trading centre without fortifications and armies.

Upon returning to France, Lally was accused of treason and executed, becoming a scapegoat. However, blaming Lally alone for the French failure is inaccurate. While some of his decisions, like calling Bussy from Hyderabad (1758), were blunders, the root cause of French failure lies in the structure of its company and the policies of the French Government.

The French East India Company operated as a state undertaking company with directors appointed by the crown, exhibiting lethargy and bureaucratic control. In contrast, the English East India Company was a private undertaking driven by free enterprise and individual initiative. It earned profits from Asian trade, independent of state support.

The French struggled to prioritize India, as their focus remained on Europe, while England dedicated full attention to distant lands, especially India. The French failed to comprehend the intricate political landscape of India, unlike the British. Additionally, they couldn't compete with the English in naval supremacy.

In conclusion, the third Carnatic War marked the end of the French challenge in India, paving the way for the establishment of the British Empire in the region.

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