The names of Mysore rulers Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan often crop up when someone speaks of India’s freedom movement. While there are some who say he was India’s earliest freedom fighter, others argue he fought only to safeguard his own kingdom (1). There is an argument that the concept and dream of an independent India were never conceived until 1857. That was the year when many Indians took up arms, particularly in the north, against East India Company. The British saw it as a mutiny of some disaffected soldiers. But many natives across the sub-continent call it the First War of Independence. They point to the fact that many Indians cut across the barriers of religion, and regions, and dreamed of a free India. But was that the first time someone dreamed of an India free of British? Let us look at some sources.
Haidar Ali’s grand plan to oust British from India in 1780
Many events in the decade of 1770 occurred in different parts of the world but were connected through European powers. Thirteen states of America declared independence from the British on 4th July 1776 (2). A couple of years later, Louis XVI, the French King, recognised America’s independence (3). Spain and the Netherlands also stood up to British (4). Around the same time, in India, Haidar Ali is said to have been planning a war against Britain. A war whose battlefields would stretch across Europe and India, involving an alliance of foreign powers of France, Persia, and Afghanistan (5).
There are many accounts of the history of Mysore Kingdom, particularly Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, by European historians or historians who have worked for Europeans. But among the handful of accounts by native sources written under the native rule on either of these two men, is the one by Nallapa. Known as Haidar Nama, it was published in 1784. Nallapa was an officer working for Haidar Ali and his work gives a unique account of events in Haidar Ali’s life, of which Tipu is an integral part. According to Nalappa, Haidar Ali once called a meeting of all his important men and proposed a grand plan to remove the British from India forever. Nallapa writes, “He told then that it was impossible to put down the British Power in India by defeating them in one place, for they had various places to draw upon- Madras, Bombay, Calcutta and above all England- and that it was not possible to put them down by any ordinary means. His idea was that in order to create trouble for the English in India the only effective method was to bring about a war between the English and the French in Europe, then to set upon the people of Iran and Kandahar against Calcutta and Bengal, then to set up the Mahrattas against Bombay, and finally, taking the help of the French, the Nawab himself to attack Madras. By thus instituting wars in all the places at the same time so as to make it impossible for the people of one place to help those of another, the enemy would be destroyed and the country would become his.” Haidar Ali apparently prepared to destroy the English after this writes the author.
Englishman Innes Moore wrote this, in 1789, about Haidar Ali’s plan to destroy British in India: “Meanwhile, he used every endeavour, and sacrificed many private advantages, to keep his countrymen united in the same sentiments. No longer an implacable enemy to the Marrattas, he courteously solicited their friendship and alliance; and sent circular letters, couched in the strongest terms, to those whom he thought most hostile to our interests; exhorting them at once to form a league (in which he engaged to lead the van) and fall unanimously upon all the English settlements from the Ganges to Cape Comorin. He represented to them that, by this conduct, they should not only be the means of emancipating themselves and their unhappy countrymen from a humiliating state of tyranny and oppression but have their names commemorated by all future ages as the glorious deliverers of their country” (6).
Accordingly, Haidar Ali invaded the British territories in the Carnatic region in July 1780. The Mysore Kingdom immediately scored many victories over the British. One of them was on September 10, 1780, when Tipu led a detachment of Mysorean Army to rout Col. Bailey’s troops. Many British writers concede that it was among the worst defeats suffered on a battlefield by that nation. In 1914, a hundred and thirty-four years later British writer FE Penny wrote this: “the defeat of the English under the unfortunate Colonel Baillie in 1780 by Haider Ali. Seven hundred Europeans and five thousand sepoys were killed or taken prisoner on that occasion, with guns and ammunition, tents, and stores. It was one of the worst disasters that ever happened to the British arms in India” (7).
Maistre de La Tour, a French, headed troops of Haidar Ali. He wrote a biography of Haidar Ali that mentioned events of his lifetime and the people associated with them. He describes an event in the second war where Haidar Ali asked for views of his council on whether to wait for French help before attacking the British at one point in time. According to the author, Tipu suggested and inspired everyone around him that the attack against the British should go ahead without awaiting French troops. The Frenchmen eulogised Tipu for his role in the victory at Pollilur with the following words. “It was this young prince who decided the battle that was attended with the deaths of the Colonels Baillie and Fletcher, by taking advantage of the disorder the English army was thrown into by the blowing up of their ammunition waggons, to fall on them with his cavalry. The total defeat of a detachment commanded by Colonel Brawlie is likewise an exploit of Tippou Saeb ; who having began, like Alexander, to gain battles at the age of eighteen, continues to march in the steps of that Grecian hero, whom he may one day resemble as well by the heroism of his adlions as by the multiplicity of his conquests” (8).
Eventually, the Nizam and later the Marathas backtracked and Haidar had to fight alone (9). Haidar Ali died on Dec. 7, 1782. Tipu continued the war. That year the Marathas and British ended their conflict by signing what is known as the Treaty of Salbai (10). In 1783, the French stopped supporting Tipu as they signed a peace treaty with the British. In 1784, Tipu lay siege to the port of Mangalore. The starving British soldiers inside resorted to eating frogs and crows. The British desperately sought peace. Tipu agreed, not after thoroughly humiliating the British peace emissaries (ibid., 6). And thus, ended the 2nd Anglo Mysore War which began as India’s first and the only alliance of native kingdoms aimed at eliminating the British from India.
1) ‘Tipu Sultan was a monarch, not freedom fighter: Karnataka HC’, Website of India Today, Accessed on Sep. 09, 2020 from this link https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/tipu-sultan-349938-2016-11-03.
2) Library of US Congress, accessed January 02, 2020, https://guides.loc.gov/declaration-of-independence.
3) Website of Château de Versailles, accessed August 15, 2020. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/key-dates/versailles-and-united-states-america-1778-1783.
4) US Department of State Archive, Timeline of U.S. Diplomatic History: 1775-83, accessed July 25, 2020 https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/ar/14313.htm.
5) Nallapa, ‘Haidar Nama’, 1784. Translated and reproduced by Krishna, M.H., Mysore Archaeological Report for 1930, 1934.
6) Munro, Innes., ‘A narrative of the military operations on the Coromandel Coast, against the combined force of the French, Dutch, and Hyder Ally Cawn, from the year 1780 to the peace in 1784; in a series of letters.’, London, 1789.
7) Penny, F.E., ‘Southern India’, 1914.
8) Tour, Maistre de La., ‘The History of Ayder Ali Khan, Nabob-Bahadur or New Memoirs concerning the East Indies with historical notes’, 1784.
9) Ahmed, Nazeer., ‘Tipu Sultan – History of Islam, An Encyclopedia of History of Islam’, accessed 9th September 2020 https://historyofislam.com/tippu-sultan/.
10) Chalmers, George., ‘A collection of treaties between Great Britain and other powers’, 1790.
This article first appeared on the writer’s blog The Told and Untold History of Mysuru Kingdom.