Haider Ali and Tipu Sahib



Haider Ali Khan Padshah

Haider Ali Khan was a  devout muslim of Punjabi parentage and also a highly effective soldier in the Mysore army which was a small Sultanate in Southern India .  Due to his mastery of modern French artillery - which he had encountered from French deserters of the Hyderabad army - he was appointed its commander in chief.  In 1761 he overthrew the ineffectual Hindu Maharajah and became the Sultan of Mysore at the age of 39.

Haider Ali was one of the most dynamic rulers in history. He lived in a time when Christian Europe had  gained technical and scientific superiority over the Islamic world for the very first time around half a century earlier. Realizing this he quickly adapted his armaments, fighting techniques, economy and industry to meet the new British threat in India. He built up a highly disciplined standing army of over 80,000 troops which was trained along European lines and even drilled in English. He adopted  new flintlock muskets for his troops instead of the outdated and less effective matchlocks. French technicians were brought to his court and Haider was able to cast cannon of equal quality to any cast in Europe.

Early in his rule he noted how "The English first try to secure a footing in other territories by outward professions of friendship and then gradually they bring them under full sway". Other Indian rulers were not so perceptive. Haider Ali was also the most far sighted ruler of his age.


1st Mysore-British war (1767-1769)

The British were aware of recent Mysore conquests in Kerala and did not want the Carnatic plains falling under Mysore rule. At the same time the French backed Nizam of Hyderabad was usurped by his brother Nizam Ali who regarded Mysore as a tributary. The British army together with the new Nizam prepared an assault on Mysore. In the face of unprovoked and unashamed aggression on the part of the Nizam and the British the first Mysore war broke out in 1767.

With his well trained muslim army Haider Ali defeated the Nizams forces and convinced them to defect. He then drove the British army back down the carnatic and all the way back to their power base in Madras. His eldest son Tipu was just seventeen years old at the time and was eager to demonstrate his military skills. In his first  assignment he succeeded in capturing the strategically important forts of Tirapatar and Vaniyambani from the British army.

He was then ordered to go to the aid of the Mysore General Luft Ali Beg who was locked in battle against the British along the Malabar coast. Tipu defeated this British army, rescued Luft Ali Beg and captured the Mangalore fort allowing the British force to retreat in a panic towards Madras. He then raided through Madras followed by his father. The British army, exhausted, defeated and humiliated surrendered in 1769. Haider Ali dictated the terms of the peace. But he imposed no change in territory or indemnity from the British. However the peace terms did include a defensive alliance which promised unequivocal British help if Mysore was attacked by a third party.

British misrule in Bengal

Initially the British proved to be utterly incompetent rulers of Bengal. Profit came before good government. First they overtaxed the peasantry and then in 1770 did little as a quarter of the population of British administered Bengal starved to death. This was exactly at a time when Haider Ali's Mysore saw the beginnings of an industrial base and was prospering. The contrast was startling.

Mysore-Maharatha war (1769-1778)

The Maharathas, jealous of Haider Ali's prestige after having defeated the British, demonstrated their lack of forsight by going to war with him over disputed territory in northern Mysore and laying siege to Srirapatanam. Haider tried to invoke the defensive alliance but the British failed to honour their treaty. Haider asked for assistance repeatedly but to no avail. He damned the British as " the most faithless and usurping of all mankind". His army defeated and drove the Maharathas back themselves. Tipu again proved instrumental in defeating and recapturing territory from the Maharathas. There was an end to hostilities in 1772 although further battles continued until 1778. The Maharathas failed to achieve any of their military objectives.

Although the British knew this war was advantageous for their overall plans to divide and rule India they were unable to take advantage of this prolonged war which failed to weaken Haider Ali or Tipu Sultan. The latters reputations soared as the state of Mysore grew and prospered.

2nd Mysore-British war (1780-1784)

Haider Ali's powerful and efficient muslim army was now an obvious threat to British colonial ambitions. The British Governor General Warren Hastings became preoccupied with Anglo-Maharatha relations. Haider felt sufficiently threatened to launch a preemptive strike. The second Mysore war was fought on two fronts, the Carnatic and Malabar coast. It was twice as long as the first involving many more troops. In July 1780 Haider Ali invaded the Carnatic plains and devastated the British army.

Tipu was deputized to intercept a British force led by a Colonel Bailey who was attempting to join another detachment of British soldiers. These forces were utterly annihilated by Tipu at Pollilur. The entire British detachment was killed or captured. Colonel Baillie along with 3820 of his troops were taken prisoner. Only 16 of Baillies 86 European officers survived. Sir Hector Munroe, the British hero at the battle of Buxar, abandoning his artillery and baggage in the most unheroic manner  escaped with his life towards Madras.

In Dec 1781, Tipu met and defeated the British army at Chittur. On the 17th of Feb 1782 Tipu totally routed another British force led by a Colonel Braithwaite at Annugadi near Tanjore. Tipu took what was left of the entire detachment ( just under 2000 soldiers ) prisoner.

In Dec 1782 Haidar Ali, the farsighted warrior King breathed his last at Chittur. Tipu was terrorizing the British army at the siege of Ponnanni when he received the news. He had been a loyal and obedient son and was devastated. He arrived at Chittur on 26 Dec. Prince Fateh Ali Khan Padshah, more popularly referred to as Tipu Sultan or Tipu Sahib ascended the throne of Mysore at the age of 32, having already accumilated vast experience in war and diplomacy.

The new Sultan had to immediately contend with a British force under the command of a General Mathews along the Malabar coast. Luft Ali Beg was dispatched by Tipu to defend the port of Badnur. But he arrived too late. The Mysore governer of Badnur was bribed and surrendered the city to Matthews on 28th January 1783. In March the port was sacked by these same forces under Matthews. The British army set out to slaughter every man woman and child in the port. Tipu Sultan was greatly distressed by this atrocity committed against his helpless civilians. He raced to Badnur and defeated General Matthews cowardly forces. Matthews retreated to the Badnur fort which Tipu then laid under siege until the British were forced to capitulate. Tipu dictated the terms of their surrender.

On May 2 1783 Tipu arrived in Mangalore to meet another British army which he swiftly routed. The British retreated to the Mangalore fort which Tipu then seiged. Commander Campbell was then forced to surrender the fort to Tipu on 29 Jan 1784.

The Mysore army was much more maneuverable than the British army. This was crucial to its blitzkrieg cavalry assaults and general success. French support for Tipu had been negligible throughout the war. On the 11th March 1784 after a series of crushing defeats and humiliations at the hands of Tipu Sultans army, the British finally surrendered under the treaty of Mangalore.


British army atrocities

The British army's massacre of Badnur was not an isolated incident. Rape, murder and plunder was common in the aftermath of a British victory. Henry Oakes had been a prisoner of Tipu Sultan. Upon his release he published his memoirs and included an appendix by a Lieutenant John Charles Shean who had fought in India during the same period. Describing the victorious campaign to take the fort of Anantapur he mentions:

"Orders were issued for a storm and no quarter (no prisoners to be taken), which was immediately put into execution, and every man put to the sword.....A most dreadful sight then presented itself: above four hundred beautiful women either killed or wounded with the bayonet, expiring in one anothers arms, while the private soldiers were committing every kind of outrage, and plundering them of their jewels, the officers not being able to restrain them".

This account of mass rape and murder of over 400 Indian women at Anantapur was not a singular atrocity. Commanding officers of the British army gave frequent pathetic apologies for not being able to maintain discipline in the moment of victory. The rules of war to which the British adhered were not the same as the House of Haider. As we have seen after victory Tipu would take British prisoners, (4000 at Polillur, 2000 at Annugadi) .The British did not and would sooner slaughter captured Mysore soldiers.

Henry Oakes during his imprisonment was supposedly chained to a dungeon wall which was then flooded until he could only just lift his chin above the water. Only ten of the twenty four prisoners imprisoned with Oakes survived. When released they told of their alleged mistreatment at the hands of Tipu Sultan. This shocked the British establishment. But the British public were not informed of the mass rapes or the mass murders committed by the British army. Tipu would become a demon figure. The "black bogeyman" who might devour  mischievous British children who disobeyed their parents.

However, the publisher of Oakes and Sheans accounts rightly concluded that "His (Tipu's) conduct was evidently founded upon principles of retaliation: and candor must acknowledge that the conduct of the Company's (British) army goes a considerable way in justification of that of the enemy".

Tipu Sultan-The administrator

The British army had repeatedly been humiliated by The armies of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. It was in their interests to dwell on Tipu's alleged savagery. But their fear of Tipu was a tribute to the strong, modern state he and his father had established. Although Haider Ali received no formal education Tipu was very learned. He could speak Persian, Arabic, urdu aswell as Kannada- the local language of his peasants. He had received military training from the age of thirteen and was taught by Ghazi Khan, a highly regarded warrior.

Tipu's response to European technical superiority was to import as many French craftsmen as possible to build Mysores own industrial base. Soon his kingdom was manufacturing textiles, knives, paper, watches, needles, silks, muskets and cannon. He once returned an order of 500 French muskets on account of them being inferior to his own. He also began exporting timber after establishing a navy and merchant fleet. He had seeds imported from all around the world and experimented with various kinds of crop for export. Public works vastly improved irrigation and drainage which were vital for his fertile territories. Loans were given to agricultural peasants and tax collection was adjusted for their benefit.

Tipu's most ambitious project was to transform Mysore into an international trading enterprise rivaling Britain's East India company. With his new navy he wanted to establish a commercial presence in the west just as the French and British had established in the East. The British in India had become rich by acting as middle men in selling Indian peppers,sandalwood, textiles and cinnamon to Europe. Why, Tipu seemed to realize, should the British profit as middlemen when the Indians of Mysore should be able to profit more fully from their own produce by selling it directly to the west.

By 1785 Tipu had even established a factory and foreign settlement in Muskat and Oman.  He established embassies in Constantinople and Louis XVI's court in France.

Mysore-Maharatha, Hyderabad war (1785-1787)

At the Treaty of Bangalore the Maharathas were again denied Tipu's northern possessions.  So in 1785 the Maharathas  and the Nizam of Hyderabad combined their huge forces against Tipu. Incredibly the mighty muslim army of Mysore managed to resist both armies for two years. Even this war failed to weaken Tipu's forces or the prosperity of Mysore. However Tipu did cede Badami to the Maharathas when the war ended in 1787 in the hope that this would entice them and the Nizam to join him against the British. He would be disappointed.

3rd Mysore-British war (1790-92)

In 1790 the British, Maharathas, and the Nizam forged a powerful alliance against Mysore. Now only Tipu's muslim army  stood in the way of the British seizing India. The entire war was led and conducted by Lord Cornwallis who had surrendered to Washington at Yorktown. At first the British and their allies were easily outmanouvered despite Tipu being heavily outnumbered and outgunned. With extraordinary courage and valour the Mysore army resisted and exhausted this triple alliance, forcing a ceasefire in 1791. When the war resumed Tipu brought the war to the Carnatic but it was against overwhelming numbers. Cornwallis eventually gained the Deccan, stormed Bangalore and advanced on Srirangapatanam. A second detachment of British forces swept up from the Malabar coast, Cornwallis then joined the Maharatha and Nizams forces. But still Tipu's outstanding army held out for almost a year until Feb 6th 1792 when Tipu was forced to surrender.

The terms of the surrender were deliberately humiliating for Mysore. The British helped themselves to half of Tipu's kingdom, told him that he would have to pay three crores as indemnity and callously siezed Tipu's two young sons who were just ten and eight years old as hostages until the indemnity was paid.

4th Mysore-British war (1799)

The magnanomous sultan refused to be dispirited. Tipu was nothing if not an extraordinary administrator. Though constant warefare had drained the Mysore treasury Tipu soon reorganised his finances, economy and army. By the time of the fourth Mysore war the Sultanate had once again reached an envious level of prosperity. To the irritation of the British the indemnity was paid and the princes had to be returned.

Lord Wellesly was appointed the new governer general of the British Indian colonies. He arrived in the subcontinent on 17 Feb 1799 and immediately set about to destroy Tipu's modern  and independant Sultanate. From Madras Wellesly continued to correspond with the Maharathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad and crucially he initiated contact with some of the higher dignitaires of Mysore including Tipu's prime minister with a view  to betraying their own Sultan.  Tipu did try to make overtures to the Nizam and with some success. Initially the Nizam seemed sympathetic to Tipu's predicament and was able to recruit a contingent of around 14000 troops under Raymond, a French commander who was in support of Tipu.