The Carnatic Wars were fought between the English and the French on the Indian soil for supremacy. These wars were fought to decide the rivalry between the English and the French and were directly connected with their rivalry in Europe.
These were really part of the great Anglo-French wars of the eighteenth century and are called the Carnatic wars because the theatre of these wars in India lay mainly in the Carnatic.
Dupleix raised an army: It was Joseph Francis Dupleix, Governor of Pondicherry, who made the first attempt to set up a colonial empire in India. In 1740, he began to train detachments of Indian soldiers under the command of the French officers. This was how the first Sepoy detachments came into existence. These Indian soldiers trained by the French officers fought so well in the First Carnatic War that the British also began forming Indian detachments.
The First Carnatic War (1746-48)
The War of the Austrian Succession broke out in Europe in 1740. In this war Britain and France joined opposite camps. As a result the English and the French Companies also became engulfed in the war. Thus the First Carnatic War was started.
At first a British fleet under Barnett captured some French ships and even endangered Pondicherry. Dupleix, the Governor General of French, then sent an appeal to La Bourdonnais, governor of Mauritius, to assist him with his fleet. With the help of this fleet Dupleix captured Madras. But soon differences flared up between Dupleix and Bourdonnais. La Bourdonnais went back with his fleet. The English then made a naval attack on Pondicherry but was repulsed with heavy loss.
Anwaruddin, the Nawab of Carnatic, did not like these hostilities in his kingdom. The English appealed to him to come to their rescue. Responding to their request the Nawab asked the French to quit Madras. Dupleix at first tried to appease him by saying that he would hand over Madras to the Nawab at an appropriate time. But the Nawab was not satisfied with this vague reply. He sent a large army to fight against the French. But to the surprise of all, a handful of French army and some properly trained Indian soldiers routed Anwaruddin’s vast army at Mylapore near St. Thomas in 1746. This exposed the military weakness of the Indian rulers. It also revealed the helplessness of an Indian army against a small body of properly trained European soldiers. Dupleix realized that a small but efficiently trained army might play a decisive role in the rivalries among the local princes. This would also ensure French influence in the courts of the Indian princes.
In the meantime the War of Austrian succession came to an end by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) on the basis of mutual restitution of conquests. Madras was restored to the English and the territory the English and the French positions remained unaltered.
But the First Carnatic War had far reaching consequences. The First Carnatic War totally changed the character of the commercial companies.
The Second Carnatic War (1749-54)
After the First Carnatic War, Dupleix fully understood the weakness of the Indian princes. Henceforth he began to look for opportunities to extend French influence by calculated interference in the internal quarrels of the Indian states.
Tripartite Understanding: Dupleix soon got his opportunity. He was able to interfere in the wars of succession that started after the death ofAsaf Jah (1748), the late Nizam of Hyderabad. He also supported the claim of Chanda Sahib, son-in-law of the late Nawab Dost Ali in the Carnatic war. In the war at Hyderabad, Dupleix pledged French support to late Nizam’s grandson Muzaffar Zang for the throne of Hyderabad. He also pledged to support Chanda Sahib for the throne of the Carnatic. Thus, a tripartite understanding was developed among the French, Muzaffar Zang and Chanda Sahib.
In order to curb the extension of French influence the English Company supported the cause of the rival candidate Nasir Zang for the throne of the Nizam and that of Muhammad Ali, after the death of Anwaruddin in the Battle of Ambur in 1749, for the Nawabship of the Carnatic. Thus began the second phase of the Anglo French War which is known as the Second Carnatic War.
It was an unofficial war fought between the European countries in India, while there was peace between them at Europe. The group led by the French defeated and killed Anwaruddin in the Battle of Ambur. His son Muhammad Ali fled to Trichinopoly and took refuge there under the protection of the English troops. Chanda Sahib was made Nawab of the Calmat. The French and their allies then marched to the Deccan. Nasir Zang was surprised by the French army and was killed. The French protege Muzaffar Zang was installed as the Nizam of Hyderabad. Dupleix’s dream of an empire seemed likely to be realized. After a short while Muzaffar Zang was killed in a skirmish. The French general Bushy then quickly placed his nominee Salabat Zang on the throne and thus maintained French influence in the Deccan. Bushy controlled the political fortunes of the state for seven years. For the military support given to the Nizam, the French were given four rich districts on the Coromandel coast known as the Northern Sircar.
The British realized that the situation implied a serious threat to their Position in Southern India. The French had already acquired influence over the Nizam. But the powerful fortress of Trichinopoly was still in the hands of Muhammad Ali, a protege of the British. They then put their entire strength behind Muhammad Ali who had been besieged in Trichinapoly by Chanda Sahib and the French. At this crucial juncture there appeared a man on the scene endowed with a daring genius and power of original conception whose intelligence arid bravery saved the fortunes of the English. His name was Clive and he was a young clerk of the Company. He suggested an attack upon Arcot as a diversionary tactics. His plan was approved and Clive made a bold dash for Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic, with a little band of soldiers and occupied it. This had the desired effect. The fall of his capital alarmed Chanda Sahib. He sent a large portion of his army from Trichinapoly to recapture Arcot. But Clive maintained a gallant defense for fifty three days. In the meantime he was reinforced by troops from Madras and some Indian allies. Clive then came out of the besieged town, attacked and defeated Chand Sahib at several important battles including one fought at Kaveripak. Chanda Sahib was captured and executed. Mohammad Ali then became the undisputed Nawab of the Carnatic. Dupleix’s high hopes were thus dashed to the ground.
Both the British and the French governments disapproved the policy of their companies fighting in India while the two nations were officially at peace. The French government recalled Dupleix and sent Godehu in his place. Godehu then signed the Treaty of Pondicherry in 1755 with the English. By this treaty both the nations agreed not to interfere in the quarrels of the Indian princes. After this treaty though the French were able to maintain their hold over Hyderabad for some time, they lost much of the prestige they had gained before. The British control over the Carnatic was also established.
The Third Carnatic War (1757-1763 AD.)
The seven Year’s War broke out in Europe in 1756 A.D. In this War England and France joined opposite camps. Its repercussion was immediately felt in India. The two Companies renewed their hostility. Thus began the Third Carnatic War. This time the war passed beyond the limits of the Carnatic and reached Bengal as well, where the English captured the French possession of Chandernagore in 1757. But as the most decisive battles of the wars were fought in the Carnatic, it is rightly called as the Third Carnatic War.
This time the French Government made a determined effort to oust the English from India. For this purpose the French sent a strong contingent of force headed by Count-de-Lally.
Lally started his work vigorously. He attacked Fort St. David and captured it and other small English possessions in this region. He then made an attack on Madras. This attack ended in failure and the French troop became demoralized. At this critical juncture Lally committed another great blunder by recalling Bushy from the Nizam’s court and the French influence at Hyderabad at once collapsed. An English army under Colonel Forde sent from Bengal occupied the Northern Circar, so long held by the French. The Nizam, Salabat Jang, switched over to the English and ceded the Northern Circar to them. The battle still continued but Lally was eventually defeated decisively at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760. He retreated to Pondicherry which was besieged by the English. Lally defended it gallantly for some time but was starved into submission in 1761. The fall of Pondicherry sounded the death knell of French dominions in India.
The Third Carnatic War ended officially in 1763 with the conclusion of the Peace of Paris. Pondicherry and other French possessions in India were restored to France. But these could be held only as mere trading centers without any fortifications and armies. Thus the French dream of building an empire in India was shattered. It cleared the way for the establishment of the British Empire in India unhampered by any European rival.
Reaction of the Rulers of the Carnatic: At first the Nawabs of the Carnatic did not like the Anglo-French conflicts within their kingdom. They tried to chastise the offenders. But soon they realized that militarily they were no match for the foreigners. They accepted the position of this inferiority. Subsequently, during their rivalries for the power, they did not hesitate to seek the assistance of either the French or the English. By the end of the Third Carnatic War, the Nawab of the Carnatic practically became a client of the East India Company.
Causes of French failure
- A principal factor for French failure was the superiority of the British naval power. This enabled the English to bring soldiers from Europe and to send supplies from Bengal. But the French were unable to replenish their resources from outside.
- Secondly, the English East India Company was a private company and it showed greater enterprise in business. But the French Company was dependent on the government and lacked the spirit of bold, individual and corporate effort. Neither the French government nor the share holders who were assured of a fixed dividend took any active interest in the fortunes of the Company.
- Thirdly, the British had three important bases in India – Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. If any of these bases were imperiled by the French, the English could still get resources from other centers and could continue war from the other bases. On the other hand, the French had only one strong base at Pondicherry. If Pondicherry was endangered, it could not get any effective support from their other bases in India.
- Fourthly, the British Company was lucky to have many capable men like Clive, Lawrence, and Eyre Coote etc. in its service. On the other hand, besides Dupleix, the French Company had no really able man to serve it.
- Fifthly, the victory at Plassey gave the English Company large resources of a rich area.