The brilliant career of Haider, his rapid rise from obscurity to the full lime-light of history greatly alarmed the British who found in him an antagonist more powerful and substantial than any other. They hitherto, came across in their long history of the establishment of ascendancy in the Indian soil. Hardly had their war with the French East Indian Company terminated, when they were forced to contend with this native power who till recently remained behind the curtain.
The Mysoreans under Haider Ali and his son and successor Tipu Sultan came into a keen contest with the British, who had by now established their supremacy over a large part of India by dislodging one by one their rivals and enemies from the field; the Mysore Sultans offered formidable resistance and to weed out them, it took more than three decades for the British.
Though the enterprise of the Mysore Sultans proved to be a total failure, the vignettes of the struggle yet remain a significant chapter in the history of India as they remind one of the earliest and most vigorous attempts made by an Indian power to exterminate the British power in India. But the tragedy is that instead of eliminating the British, the Mysore wars contributed to strengthen the foundation of British power.
The strained relations between the English and the Mysoreans began soon after the contest occurred for the Nawabship of the Carnatic between Muhammad Ali and Chanda Saheb. Chanda Saheb was supported by the French and Muhammad Ali, apprehending rebuff at the hands of his rival approached Nanjaraj, the Commander-in-Chief of Mysore for assistance, promising to cede Trichinopoly and its dependencies to him. The alluring promise made Nanjaraj proceed to Trichinopoly and from February to December 1752, the Mysore forces, in league with the English, fought against Chanda Saheb and his ally.
But when Chanda Saheb was killed and his position became secure, Muhammad Ali refused to give Trichinopoly and ceded only the island of Srirangam. Resenting this breach of agreement, Nanjaraj tried to capture Trichinopoly from Muhammad Ali and the English by allying himself with the French but unfortunately this attempt also proved futile and he was forced to return to Mysore.
In 1761 Haider became the ruler of Mysore by deposing its Hindu king. The growing friendship between the French and Haider caused alarm and anxiety in the Madras (now Chennai) Government. They, therefore, looked with suspicion every movement of both, for them, friends of the French were their own enemies. As James Mill wrote the very existence of a Frenchman was a cause of alarm to the English.
Another cause of friction between the English and Mysore lay in Haider’s policy of rendering assistance to the opponents of the English. Mahfuz Khan, the elder brother and staunch enemy of Muhammad Ali was sheltered by Haider; he also supported Raja Saheb, the son of Chanda Saheb and rival of the English candidate, Muhammand Ali.
The British counteracted by garrisoning their forces at Vellore, a constant source irritation to Haider. Haider’s invasion of Malabar in 1766 made the English more apprehensive of the designs of Mysore. Not only the English, but the local chieftains around who were engaged in similar conquests, also got alarmed by this move of Haider. The Bombay (now Mumbai) Government too was greatly perturbed by the report of these attacks on Malabar; but Haider conveniently handled the affair.
Before the hostility between the two powers was transformed into an open rupture, Haider tried to effect an alliance with the English which would serve as a means for securing his end. He made several overtures; once he proposed to the Bombay (now Mumbai) Government an offensive alliance of three powers-the Company, the Nizam and himself against the Marathas. But the English paid little attention to Haider’s offers, though they adopted a policy of peace towards him.
The English Government at Bombay (Mumbai) was more inclined towards friendship with Haider but the Madras Government was lukewarm. The British alliance with Muhammad Ali and the frequent border disputes between Mysore and the governments of Madras (now Chennai) and Bombay (now Mumbai) further estranged the relations between Haider and the English. The British were moreover incensed by a rumour that Haider was trying an alliance with Nizam Ali; them in order to isolate Mysore, in turn attempted and succeeded in bringing Nizam Ali to their side.
The Madras (now Chennai) Government agreed to assist the Nizam against Haider and the Nizam in turn granted the Northern Sarkars to the English. Peshwa Madhav Rao, already a friend and ally of the Nizam, who was at the time engaged in plundering some of the territories of Mysore, was also brought in. Thus the Triple Alliance of the British, the Nizam and the Marathas was formed against Haider.
The news of the alliance was a surprise to Haider; in vain he tried to conciliate the Madras Government. He planned concerted attack on the English by isolating them from their allies and successfully detached Nizam Ali who was not at all reconciled to the loss of the Northern Sarkars and Guntur and concluded separate treaty with Madhav Rao, who too withdrew from the coalition.
Thus deserted by the faithless allies, the British were left alone in the field to face the terrible consequences of Haider’s wrath. On the other hand Haider’s strength got amplified when the Nizam joined him to mount a united attack on the territories of the Nawab of Arcot.