The first French company that succeeded in establishing permanent trade relations with India was Compagnie des Indes chartered by Louis XIV the king and planned by Colbert, the minister, in 1664. Its first factory was founded at Surat (1668) by Coron, a Dutchman in the French Service and another was established at Masulipattinam in 1669. Francois Mortin founded Pondicherry, which became capital of French in India, in 1674. In Bengal, its first factory was set up at Chandranagar in 1690-92 on the bank of river Hughli. In 1725, they acquired Mahe (Malabar) and in 1739 Karikal (Coromandel).
The king gave the company a loan of 3,000,000 livres, free of interest. The French East India Company was given a monopoly for 25 years to trade from the Cape of Good Hope to India and the South Seas. The French got a firman from Aurangzeb, which granted them permission to do 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 were old rivals in Europe and wherever they saw each other, they tried to outdo each other in every field. The war between the two on Indian soil was unique as the two outsiders were fighting to establish their monopoly in trade and the Indian rulers—the Mughals, the subedar of Deccan and the Nawab of Carnatic — were mere spectators to this rivalry between them.
First Carnatic War (1746-1748)
The first Carnatic war was directly linked to the events in Europe. The English and French were fighting on the issue of Austria’s succession (1740-1748). Once the war broke in March 1740, the two companies in India started preparing for it. Joseph Dupleix, the French Governor-general in India since 1742, was the first to realise the necessity of obtaining political influence and territorial control, But he had to face many difficulties. The French East India Company was the Government’s company which was in trouble. Although the trade of the company had increased in recent past yet its expenditure was more than its income. Naturally, it fell into heavy indebtedness. If this was not enough the rivalry between two senior leaders—Joseph Dupleix and La Bourdonnais, worsened the situation for French. La Bourdonnais arrived near Pondichery in July 1746 with 10 vessels, 406 canons, 2,350 white soldiers and 700 black soldiers. He wanted to act with complete independence, while Governor-General Joseph 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. He was ‘guided’ by the English. In the battle of St. Thome (November 4, 1746) situated on the bank of 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 organised army of the French, led by capable officers, won the battle.
The English, on the other hand, besieged Pondichery from 6th September to 15th October 1748. But Joseph Dupleix made a strong defence and forced the English to retreat. This triumph of Joseph Dupleix made him a known and popular figure in the Indian courts. The war came to an end by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), under which Madras was given back to the English. The French got Quebec (Canada) in exchange for Madras. The English promised not to attack Pondicherry.
The first Carnatic war taught the lesson to the French that a small army of Europeans, aided by Indian troops and trained after the European fashion could easily defeat much larger Indian armies.
To secure political advantages, Joseph Dupleix started interfering in the internal matters of Hyderabad and Carnatic. Chin Qilich Khan Nizam-ul-Mulk, the founder of independent Hyderabad kingdom, died in 1748. Joseph Dupleix supported Muzaffar Jang, the grandson of Nizam instead of Nasir Jung, the son. The Nawab of Carnatic, Anwaruddin also died in 1749. Joseph Dupleix supported Chanda Sahib to the throne of the Carnatic as against Mohammad Ali, the illegitimate son of late Nawab. The English had no other option except to support Nasir Jung for Hyderabad and Mohammad Ali for Carnatic. Thus the war of succession in these two kingdoms fed to second Anglo-French War (1749-1754).
Second Carnatic War (1749-1754)
The war started at the time when the English and French had peace in Europe. This proved that the two were fighting in India for commercial supremacy and not merely because of their traditional rivalry.
On August 3, 1749, French soldiers with sepoys 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 find. 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 seize. The plan worked, Chanda Sahib had to withdraw his large army from Trichinopoly to lay seize to Arcot to recapture it. Robert Clive and his small army stood 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, the 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 Camorin which was the jagir of Valdavur. Though 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 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 Joseph Dupleix to France in 1754. The second Carnatic wars had ended with English acquiring dominance in Carnatic and French, a place in the Court of Nizam.
Third Carnatic War (1758-1763)
The Third Carnatic War (1758-1763) begun with the Seven Years’ War (1756- 1763) of Europe. This war was no longer confined to Carnatic. Robert Clive, the English governor of Fort St. David and Lieutenant Colonel, seized Chandan Nagar, the French settlement in Bengal in 1757. He was also responsible for the victory against Siraj-ud-daula, the Nawab of Bengal, in the battle of Plassey (June 23, 1757). Thus financially English East India Company was more secured.
But the most decisive battles of the war were fought in the Carnatic. The French appointed Count de Lally as the new governor of Pondichery. He besieged Fort St. David and captured on June 2, 1758; also captured Nagur and entered Tanjore. He then attacked Madras where he called Bussy to assist him. This was a blunder because Hyderabad was well under French control. Bussy himself was reluctant to come. The British forced Salabat Jung to cede 80 miles long and 20 miles wide territory to them. After their victory over Plassey, the English troops led by Col. Forde, captured Northern Sarkar (December 1758) and Masulipattinam (April 1759). But the most decisive battle was fought at Wandiwash (January 22, 1760) where Lally was defeated by English troops, led by Eyer Coote. Lally retreated to Pondicherry, which was besieged by the English and Lally was forced to surrender in 1761.
The Seven Years War ended in 1763 and a treaty was signed at Paris (February 10, 1763). Among other things, it was decided that Pondicherry would go to France along with five trading ports and various factories but merely as a trading centre without any fortification and armies.
Lally was accused of treason and executed when he returned to France. He was made a scapegoat. It is wrong to blame only Lally for French failure. Though some of his moves like calling Bussy from Hyderabad (1758)—were blunders the real reason for French failure lies in the structure of its company and the policies and attitude of the French Government.
The French East India Company was a state undertaking company whose directors were appointed by the crown. The lethargy and bureaucratic control of this company could be compared to the bureaucratic control of many public sector companies of post-Independent India. The English East India Company, on the other hand, was a private undertaking based on free enterprise and individual initiative. It earned profits from the Asian trade and did not depend on the state.
The French could never focus on India as their priority remained in Europe whereas England gave their full attention to the oceans and distant lands, especially India. The French failed to understand the complex political situation of India unlike the British. The French also failed to compete with the English in naval supremacy.
Thus, the third Carnatic war ended the French challenge in India and paved the way for the establishment of the British Empire in India.