How to Destroy the British Power in India: Hyder Ali's Views

Colonel Marks Wilks documented in his History of Mysore that in December 1781, Hyder Ali (r: 1761-1782) expressed regret for his past battles with the British, based on a statement from Purnaiya. "It was about this period that Hyder being much indisposed, left entirely alone with his minister Purnaiya; he addressed to him in the following words," Wilks notes.

"I have committed a great error, I have purchased a draught of Seandee at the price of a lac of pagodas. I shall pay dearly for my arrogance. Between me and the English there were perhaps mutual grounds of dissatisfaction but no sufficient cause for war and I might have made them my friends in spite of Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah, the most treacherous of men. The defeat of many Baillies and Braithwaites will not destroy them. I can ruin their resources by land, but I can not dry up the sea and I must be first weary of a war in which I can gain nothing by fighting. I ought to have reflected that no man of commonsense will trust a Maratha and that they themselves do not expect to be trusted. I have been amused by idle expectations of a French force from Europe, but supposing it to arrive and to be successful here, I must go alone against the Marathas and incur the reproach of the French for distrusting them; for I dare not admit them in force to Mysore."


It is worth exploring the opinions of Indian historians on this matter to gain a more comprehensive understanding.

D. S. Achuta Rau has raised doubts about the accuracy of Wilks' portrayal of Hyder Ali as a defeatist. Rau believes that this depiction is a later invention and a hearsay that was recorded more than 25 years after the events in question.

According to Mohibbul Hasan, these rumours were created to show that even a powerful ruler like Hyder was ultimately compelled to acknowledge the indomitable power of the British.

N.K. Sinha argues that a statesman would not express regret in such a manner if he truly believed that his policies were misguided.

Hyder Ali had the chance to end the war in December 1781, if he truly held the attitude that is attributed to him. Even after December 1781, Hyder continued to wage war against the British. In his final battle against Sir Eyre Coote at Arni, Hyder Ali emerged victorious and his demands were well-known. Unfortunately, Hyder passed away in December 1782.

There is another account that suggests Hyder Ali, in his final message to Tipu Sultan, urged him to seek peace with the British. This story was found in a letter written by Srinivasa Rao, the Vakil of Sir Eyre Coote, to Thomas Graham, the Persian Interpreter of Sir Eyre Coote, on January 18, 1783. As per the tale, when Tipu was carrying out the last rites of his father, he noticed a scrap of paper tucked in the corner of his turban, which had the following words on it: "I have gained nothing by the war with the English, but am now alas! no longer alive. If you, through fear of disturbances in your own kingdom, repair thither, without having previously concluded peace with the English, they will certainly follow you and carry the war into your country. On this account, therefore, it is better first to make peace on whatever terms you can procure, and then go to your own country. There was sometime ago a person by name Srinivasa Rao, who came to confer with me from the part of the General [Sir Eyre Coote]. Do you by means of him establish this channel of intercourse."

The Hydernama, authored by Nallappa in the Kannada language, is a highly credible historical source that sheds light on the life and times of Hyder Ali. As per the Hydernama, this is what Hyder did when he felt the sure approach of death.

On the afternoon of December 7, 1782, Hyder gathered his important officers and asked them to remain loyal to his son, Tipu Sultan, following his death, in the same manner as they had served under him.

The following passage by Kirmani recounts the final message that Hyder Ali conveyed to his son Tipu through his trusted Munshi (secretary). Hyder Ali instructed Tipu to make swift arrangements in Malabar and return as soon as possible. If he required military assistance, he was authorized to request troops, as Hyder Ali had granted him the power to act at his discretion in state affairs. Nevertheless, Tipu was reminded not to neglect his duties to the government, even for a moment.

Furthermore, the account from Hydernama provides insight into Hyder Ali's perspective on the British. One day, Hyder gathered his most trusted officers to discuss the best strategy to eliminate the British.

Hyder asserted that defeating the British in one place alone would not be enough to topple their power in India. The British had multiple strongholds to rely on, such as Madras, Bombay, Calcutta, and their home base in England. So, the only effective way would be to instigate wars in all these places at once, by engaging the British and French in Europe and mobilizing forces from Iran and Kandahar against Calcutta and the Marathas against Bombay. Finally, with the assistance of the French, Hyder himself would launch an attack on Madras. This strategy would prevent the British from sending reinforcements from one stronghold to another. By doing so the enemy would be destroyed.

During the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-1784), Tipu Sultan refused to make peace until the British requested it. The Treaty of Mangalore, signed on March 11, 1784, marked the end of the conflict.


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