A reign ahead of times


A reign ahead of times

He laid rudimentary foundations for some of the most modern reforms that are in force today, making him a visionary. Mukund V Kirsur presents the lesser known administrative personality of Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan, the eldest son of Hyder Ali, was not only a great warrior, but also an able administrator with a versatile, colourful and dignified personality. He was popularly known as ‘the Tiger of Mysore’.

As a policy maker, he was smart and intelligent, and just as tough in implementing them. Though greatly influenced by the European powers, he was among the few Indian rulers who knew that apart from the mighty military, a country could be rich and powerful if it had well developed trade and industries.

He had great concern for his subjects. An extract from his address at the special audience of the representatives from trade, commerce and industry in 1788 reads: “I am proud of the spiritual and cultural advancement of our people. That is their glory and their greatness. Let no kingdom - past or present - claim the credit for that continuity which has flourished in this land for thousands of decades.

What then is to be the role of our social structure, of the government and of its various agencies? It is my belief that our basic task is to guarantee material welfare of our people- full employment and the satisfaction of their needs for food, clothing, housing, education of their children and adequate leisure. I cannot believe that principles of natural justice and human rights can be honoured unless people are assured of economic wealth.”

Grooving trade and commerce

He had directed his commerce department to establish factories and trade centres in other countries. These centres were to buy the rare products of those countries for sending them to Mysore, and in turn to sell the products of Mysore. There were 17 overseas factories or trade centres and 30 in Mysore.

The two factories established in 1789 at Mundhi and Mundra in Kutch had a staff of seven daroghas and one hundred and fifty sepoys. During the period, brisk trade was carried out between Kutch and Mysore. There was also a factory at Jeddah. Efforts were made to establish factories at Basra and Aden. The centre at Ormuz purchased pearls. The trade centre at Muscat exported saffron, seeds, silk worms, horses, pistachio, rock salt, pearls, raisins, sulphur and copper to Mysore. The exports from Mysore to Muscat were sandalwood, pepper, rice, ivory, and cloth. As Tipu’s relations with the Imam of Muscat were very cordial, Mysore merchants were granted special tax concessions.

In order to open trade relations with Pegu, the Sultan sent Muhammad Qasim and Muhammad Ibrahim to its Raja for deliberations. Officials were deputed to France, Turkey and Iran to develop trade relations.

Trading also existed with China, and since the Chinese merchants were reluctant to visit the Malabar coast owing to the fear of pirates, Tipu arranged to bring the Chinese vessels under the protection of Mysore convoys. Armenian merchants, regarded as good businessmen, were encouraged to settle in Mysore, and were given permission to import silk goods and other articles duty-free.

Tipu also established state monopoly over gold ore, tobacco, sandalwood, precious metals, elephants, timber, coconut and black pepper. The income from the Malabar forests was 30,000 pagodas. But the monopoly of timber was confined to teakwood, as the merchants were allowed to deal freely in ebony and other kinds of wood. Calicut was the centre of timber trade. From there some teak wood was sent to Mangalore, where it
was used to build vessels for Tipu. The rest was sold to the Indian and European merchants. By Tipu’s orders, Raja Ramchandra established in every taluk, state shops which did business in gold, silver, cloth and other articles.

Furthermore, the Sultan tried to abolish the local bankers, and to take over the functions of remittance and exchange.

The great interest which Tipu took in the trade and commerce of his kingdom is evident from the two regulations which he issued, one on March 25, 1793, and the other on April 2, 1794. These regulations were meant for the top officers of the commerce department. These officers were required to see that elephants and the various articles such as silk, cloth, sandalwood, pepper, cardamom, rice and sulphur were available for export. 

Able and trustworthy men were employed in the factories, both at home and abroad. The heads of the department and the officers under them were to pledge themselves according to the forms of their respective religions to discharge their duties honestly. In case any officer should behave dishonestly, the other officers should together expose the offender to shame and disgrace and report to the Sultan so that culprit might be punished. To encourage his subjects in trade and commerce, Tipu established a trading company. Every one was welcome to buy shares in it. High dividends were paid to persons investing smaller amounts in order to encourage the small investor.

Borrowing technology & expertise

For developing industries in Mysore, Tipu secured the services of French artisans and workmen who were sent to him by Louis XVI. He also employed French
adventurers, English deserters and prisoners of war for the purpose. He wrote to the Ottoman Sultan to send him craftsmen who could help in the development of industries in his kingdom.

Tipu established several factories at Srirangapatnam, Bangalore and Bednur, which employed European and Indian workers to manufacture scissors, hourglasses, pocket knives, guns, muskets, paper, watches and cutlery. A French artist had prepared an engine driven by water for boring cannon. There was a big paper mill; in the quarries near the capital, stones were cut into various shapes. The gunpowder manufactured in Mysore was of better quality than that of England! At Channapatna, glassware was made. This place was also famous for steel strings of musical instruments.

Besides, very fine sugar was produced at Channapatna. The sugar candy made at Chikkaballapur was of a very superior quality, and clayed sugar was very white and fine. The process of its manufacture was introduced by Tipu and was kept a secret. In Devanhalli, a superior quality sugar was manufactured with the help of the Chinese. Weavers of Bangalore made very fine and rich cloth, but after the fall of Srirangapatnam in 1799 the industry declined sans patronage. Efforts were also made to establish a pearl-fishery on the Malabar coast, and for this purpose, pearl-divers were brought from Muscat.

In addition to this, Tipu was also a patron of agriculture and sericulture, which saw great progress during his reign. A warrior and poet, this tiger was also a  just ruler, who laid foundation for some of the most modern administrative reforms.

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