Politics in South India

In the south, several states did make a determined bid in this period to consolidate their power by the use of access to sea and ports. Principal among these were Travancore in Kerala under Martanda Varma and Rama Varma, and Mysore under Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan.

These states rose to prominence only in the latter half of the eighteenth century, or at least after 1740. Before that, the southern Indian scene had been dominated by a group of Muslim notables who had accompanied the Mughal expansion into the region in the 1680s and 1690s, or else had come in a second wave that followed immediately after 1700.

Many of these notables set themselves up as tribute-paying chiefs under Mughal authority. Some of them were relatively petty nawabs (deputies) of the Balaghat, or northern Karnataka (such as Abdul Rasul Khan of Sira). A few of them were political heavy weights like the Nizam-ul-Mulk himself and Sadullah Khan at Arcot. The Nizam-ul-Mulk had consolidated his position in Hyderabad by the 1740s, whereas the Arcot principality had emerged some three decades earlier. Neither of these rulers, while establishing dynastic succession, claimed full sovereignty. Thus, they continued to cast themselves as representatives of Mughal authority.

Southern Indian politics in the 1720s emerged, therefore, as a game with many petty players and three formidable ones: the Marathas (both at Thanjavur and elsewhere), the Nizam, and the Arcot (or Karnatak) Nawab.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the power of all three of these centres declined. The succession struggle at Arcot in the 1740s and early 1750s left its rulers open to financial manipulation by private British merchants, to whom they were increasingly in debt for war expenses. In the 1750s the power of Hyderabad also declined (after the death of its founder, the Nizam-ul-Mulk).

The control of the coastal districts was soon lost, leaving the kingdom landlocked and relatively sparsely populated. In this context, the only option for states was to build an elaborate and well-organized war machine while keeping external supply lines open. The control of trade was also seen as crucial in the statecraft of the period.