Could French have become the ruling power in India instead of the British if they had not recalled Dupleix in 1754?

By Sunil Kumar

This is a very old question I have heard about in some books dealing with the period. Historical speculation. Much as I would like if European powers had packed up their bags sooner; Quora was an Indian-made site; some present-day Chinese lose their arrogance and rules here were uniformly applied for everybody; the sad fact is that the British became the dominant power in India and the French were relegated to near-oblivion. Also; most princes and rulers were hoodwinked, coerced and soundly defeated by devious British strategists and local treachery.

To understand whether Dupleix’s departure from India was that important to the fortunes of the British, French and Dutch East India companies; his career in the subcontinent and his interaction with local rulers have to be taken into account. Also; his most important competitor; Robert Clive “Thug of Bengal” and the Briton who laid the foundation of their Empire.

The British and the French were at loggerheads around the world from India to Continental Europe and North America. After being made superintendent of the French Factory at Chandernagore in Bengal; he become governor-general 11 years later in 1742. Although war was raging in Europe; the French cleverly proposed neutrality in India to consolidate their holdings; which the British rejected. Dupleix managed to capture present-day Madras(Chennai) which he held on to for a few years; before the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle forced him to hand it back.

Infighting within the French camp; their king Louis XV diverting forces to Canada; inefficient management of the French East India Company(compared to the British), depleted naval strength; personal incompetence and limited geographic power in India(Pondicherry) compared to British bases in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were factors that worked against the French.

Even though Dupleix had shrewdly sensed weaknesses in Indian princes, achieved some limited success against the British; it was not enough and he was sacked in 1754; after which he died in relative poverty and oblivion. Compared to that Robert Clive(a famous story about him contemplating suicide and attempt to shoot himself is also known) had a reversal of fortune after the defeat of the Nawab in Bengal(1757). The province along with Bihar and Orissa provided resources for the British EIC after which they never looked back.

So; in my opinion; Dupleix’s continued presence in India would have been mostly ineffective unless he managed to wrest control of British-conquered territories and understood the politics of local kingdoms better.

The British EIC very shrewdly navigated the turbid stream of egos and aspirations(Rajas, Nawabs and other princelings); and managed to bring everything under their control due to a more efficient mix of commerce, military power, astute deception and luck for making the right play at the opportune time.

This entry was posted in Books, Geography, History, Languages and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *