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Maratha Supremacy In The 18Th Century
By Sanjeev Nayyar, March 2008 []

Chapter :

Baji Rao Peshwa        

Baji Rao Peshwa – became Peshwa at the age of 20. There was criticism against appointing a person so young but Raja Shahu was committed to the appointment. Besides by the circumstances of his upbringing and inclination, he lacked the will to assert himself and be bothered about the details of administration. The subsequent Maratha rulers refused to accept the treaty of 1719 referred to above, accept Maratha claims on Gujarat and Malwa. The Nizam, Mir Qamar-ud-din used the Marathas to overcome his Mughal rivals but refused to cooperate with the Marathas in recovering chauth from Karnatak. Attempting to break away from the Marathas shackles he shifted capital from Aurangabad to Hyderabad. (Like Ford shifted their manufacturing unit from Nashik to Chennai to get away from the Mahindras).

Eventually the Nizam was overcome in 1728 in the battle of Palkhed. The Peshwa marched towards Aurangabad but avoided taking the enemy headon. Instead he moved towards Gujarat with the Nizams army in hot pursuit. The pursuit was abandoned in the hilly tract and the Nizam occupied Pune instead. The Peshwa now attacked the Nizams capital, Aurangabad and was challenged for action in a waterless tract near Palkhed. Starved of food and water, the Nizam sent word to the Peshwa asking for peace. Field Marshal Montgomery, who took a leading part in the defeat of Hitler, has in his book A History of Warfare listed some of the all time important battles, and selected the battle of Palkhed as one that was brilliant in strategy and fought in the style of Mughals.

The growing ambition of Bajirao coupled with the independent streak of the various chieftains was bound to result in conflict, the area being Gujarat. Elated by his victories, the Peshwa was in no mood to give up claims on Northern Gujarat; others like the Gaikwars, Bhonsle, and Pawars were opposed to the Peshwa’s designs. At this stage the young Dabhade made a tactical blunder of holding secret negotiations with the Nizam to seek his help. Getting a whiff of this, the Peshwa invaded Gujarat and defeated the combined forces of the Senapati / Nizam. This victory was a landmark in the history of the Peshwa’s as it left them without a rival at home. Through a series of attacks on the Sidis of Janjira (near Mumbai), the Peshwa reduced the territories under their control and they became in all but name a tributary of the Marathas.

Realizing the weakness of the Mughal Empire, the Peshwa pursued his northward expansion drive with zeal. He brought Malwa, Gujarat and Bundelkhand (parts of Western, central U.P.) under Maratha control, thereby, for the first time in the history of Bharat making Deccan as the point of controlling Hindustan.

In October 1730, Malhar Rao Holkar and Ranoji Sindia were granted the jagir of Malwa with them making Indore and Ujjain their headquarters. The Peshwa’s march to Delhi started with his arrival in northern Bundelkhand just about 70 kms of Agra. Malhar Rao Holkar lost to the Governor of Avadh, S Khan forcing the Peshwa to make a tactical retreat. While the Mughals were celebrating their victory, (never celebrate till your enemy is vanquished, even if you do keep your forces on alert. Its like the BJP/allies who won the Lok Sabha elections in Bihar and thought Laloo was history only to see him bounce back in the assembly elections.), the Peshwa took a detour through modern day Haryana and descended on Delhi. On reaching Delhi he changed his mind and decided not to attack. Because of some misunderstanding, the Mughals attacked the Peshwa’s forces only to be routed. The successful march had led to a surge in the Peshwa’s reputation and generated awe in the enemies camps.

Unable to accept the growing might of the Peshwa’s, the Mughals invited the Nizam and other Rajput chiefs to join hands and push the Peshwa to south of the Narmada. Through a series of strategic moves, the Peshwa’s cut off supply lines to the various parts of this alliance, defeated them and forced the Nizam to beg the signing a treaty in 1738. Called the victory of Bhopal, it marks the zenith of the Peshwa’s career. It also implied the arrival of a new power in Hindustan. The Nizam failed to keep his promise of ratifying the terms of the treaty. Serious doubts assailed the mind of the Peshwa’s strategy that allowed the Nizam to escape in 1728 ( Palkhed ) and 1738 ( Bhopal ). If the Peshwa had done so, may be, Bharat might not have faced the problems with the Nizam’s state, Hyderabad, at the time of partition. This has been one of the weaknesses of Indian rulers, a refusal to crush the enemy once and for all. Prithviraj Chauhan made the mistake with Mahmud Ghazni, only to be killed later, Nehru made it in Kashmir in 1948, and Indira G repeated the mistake in 1972, Vijay Amritraj up two sets vs Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon around 1979 lost the five setter.

While Bajirao was overrunning Hindustan, his brother Chimnaji Appa defeated the Portuguese in 1740 ending their rule in North Konkan. The persecution of all those who did not conform to the Christian doctrine forced the Hindu leaders to secretly invite the Peshwas to free them of foreign rule. The conquest of Bassein was long cherished by the Marathas as a matter of national pride and glory.

Summary Bajirao. The last few years of the Bajirao’s life were clouded by domestic discord. He was fond of a mistress and drank, ate meat in her company. He passed away in 1740. In the words of Sir Richard Temple, “he died as he lived, in camp under canvas among his men and he is remembered to this day among the Marathas as the fighting Peshwa and the incarnation of Hindu energy.”

Besides securing the Deccan, he was the first Marath to go on the offensive in Hindustan. If Shivaji created a Maratha state, Bajirao transformed it into an empire. While he extracted revenue ably, he paid no heed to the problems of governance. He was a matchless cavalry leader but not statesmen, far sighted reformer. The Jagir system vested more money in the hands of satraps like Holkars making Bajirao die with a debt of Rs 14 lacs. A centralized monarchy might have changed history. Net net, he gave the Maratha state stability, secured its freedom and opened prospects for expansion.

Chapter :

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[6] Comment(s) Posted
  1. Comment By - Rajendra Asthana Date - 25 Dec 2015 Time - 11:06AM
  2. Syed Hussain Ali khan Barha younger brother of Syed Hassan Ali khan Vizier to Farrukhsiyar was Subedar of Deccan. He and Baji Rao joined forces against Farrukhsiyar. It was first time Maratha army entered Delhi. Farrukhsiyar appointed Shahu maharaj as his Vakil for entire Deccan with right to take sardeshmukhi and chauth, released Shahu`s mother and step brother Madan Singh from captivity in Delhi. Bajirao got all the credit but he did convert Chhatrapati Shivaji`s legacy of a Swaymbhu king to a mere vassal of Moghul Emperor.Incidentally, Shahu did stop him from entering Bihar Bengal and Orissa, which areas he allowed Bhonsles of Nagpur to recover Sardeshmukhi and chauth.Calcutta`s famous Maratha ditch was dug by East India company to defend their factory from armies of Prakash Pandit the Genera of Bhosle`s army in Bengal.Bajirao was responsible for fazing out famous mavla Bargirs and Maratha Shiledars from his armies. He relied on recruiting disbanded Moghul armies, and Pindaris. Later brought very bad name to Marathas. What is true of lightening raids in 1000 AD by Mohd. Ghazanavi applies to Bajirao. Marathas did never put in roots in Hindustan to build a lasting empire unlike Mauryas, Guptas, and Moghuls.Vijaynagar did create an empire which existed for more than 200 years and disintegrated after fateful defeat in the killing fields of Alikota in 1565 AD. Legacy of that empire still exists;the intellectual, economic and cultural superiority of Vijaynagar`s erstwhile territory compared to rest of India. Marathas are a great people, have a hory and magnificient history and past, but as an empire builder Peshwas were no where near the Vijaynagar empire.

  3. Comment By - Dr Satya Pal Bindra Date - 24 Dec 2015 Time - 9:43PM
  4. Hope the lessons learnt from Maratha history will make us get united as one common & interdependent people of India.

  5. Comment By - Rajendra Asthana Date - 10 May 2015 Time - 4:47AM
  6. Shahu was released by Bahadur Shah 1st as a strategy to counter Tarabai and Dhanaji Jadhav who had destroyed Moghul Power in Deccan.Hussain Ali was younger of the Syed brothers, who were responsible for murder of Jahandar Shah emperor after Bahadur Shah 1st. Hussain Ali and his brother plotted to become Subedar of Deccan, as he miserably failed to control South, he joined hands with Peshwa Bajirao and marched to Delhi. Bajirao brought back Shahuji`s step brother Madan Singh and Shahu`s mother back to Pune.Bundelkhand was not conquered by Marathas but was a bequest from Chattrasal to Bajirao when he married his daughter Mastani to Bajirao. It is true that under Raghoba Maratha flag flew from Attock to Cuttack but it was only a raid. The Raghoba campaign caused a loss of more than a crore Rs. and became a bone of contention between Raghoba and Bhau.Peshwas never controlled entire South, South Canara, Kerala, Modern day Tamilnadu, and eastern and present telangana including Marathwada, Aurangabad, and Berar was never controlled by them.Orissa and B engal were raided for sardeshmukhi and chauth but never formed part of Maratha mandal. from Sind to Chittagong, Marathas were never in control.Central India, present Maharashtra and north Canara were under their control.No doubt they had the most powerful armies in India but Lord lake in North and Gen Wellessely in western India destroyed their power. In battle of Assaye combined armies of Scindia and ?Bhosle were defeated. Incidentally, at that point of time, Bajirao 2nd was seeking the protection of British in Bombay.He was deposed by the British after battle of Khirki in 1816 and was deposed to Bithoor on pension. Bhosle kingdom was taken over under law of lapse. Scindi, Holkar, and other smaller Sardars swore fealty to British sovereign and were allowed to rule over their territories but were under the gaze and control of British residents who enjoyed real power.

  7. Comment By - Ram Kumar Krishnan Date - 03 Feb 2010 Time - 8:29AM
  8. Excellent for more info about how Marathas brought about the Downfall of Moghul Empire read this Excellent piece by Kedar Soman

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