- The development of the Maratha movement, beginning with Shahji’s establishment of a de facto independent kingdom in the Karnataka, and Shivaji’s establishment of a swarajya in defiance of both Bijapur and the mighty Mughal empire leading up to the conquest of Delhi by the agents of the Peshwa in 1759 and the bid for the establishment of an all -India empire is one of the most remarkable as well as puzzling phenomenon in medieval Indian history.
- The development of the Maratha movement can be divided into three phases. (1)The first phase was struggle for the establishment and defence of Shivaji’s swarajya, and recognition of Maratha claim for the chauth and sardeshmukhi of the Deccan. This phase ended with Balaji Vishwanath’s journey to Delhi in 1719, and the issue of the formal rescripts by the Mughal Emperor for the grant of swarajya, and chauth and sardeshmukhi in the Deccan to Shahu. (2)The second phase began with Baji Rao’s accession to the post of Peshwa in 1720, and the Maratha bid for the conquest of Malwa and Gujarat. This phase ended in 1741 with the virtual transfer of these two provinces to the Marathas. (3)The third phase,beginning in 1741 saw the Maratha bid for the domination of Rajasthan, parts of doab, and Punjab upto Attock. It climaxed in the third battle of Panipat in 1761.
- Although our study concludes with the death of Muhammad Shah in 1748, the trend of politics between 1741 and 1761 have a vital bearing on developments in the earlier period.
- The Maratha movement was a complex movement, combining an earlier movement for socio-religious reform with the movement for regional independence led by the Maratha sardars. There were contradictions between the political, socio-religious, and the economic aspects of the movement, these contradictions being rooted ultimately in the interests of different social groups.
- The Maratha sardars, who were the dominant element in Maratha society, had little interest in socio-religious reform, or in securing the welfare of the peasantry unless their own interests were involved. After the death of Shivaji, the peasantry was neglected, and the links between the political and the socio-religious reform movement were weakened. The Mughal assault shattered the state structure built by Shivaji, and enabled the various Maratha sardars to engage themselves in a kind of a guerilla warfare often acting on their own behalf. These sardars were generally not drawn from the powerful deshmukhi families of Maharashtra, but were often men of humble origin who forged ahead on the basis of their own ability in the expanded type of warfare, and their ability to attract a following. This openness of Maratha society was in sharp contrast to the hierarchical kin-based society of Rajasthan, and a hierarchical set up under the Mughals.
- It was hardly likely that these powerful sardars would subordinate themselves to Shahu after his return from Mughal captivity following the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. In fact, the Maratha sardars played between Shahu and his rival, Tara Bai, for preserving their powers and status. A seal was set on this process by Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath who made a complex division of the revenues between Shahu and his sardars in 1719. Broadly speaking, his system implied placing on the Maratha sardars the entire responsibility for the collection of chauth and sardeshmukhi. Out of these collections, a fixed share was to be paid to the Raja – sardeshmukhi plus 34% of the chauth. The Raja thus became largely dependent on his sardars for his finances. Care was also taken to divide the responsibility for the collection of chauth and sardeshmukhi in such a way that no individual Maratha sardar could easily dominate a large, compact area. Inside the areas directly controlled by the Peshwa a centralized system of administration under the care and supervision of the Peshwa slowly grew up.
- The arrangements made by Balaji Vishwanath have often been criticized, and their defects are obvious enough. While the Maratha sardars were given an added incentive for the plundering and over-running of the Mughal territory, they were made practically independent of the King. The hope of effective political unity among the Marathas centred more and more in the institution of the Peshwaship which became a prime factor in Maratha politics from this time onwards.
- The real founder of the institution of the hereditary Peshwa was Baji Rao. In 1720, Shahu appointed Baji Rao to the vacant office of his father, in recognition of the signal services of the latter. Baji Rao had success in the field of battle, and steadily arrogated authority to his office till it became the focal point in the Maratha political system.
- Baji Rao’s accession to peshwaship saw a change in the character of the Maratha movement from defensive to offensive, from one of struggle for national survival to empire building. This change did not come about over-night. The change in the character of the struggle was becoming apparent during the last years of Aurangzeb’s reign when the Marathas began regular raids into Gujarat and Malwa. But the new trend was given the shape of a definite policy only with the coming of Baji Rao to the scene. A prolonged controversy at the Maratha court between Baji Rao and the Pratinidhi Shripat Rao preceded the adoption of the new policy. From the near-contemporary account of Chitnis, a rough idea may be formed of the approach and general line of argument adopted by the two men. Apparently, the main issues posed were:
- (i) the direction and timing of Maratha expansionist activities, (ii) the attitude of Nizam-ul-Mulk and the possibility of maintaining friendly relations with him.
(iii) internal administration, and particularly the problem of controlling the Maratha sardars and of putting the finances and the army etc. in order.
- Lastly there was the question of power – who was to dominate the councils of the King, the Peshwa or the Pratinidhi?
- The Pratinidhi was not opposed to an expansionist policy as such, but he wanted that attention should first be given to the over-running of the Konkan where the Sidi of Janjira had recovered many areas, and the completion of the conquest of the Karnataka begun by Shivaji. After consolidating Maratha positions in the Deccan, they could think of conquest further afield in northern India. The Pratinidhi emphasised the necessity of caution, and of not provoking the Mughals too far lest it bring another invasion of the Maratha homeland. Above all, he was keen to be-friend the powerful Nizam-ul-Mulk. Hence, he wanted that large scale expansionist activities should be deferred till the finances had been placed on a sound basis, and a strong army and a stable administrative system created.
- On the other hand, Baji Rao dwelt upon the weakness and imbecility of the Mughal Court which was torn by factions and internecine feuds so that Maratha aid was sought, and by its means kings were made and unmade. He dismissed the conquest of the Karnataka as a domestic affair which could be left to the Hazarat (house-hold) troops. Pointing to Shivaji’s dream of a Hindu domination, he dwelt upon the (alleged) friendship of the Hindu powers to the Marathas, and discounted the power of the Nizam , offering to hold him in check as well as to effect a northward drive. Finally, he appealed to the predatory insticts of the Maratha sardars by pointing to the riches of northern India, the Deccan having been reduced to ruin by prolonged warfare. He is supposed to have ended with the famous words, “Strike, strike at the trunk and the branches will fall of themselves. Listen but to my counsel and I shall plant the Maratha banner on the walls of Attock”
- It does not seem correct to imagine that Baji Rao’s policy of northward expansion implied that he was disinterested in the south. As early as the year 1724, when the Emperor had asked for Maratha help against Nizam-ul-Mulk, Baji Rao had demanded the cession of the subah of Hyderabad, and the virtual right to nominate the Mughal viceroy of the Deccan.Thus, Baji Rao too, was interested in Maratha supremacy over the Deccan. But he did not share the Pratinidhi’s facile optimism that the Marathas could over-run the Karnataka without the bitter opposition of the Nizam, or that they could obtain the mastery of the Deccan in the face of a clever and determined foe like Nizam-ul-Mulk with the resources of Maharashtra alone. Hence his fixed determination of over-running and bringing under Maratha domination the rich and flourishing provinces of Malwa and Gujarat. Maratha sardars had raided and regularly exacted contributions from these provinces since the early part of the century. Baji Rao gave to these sporadic raids a systematic form and political content, for he perceived as well the political and strategic value of these provinces.
- With the Marathas securely established in Malwa and Gujarat, a wedge would be interposed between the Nizam and Delhi. The Marathas would then surround the Nizam’s territories on three sides, and could at their convenience, turn against the Nizam without fear of his getting succor from Delhi, or raid the doab and the regions to the east and west of it.
- Thus, the establishment of a Maratha domination in Malwa and Gujarat was the first step to the establishment of a large and powerful Maratha empire.His peroration about the planting of the Maratha flag on the Attock was only a politician’s hyperbole. The task was clearly beyond Maratha strength for a long time and Baji Rao was too much of a practical statesman to set before himself any such impossible objectives.
The Marathas and Nizam-ul-Mulk:
chauth and sardeshmukhi of the Deccan, and was almost constantly at war with them – though with
little lasting success. After his successful rebellion against the Saiyids, Nizam -ul-Mulk respected the
Imperial farman granting the chauth and sardeshmukhi of the Deccan to the Marathas, but resisted the
stationing of Maratha agents in the neighbourhood of the capital, Aurangabad. Shortly afterwards, on
January 4, 1721, he had his first personal meeting with Baji Rao. Though Nizam -ul-Mulk established
friendly relations with the young Peshwa, no lasting agreement resulted. The most important point of
conflict between the Marathas and Nizam-ul-Mulk was the Karnataka. Nizam-ul-Mulk looked upon the
Karnataka as his by right of succession to the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golkonda. However, scant
attention was paid to his claims by the Marathas who had been interested in the Karnataka at least since
the time of Shahji, and had always regarded it as a kind of a happy hunting ground which they were
determined to plunder and lay under contribution.
During Nizam-ul-Mulk’s absence at Delhi between 1721 and 1724, his deputy Mubariz-ul-Mulk
repudiated the agreement for chauth and sardeshmukhi, leading to a resumption of hostilities with him.
Nizam attempted to maintain good relations with the Marathas. He met Baji Rao in Malwa in 1723 on
his way to Gujarat. When Mubariz-ul-Mulk attempted to block Nizam from reestablishing himself in the
Deccan in 1724, Nizam checkmated the move by arranging another meeting with Baji Rao. A Maratha
contingent fought with Nizam at the battle of Shakar Khera in 1725.
In 1728, affairs between Nizam-ul-Mulk and the Marathas moved towards war. Nizam-ul-Mulk was
uneasy and apprehensive at the growing sweep of Maratha operations in Malwa and Gujarat. He also
resented Maratha encroachments in the Karnataka. Though he joined in the two expeditions to the
Karnataka launched by Shahu in 1725-26 and 1726-27, he issued secret orders to his commander to
oppose the Marathas. Hostility between the courts of Satara and Kolhapur, and the differences between
Baji Rao and the Pratinidhi helped him. While the bulk of the Maratha armies were in the Karnataka, he
suspended payment of chauth and sardeshmukhi on the ground of a dispute upon the matter between
Shahu and Sambhaji (the Kolhapur Raja), and, posing as the representative of the Mughal Emperor,
invited Shahu to submit the dispute to his arbitration. He also sent him messages suggesting the
dismissal of Baji Rao. In the meantime, he effected a junction with the armies of the Kolhapur Raja.
Shahu was dumb-founded and was almost pursuaded to accept Nizam-ul-Mulk’s claim for arbitration.
But he quickly recovered, and sent express messages of recall to the Maratha forces, alerting the
commanders of the Maratha forts for defence. Hurrying back from the Karnataka, Baji Rao decided on
immediate war, rejecting the peace overtures made by Nizam-ul-Mulk who had no real desire for war.
After a brief but brilliant campaign, Baji Rao brought Nizam-ul-Mulk to bay at Palkhed. By the treaty of
Mungi Shivgaon in 1728, Nizam-ul-Mulk re-affirmed Shahu’s claim for the chauth and sardeshmukhi of
the Deccan, and agreed not to offer any protection to Sambhaji of Kolhapur.
While it is historically wrong to imagine that the treaty established Maratha supremacy in the south, it
did place the claims of Shahu to the chauth and sardeshmukhi of the Deccan
beyond dispute. It also enabled Baji Rao to finally supplant the Pratinidhi at Shahu’s court, and to devote
his undivided attention to the affairs of Malwa and Gujarat. But it was not long before Nizam-ul-Mulk recommenced his intrigues. The presence of Nizam-ul-Mulk in the Deccan and his constant intrigues made
Baji Rao tread warily, and rendered more difficult his task of establishing a Maratha hegemony in Malwa
The Maratha Advance into Gujarat and Malwa
Gujarat had been raided by the Marathas intermittantly since 1705, and Malwa since 1699; but it was
only after 1720 that the Maratha raids in these provinces became a regular and organised feature.
Although claims to the chauth of Malwa and Gujarat had been advanced as early as the reign of Shivaji,
they do not seem to have been officially put forward in any negotiations with the Mughals till 1717. In
that year, in the course of his negotiations with Husain Ali, Shahu asked for the recognition of the
Maratha claims over Gujarat and Malwa. At the time of his visit to Delhi in 1719, Balaji Vishwanath was
instructed to try and secure the chauth of these two provinces also.
These claims were not conceded, and Maratha raids into the two provinces assumed larger and larger
proportions. In 1724, when Nizam-ul-Mulk rebelled, both he and the Emperor bid for Maratha support.
The Marathas once again demanded the recognition of their claims over Malwa and Gujarat. But in view
of the financial and strategic importance of these provinces, neither Nizam nor the Emperor were
prepared to hold out any such promise to the Marathas. However, after his defeat by Baji Rao in 1728,
Nizam-ul-Mulk was compelled for some time to disregard the Maratha advance in Malwa and Gujarat,
and even to connive at the passage of their armies across his territory. Thus, it was not till 1728 that the
Mughals felt the full brunt of the Maratha strength in Malwa and Gujarat.
The Maratha conquest of Gujarat and Malwa proceeded in three stages. The first stage was the
establishment of the Maratha claim for chauth and sardeshmukhi. Next, this claim was substituted by a
demand for the cession of territory, and the provinces were divided into spheres of influence among the
Maratha sardars. The final step was outright annexation.
In Gujarat, the Maratha claim for the chauth and sardeshmukhi of the subah were accepted by the
Imperial governor, Sarbuland
Khan, in May 1726. The principle of chauth and sardeshmukhi having been once conceded in the
Deccan, there could be little moral objection to a similar arrangement for Gujarat, if it was
demonstrated that the Marathas were too strong to be successfully resisted by force of arms. But the
grant of chauth and sardeshmukhi did not mean the end of the plundering activities of the Maratha
sardars. The chief lieutenants of the Dabhade, Pilaji Gaekwar and Kantha Kadam, fell out among
themselves over the division of the chauth resulting in constant fights between them. Further, Baji Rao
contested the claim of the Pratinidhi who had been assigned the chauth of Gujarat by Shahu. But Baji
Rao was too busy in the Deccan and then in Malwa. Meanwhile, the Maratha sardars gradually seized 28
districts of south Gujarat. In 1730, Baji Rao entered Gujarat politics again. Abhai Singh, then governor of
Gujarat, signed a pact with Baji Rao in 1731, by which he agreed to pay a fixed sum of 13 lakhs, in lieu of
chauth, on condition that Baji Rao expelled Gaekwar and Kantha Kadam from Gujarat.
Thus, by 1732 the Marathas had not only secured recognition of their right of chauth and sardeshmukhi
of Gujarat from the governor, but also obtained control of the districts from which they could effectively
realise their claims. The defeat of the Dabhade at the hands of Baji Rao at Tiloi in 1731 led to an
agreement between the two sardars, whereby the greater part of Gujarat went to the Dabhade. But in
course of time, Gaekwar ousted his master, Dabhade, from Gujarat.
Despairing of ousting the Marathas by force of arms, in 1733 Abhai Singh invited Pilaji Gaekwar to a
conference, and treacherously murdered him. However, this was of little avail to him. The Marathas
rallied under Uma Bai Dabhade to avenge the death of one of their prominent sardars. Abhai Singh soon
found the situation beyond his control, and withdrew into Marwar. The stage was now set for the next
step, annexation of the rest of the province. It only remained to legalise the position by a formal grant
from the Emperor. A last effort was made by the Imperialists to recover Gujarat in 1749 by appointing
Fakr-ud-Daulah, the brother of Roshan-ud-Daulah, as the governor of Gujarat. But the governordesignate did not even leave for his charge. The last traces of Mughal rule in Gujarat disappeared with
the fall of Ahmedabad in 1753.
The first concerted move for the enforcement of the claim for chauth from Malwa was made under the
leadership of Baji Rao in 1723. In 1725, regular Maratha officials, such as Keso Mahadeo, Keso
Vishwanath, Godaji Deokola and Udaiji Pawar were appointed to collect chauth from south Malwa.
In June, 1725, Girdhar Bahadur was appointed the Mughal subahdar of Malwa. He was a man of courage
and determination and refused to surrender to the Marathas. He turned out the Maratha kamavishdars,
and disregarded the representation of Shahu not to disturb the collection of chauth. Daya Ram, the
cousin of Girdhar Bahadur, moved about the province with a well-equipped army, and showed great
activity in chasing out the Maratha sardars. Thus began a conflict which ended only with the death of
Girdhar Bahadur and Daya Ram at the battle of Amjhara in November, 1728. Baji Rao then swept into
Bundelkhand, and besieged M. Khan Bangash at Jaitpur,forcing the latter to relinquish all his conquests
in Bundelkhand. In return, the grateful Raja agreed to pay chauth. The Maratha armies camped in
Malwa throughout the summer. Three years later, Baji Rao divided the province into spheres of
influence among his sardars.
The ever-extending sweep of the Maratha operations, and their growing demands and aspiration caused
serious concern to the Delhi Court and to the various semi-independent or autonomous princes and
nawabs of north India, such as the Kachhwahas of Amber, the Rathors of Jodhpur, the Bundelas, Saadat
Khan of Awadh, etc. None of these had any desire to see the Delhi government regain its power and
authority. At the same time, they could not ignore the Maratha threat, or hope to repel it by their
individual efforts. The need of the hour was a united front. But their mutual jealousies and suspicions
made the forging of such a front a difficult task. Much depended on the attitude of the Emperor and his
advisors. If they followed a well-defined and firm policy, many of the princes and the nawabs could
perhaps be induced to help. Lack of firmness at the Delhi court led to wavering in their ranks, and they
made efforts to make individual deals with the Marathas, thereby accelerating the process of the
disintegration of the political and moral authority of the Emperor. Thus, the Maratha advance towards
north India accentuated the inner problems of the empire and hastened its internal decay.
In 1728, Jai Singh was appointed governor of Malwa in a bid to sort out the problems with the Marathas.
Jai Singh proposed to the Emperor grant of a mansab worth 10 lakh rupees a year in the name of
Shahu’s adopted son, Khushhal Singh, on condition that he prevents any future disturbances in Malwa,
and send a contingent to serve the Mughal mansabdar. “This will give peace to the land and save us
from the expense of campaigning (every year),” he said.
The Mughal Emperor agreed, then changed his mind. Jai Singh was removed, and efforts were made to
stem the Maratha advance. The climax was reached by the three campaigns undertaken between 1732
and 1735. In 1732-33, the wazir, Qamar-ud-Din Khan, advanced upto Gwaliyar with 80 – 90,000 men,
and sent bands to chase the Marathas who avoided battle in their usual fashion. Afer a victory over
Pilaji, a lieutenant of Baji Rao, forcing him to retreat across the Narmada, the Imperial forces returned.
But no attempt was made to hold the river Narmada against future Maratha incursions.
A similar effort was made in 1733-34, with Muzaffar Khan, brother of the Mir Bakhshi, Khan-i-Dauran,
advancing upto Sironj.
The climax of the Imperial efforts was reached in 1734-5 when two huge armies under the Wazir Qamarud-Din, and the Bakhshi-ul-Mamalik Khan-i-Dauran respectively were got ready in order to drive the
Marathas beyond the Narmada. Khan-i-Dauran was joined by all the Rajput Rajas, including Jai Singh,
Abhai Singh and Durjan Sal of Kotah. Holkar’s raid into Rajputana the previous year had opened their
eyes, and in 1734, at the instance of Jai Singh, the Rajas had met in a conference and taken a pledge of
united resistance to the Marathas. The wazir commanded a force of 25,000, and Khan-i-Dauran upward
of 50,000 men. But this mighty host found itself helpless once more in the face of the Maratha light
cavalry. Khan-i-Dauran and Jai Singh were surrounded and cut off at Toda Tank, and Jaipur lay
defenceless before the Marathas. At last, at the instance of Jai Singh, Khan-i-Dauran opened
negotiations and agreed to give 22 lakhs annually to the Marathas as the chauth of Malwa. Qamar-udDin Khan had a light skirmish with Pilaji Jadav near Narwar, but he could not inflict any serious damage
on the Maratha
forces. These campaigns demonstrated once again the failure of the Mughals to find an answer to the
Maratha light cavalry tactics. Their failure opened up Rajasthan, and even the doab and Delhi to
The failure of three years of campaigning, and the growing sweep of the Maratha incursions, led to the
development of a “war” and “peace” party at the Mughal court. The “war” party was led by Saadat Khan
of Awadh, backed by the wazir, Qamar-ud-Din Khan. It was supported by Nizam-ul-rulk from the Deccan
whose policy was to engage with the Marathas, and also try to limit their power as far as possible. He
was aware that a Maratha conquest of Malwa would snap his ties with Delhi, and leave him alone in the
Deccan to deal with the Marathas. The “peace” party consisted of the Mir Bakhshi Khani-i-Duaran, Jai
Singh and some of the other Rajput rajas. Jai Singh argued that the Marathas could not be effectually
subdued by fighting. He said : “By friendly negotiations, I shall induce either the Peshwa or his brother to
come and meet Your Majesty. If his demands are accepted, there will be no disturbance in the Imperial
domains in the near future. If, on the other hand, Saadat Khan and the Nizam combine, they will set up
To check-mate the “War” party, the Peshwa launched a diplomatic offensive in 1734-5. His mother went
on a pilgrimage to Northern India. She visited the capitals of all the great Rajas, and the Maratha wakils
utilised the opportunity to sound their opinions. Jai Singh was friendly, as also the Bundelas. The
Maharaja of Udaipur was hesitant, while the attitude of Abhai Singh was uncertain. Jai Singh invited the
Peshwa to Northern India, offering to bear his expenses which came to Rs.5000 a day, and to secure for
him the chauth of Malwa, and to introduce him to the Emperor (after assurances of safe custody) for the
settlement of all his other claims.
In the peace negotiations of 1735-36 during which hostilities were suspended by both sides, and for
which Baji Rao travelled to North India, Baji Rao demanded chauth of Malwa and Bundelkhand, the
subahdari of Malwa and Gujarat including control over all the forts; mansabs and jagirs for himself and
his chiefs, but also the grant of the hereditary office of the sardeshpande of the Deccan which implied a
charge of five percent on the revenue. These demands were accepted. But the Peshwa put forward
fresh demands which included the virtual
handing over of the Deccan to him. The Peshwa demanded a jagir of fifty lakhs in Khandesh, Aurangabad
and Bijapur, and the appointment of the crown-Prince as the Viceroy of the Deccan with himself (Baji
Rao) as the Prince’s deputy. All the administration was to be conducted through the laatter, and any
additional collections made in the Deccan were to be shared half and half.
These excessive demands threw the Emperor into the arms of the “War” party. All this time, daily
messages were being received by the Emperor from Nizam-ul-Mulk asking him to stand firm, and
offering help against the Marathas. Some lurking hope of saving Malwa and Gujarat from the Marathas
may also have influenced the attitude of the Emperor who was never long of one mind.. Baji Rao waited
in Malwa in vain for a reply to his demands, and then left for Maharashtra with the determination of
getting all his demands accepted next year, or carrying the war into the heart of the Empire.
Baji Rao was anxious not to annoy the Emperor or to damage his prestige, much less to replace the
Mughal Emperor by a Hindu or a Maratha King. Although the Marathas often talked of a Hindu-padpadshahi, the Peshwa knew that they could not displace the Timurids from the throne and set up a
Maratha or even a Rajput prince in his place without uniting the rest of India against themselves. Hence,
the objective of the Peshwas was to leave the Timurids on the throne of Delhi, and to utilise their
prestige and the halo of their name to spread Maratha authority over the whole of India.
The immediate aims of Baji Rao, it would appear, were to secure the Emperor’s recognition of the
Maratha conquest of Malwa and its neighbouring areas, and to completely dominate the Deccan with
the Emperor’s sanction. There were other sundry demands, too, which had been put forward in 1736. A
notable demand was for the grant of a large cash subsidy to enable the Peshwa to clear off his mounting
debts. But these objectives could not be realised unless the “War” party at the court had been defeated
or thoroughly cowed down. With this object in view, the Peshwa left the Deccan on the Dashera day in
1736, resolved to raid the doab and to show his invincible power to the Emperor.
By February 1737, the Peshwa had reached Agra. At Delhi, the “War” party had made grand
preparations. Two armies were to
be sent out under Qamar-ud-Din Khan and Khan-i-Dauran. Saadat Khan was to join at Agra, as also Abhai
Singh. The combined army was then to proceed against the Marathas. M. Khan Bangash had actually
joined Khan-i-Dauran with 12,000 horse.
The campaign began badly for the Peshwa. A raid into the doab by Holkar was repelled by Saadat Khan
with serious losses to the Marathas. Two royal armies were converging on Agra, and Baji Rao had to
move fast. Deciding to make a bold stroke, he slipped past the approaching Mughal armies and suddenly
appeared before Delhi. His object was not to damage the prestige of the Emperor or alienate him by
sacking Delhi, but, as he himself says in a letter to his brother, Chimnaji, “I was resolved to let the
Emperor know the truth, to prove that I was still in Hindustan, and to show him the Marathas at the
gates of the capital… Saadat Khan sent a message that Baji Rao’s army had been dispersed; that he had
fled beyond the Chambal, and it was no longer necessary to honour his envoy; he should be dismissed
forthwith. Dhondo Pant was therefore sent away and arrived in my camp… I now changed my plan of
sacking the capital. I knew that the Emperor and Khan Dauran were inclined to grant my demands, but
the Mughal faction was opposed to this conciliatory policy. I did not want to drive our friends to an
extremity for committing sacrilege on the capital. I therefore sent letters assuring the Emperor…”
Baji Rao succeeded in his objective of discrediting the “War” party. The Emperor was greatly incensed at
Saadat Khan, arguing that it was his haste in precipitating a fight with Holkar which had brought about
the Delhi raid. But Baji Rao failed to induce the Emperor to make peace with him. His raid had inspired
universal alarm. The Emperor was now more prepared to listen to the overtures of Nizam-ul-Mulk than
to any peace offers, and farmans were sent summoning the latter to the court.
Nizam-ul-Mulk had been closely following the progress of the Maratha armies in Northern India. He was
desirous of evolving a balance of power between the Marathas and the Delhi Court, and was not averse
to purchasing a respite for himself occasionally by conniving at Maratha aggrandizement at the expense
of the Empire. But Nizam-ul-Mulk had no wish to see the Marathas establish a dominating position in
the North. He might also have hoped to utilise the opportunity to gain further advantages for
himself. If he could defeat the Marathas with the help of the Imperial armies, he would be the real
arbiter of India.
Thus, the struggle between the Marathas and Nizam-ul-Mulk now was virtually a struggle for the
domination of India both northern and southern. Baji Rao was aware of the issues at stake. For him it
was even more a battle for the domination of the Deccan than of Northern India. “Let every Maratha
join”, he wrote to Chimnaji, on the eve of the battle of Bhopal in 1736, “and one grand unit ed push may
make us masters of the Deccan.” “If the Nawab (Nizam-ul-ulk) is taken care of, the entire Deccan will be
freed of danger”.
Even before Nizam-ul-Mulk reached Delhi, he was substansively appointed the subahdar of Agra and
Malwa on condition of driving out the Marathas from there. It was reported that Allahabad, Gujarat and
Ajmer were also promised to his friends and nominees after the successful termination of the campaign
against the Marathas. It was clear that the Emperor could no longer avoid being dominated by one or
the other of the protagonists, unless something unexpected supervened.
Niazm-ul-Mulk reached Delhi in July, 1737, and was royally received. In August, he was formally
appointed the Governor of Malwa in place of Baji Rao, and after the rains were over, he advanced into
Malwa determined “to cure the Maratha disease once for all”. He had 30,000 troops and detachments
from all the prominent chiefs of Rajasthan and Bundelkhand who had joined him willy -nilly. The Peshwa
countered this with an army of 80,000 horse. The Nizam was hoping for reinforcements from Saadat
Khana and from the Deccan. A contingent under Safdar Jang joined, but the Marathas succeeded in
preventing the Deccan troops from joining. The Nizam’s heavily armed and slow-moving troops were
soon surrounded by the numerically superior Marathas, and hemmed in at Bhopal. It was a repetition of
the old tale of the slow-moving Imperial armies being unable to cope with the swift, lightly armed
Maratha cavalry. The Nizam’s plight was worsened by his suspicion of his Rajput allies. The suspicions
were unfounded since the Rajputs took the brunt of the fight that took place. But when famine began in
the camp of the Nizam, the Rajputs like many others escaped. The Nizam could not move e xcept at a
snail’s pace, nor come out and fight, and his provisions were running low. On the other hand, the
Marathas could not storm his camp due to his superior
artillery. Therefore negotiations were set afoot, and after much hard bargaining, in January, 1739,
Nizam-ul-Mulk agreed to hand over the entire Malwa, including all jagirs to the Peshwa, and to procure
for the Peshwa fifty lakhs of rupees as war expenditure. The Marathas might have asked for more, but
as Baji Rao wrote to Chimnaji, “Fortified as the Nizam was with strong artillery and with the Bundelas
and Rajput Rajas as his staunch allies, I accepted your advice and agreed to much lower terms than
might have been exacted”.
After the defeat of the most powerful general in the Empire, it is more than probable that the Emperor
would have resigned himself to the loss of Malwa and Bundelkhand and confirmed the agreement made
by Nizam-ul-Mulk, especially as Jai Singh and, Khan-i-Dauran had been urging such an agreement for a
long time. It is not possible to visualise how the situation would have shaped after that. Baji Rao may
have used Malwa as a base for advancing into the Gangetic doab, or he might have concentrated on the
realisation of his unfulfilled demands regarding the Deccan, i.e. the achievement of complete supremacy
in the Deccan, including the transfer to him of the administration (nizamat) of the provinces. Sooner or
later, the whole of India seemed destined to come under Maratha domination.
This development was interrupted and given a new direction by the invasion of Nadir Shah, which came
as a bolt from the blue to most Indian observers, so used had they become to the safeguarding of the
north-west passes by Mughal power.
For the Marathas, the invasion of Nadir Shah was an unpleasant intrusion by an outsider in a field which
they had come to regard as their own. If Nadir Shah was to stay in India and found a new dynasty
subverting that of the Chaghtais – and reports spoke of his having declared himself Emperor of India and
of his intention of marching south – it would be a big blow against Maratha ambitions, and their new
conquests beyond the Narmada would be imperilled. In the circumstances, a new approach became
necessary. Shahu instructed Baji Rao to hurry to the aid of the Emperor “in accordance with our
undertaking to Aurangzeb that whenever the Empire was in any difficulty, we would help”. Prospects of
a coalition of the forces of the Rajputs and the Bundela princes with those of the Peshwa began to be
discussed. Nasir Jang was written to. But the Maratha army was engaged in the siege of Bassein. Raghuji
engaged in his own projects, the Dabhade was sulkily withholding cooperation, and without a large army
Baji Rao refused to move.
While the Peshwa’s troops were still engaged in the siege of Bassein, Nadir Shah turned back towards
Iran. He contended himself by sending a threatening letter to Baji Rao, bidding him to be loyal to the
Mughal Emperor else he would come back and punish him. Baji Rao replied in diplomatic terms and sent
a nazr of 101 muhars.
Nadir Shah’s invasion did no more than reveal the real weakness of the Mughal Empire to the whole
world – the Marathas had long been aware of it. But it brought home to the latter the danger of a
foreign conquest of India. This called forth an interesting proposal from Baji Rao. He proposed that all
the nobles, high and low, should join together with their armies in a kind of confederation as it were to
reduce the affairs of the Timurid line to a better order, and to oppose “the enemy”, i.e., the foreign
invader. M. Khan Bangash was one of the nobles to whom he broached this proposal.
While the proposals of Baji Rao did not meet with any success, Baji Rao, it seems, had dimly begun to
realise the need of enlisting the cooperation of the Emperor and his ministers and of the leading
“powers” in north India to safeguard against the likely recurrance of foreign raids from the north-west.
Final Ceding of Malwa and Bundelkhand
The invasion of Nadir Shah resulted in far-reaching changes in the position and influence of the various
groups at the Court. Saadat Khan, one of the pillars of the anti-Maratha faction, died, while both Nizamul-Mulk and Qamar-ud-Din Khan were discredited in the eye of Muhammad Shah. Nizam-ul-Mulk left
the court, and reached an understanding with the Marathas again. In the opposite faction, Khan-iDuaran also was killed. This left Jai Singh Sawai as the most influential of the old nobles. However, the
Emperor made one last effort to recover Malwa and Gujarat, and failed. Faced with the renewed threat
of invasion by the new Peshwa, Balaji Rao, and at the instance of Jai Singh peace was made with the
Marathas in 1741.
The final terms negotiated with the Marathas were similar to those demanded by Baji Rao in 1736 and
1738. Malwa was ceded – though to save the prestige of the Emperor, the Peshwa was
only granted the naib-subahdari of the province, an Imperial prince remaining the formal Governor. The
grant to the Peshwa included all faujdaris, i.e. complete jurisdiction over the province including the
states. The demand about the right of levying chauth on all states south of the Chambal seems also to
have been accepted. In place of the cash demand of 50 lakhs by the Peshwa, the chauth of Bengal, Bihar
and Orissa was ceded to him. No agreement seems to have been made about the Deccan, however,
perhaps because Nizam-ul-Mulk and the Peshwa were on good terms again. Fifteen lakhs in cash were
to be given to the Peshwa in three instalments. In return, the Peshwa gave a written undertaking, (i) to
visit the Emperor, (ii) to see that no Marathas crossed the Narmada, holding himself responsible for the
acts of any one who did cross; (iii) not to disturb any province except Malwa, (iv) not to ask in future for
any money in addition to what was granted; and (v) to depute one Maratha general with 500 horse to
serve the Emperor, and (vi) to join the Imperial army with a contingent of 4000 men whenever the
Imperialists undertook a campaign – any additional help to be paid for.
These terms might be said to constitute a tacit alliance between the Emperor and the Marathas. The
Marathas were virtually left a free hand in the Deccan and, in return, promised not to molest the
northern possessions of the Emperor and to render him aid in case of need, i.e. in case of renewed
foreign danger. Henceforth, an accredited Maratha representative, Mahadev Bhatt Hingane, with a jagir
in the Bulandshahr and Meerut regions, lived at the Delhi court, and became an influential factor in the
The Maratha Advance into the Doab and Punjab, and Third Battle of Panipat
The period between 1741 and 1761 can be divided into two phases. The First phase was from 1741 to
1752. Its beginning coinciding with the death of Baji Rao and the final Mughal cession of Malwa and
Gujarat, while 1752 saw a new turn in the politics of Northern India with the entry of the Marathas in
the doab and of Ahmad Shah Abdali into the Punjab. The phase between 1752 and 1761 was really one
of the preparation of the show-down between the Marathas and the Abdali for mastery of North India.
First Phase (1741-52)
During the first phase (1741-52), the Marathas concentrated on establishing their claim to the chauth of
what have been called “frontier” areas. Thus, in 1741-42, Raghuji Bhonsle raided Bengal, Bihar and
Orissa for chauth. These raids became annual features from 1743 onwards when Shahu “allotted”
Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to Raghuji. In the face of stout opposition from the side of Nawab Alivardi Khan,
in 1751 an agreement was made with him whereby chauth of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa was fixed at
Rs.12,000 annually and areas of south Orissa were given to Raghuji in lieu for it. Raghuji Bhonsle was
also authorized to appoint a governor to the province. Thus, in effect Orissa passed into the hands of the
In the Deccan, the Marathas clashed with Nizam (Asaf Jah) and his successor, Nasir Jang, for the control
of the Karnataka and Khandesh. Karnataka was raided by Raghuji Bhonsle, but on account of Raghuji’s
involvement with Bengal and Orissa, the Nizam was able to establish his domination in the Karnatak a for
the time being.
The contest between the Peshwa and Bussy, the Frenchman who had dominated Haiderabad state since
the death of Asaf Jah in 1748, led to a war in which neither side prevailed, but Bussy was forced to hand
over the remaining parts of the revenues of Khandesh, the western half of Berar and the small province
of Baglana. This was by the Treaty of Bhalke (1751).
A third area in which the Marathas gained was Rajasthan. By intervening in the internal affairs,including
succession disputes of the various Rajput states, the Peshwa’s lieutenants, Holkar and Sindhia, were
successful in forcing most of the states to agree to pay chauth, and sometimes campaigning expenses
(khandani) to the Marathas. If may be noted that earlier, succession disputes among the Rajputs were
sorted out by the Mughal Emperors. The entry of the Marathas into this area was also an index of the
declining power and prestige of the Mughal Emperor.
From a tactical point of view, the Maratha entry into Rajasthan can only be explained as a first step
towards preparing the ground for control of Agra, Delhi and the Punjab area. In that case, the Rajput
rajas needed to be made friends rather than taxed in the name of chauth. Rajasthan was more or less a
area, and many of the rulers had depended in a large degree on the income of the jagirs outside
Rajasthan. Many Rajput sardars and soldiers had found employment with Mughal nobles. The growing
exasperation and resentment of the Rajputs at the incessant demands of the Marathas led to the
murder of about 5000 Marathas at Jaipur by the citizens and followers of Madho Singh in 1751.
According to Jadunath Sarkar, “The shock of this blow spread to outside the capital. The Rajputs rose in
the villages and killed the couriers of the Marathas wherever they could catch them”
This “explosion of Rajput hatred”, was not the first instance of this type. Earlier, Vijai Singh, the
grandson and successor of Abai Singh of Marwar, had treacherously killed Jayappa Sindhia. These
instances show the negative results of the narrow and selfish Maratha attitude towards Rajasthan for
which the Peshwa and his lieutenants, Sindhias and Holkar, must be held responsible.
The Second Phase (1752-61)
Balaji Rao or Nana Sahib Peshwa as he has been called was a humane and cultured man who set up fine
building at Poona, and did much to make it a centre of culture. He also attracted many brahman bankers
to settle in the city. He gave careful attention to building up an administration in the territories which
had been ceded to the Peshwa. Kamvisdars were appointed in every district who started sending
detailed reports on the state of agriculture. These reports which were on the Mughal model, giving
names of the farmer the amount of land and crops cultivated, ploughs, oxen ana wells in the village, etc.
enabled the leveying of land tax on a more realistic basis, and also encouraged a policy of resettling .
ruined villages, and expanding cultivation. Both zamindars and village headmen were employed for
collecting and assessing land revenue.
The impact of these sound measures on state and economy is still a matter of controversy. Baji Rao had
left behind a debt which has been estimated from seventeen lakhs to a crore. The modern historian, G.S.
Sardesai, puts it at fifty lakhs. This amount consisted of loans taken from the bankers of Poona who
constantly dunned the Peshwa for repayment, and made his life hell. This was the reason why Baji Rao
had demanded 50 lakhs
from Nizam-ul-Mulk at the battle of Bhopal. Although Nizam agreed to pay this amount, it was never
paid, either by Nizam or by the Mughal Emperor. Despite his financial skills, Balaji had to cope with a
country which had not get recovered irom the aftermaths of prolonged war and breakdown of
administration, and was relatively less productive or developed. He had also to provide campaigning
funds for his bloated army. In consequence, the Maratha army almost became a mercenary force which
could be hired or was always out for plunder. This made difficult the persuit of a consistant political
policy which could have promoted larger Maratha interests.
It would appear that the Maratha polity needed a period of consolidation, and eschewing war of
expansion over distant regious. Almost taking a leaf out of the Pratinidhi’s programme during the time
of Baji Rao, Balaji Baji Rao devoted his energies for the settling of the administration and of
consolidating Maratha conquests in the Deccan. From 1753, the Peshwa led annual expeditious into the
Karnataka to free it of the control of the Haiderabad state. Taking advantage of the departure of Bussy,
the French advisor, the Peshwa attached the Haiderabad state, and at Udgir (1761) forced it to
surrender the four northern cities of Ahmadnagar, Daultabad, Burhanpur and Bijapur, and territory
worth sixty lakh rupees.
However, Balaji combined this policy of consolidation with an aggressive, forward policy in North India.
This is the puzzle because according to G.S. Sardesai, “The new Peshwa (Balaji Baji Rao) was no soldier
either by inclination or profession, and managed to execute military operations through loyal and
trusted subordinates of his own.” The limits of such a policy are obvious. It was compounded by the fact
that the new Peshwa had little knowledge of the politics of North India. His fourth and last visit to the
North was to Rajasthan in 1747-48. He never visited the north thereafter till his death.
Perhaps Balaji Baji Rao was unable to forsake even for a limited time an aggressive, forward policy in the
North because a source of the Peshwa’s strength were the capable and ambitious leaders such as Ranoji
Sindhi and Malhar Rao Holkar. These ambitions leaders could not be kept idle lest it imperil the
Peshwa’s own position. In other words, with the conquest of Gujarat and Malwa, the Peshwa had
mounted on a tiger from which it was difficult to dismount.
With the rise of Ahmad Shah Abdali and his invasion of India in 1748, which was followed by many
others in regular succession, a new political situation had risen in North India. On hearing of the Abdali’s
capture of Lahore, the Emperor had appealed to the Peshwa for help. The Peshwa was willing and had
deputed Sindhia and Holkar to leave from Poona to aid the Emperor. Balaji’s action was on lines with
Baji Rao’s call at the time of Nadir Shah’s invasion for a united front of Marathas and Mughal nobles
against the external foe. But the Abdali had been defeated before the Marathas reached North India.
Shortly after this, after visiting Jaipur, Balaji came to Delhi and had a cordial meeting with Emperor
Muhammad Shah. The question, however, was: were the Marathas prepared to abandon or modify their
declared intention of subverting the Mughal empire to cope with this new situation? The Marathas may
not have posed the question this way, but it came inacreasingly to the fore with every new Abdali
Perhaps the best illustration of Maratha ambitions in the North is the settlement brought about by
Shahu in 1743 regarding the claims of Raghuji Bhonsle and the Peshwa by which the right of chauth and
sardeshmhli in Bengal, Bihar (except 12 lakhs) Orissa and Awadh were assigned to Raghuji and the
Peshwa was given “campaigning” right and chauth and sardeshmukhi of Malwa, Ajmer, Agra and
Allahabad. Although the Peshwa did not stake for many of these areas for almost a decade, and another
half a dozen years elapsed before he staked a claim on Punjab, Shahu’s ‘award’ was never forgotten and
coloured the Peshwa’s political thinking. However, lacking the military qualities of Baji Rao, the new
Peshwa had to lean on new untried men. This, and the constant bickerings among the Maratha sardars
were partly responsible for the Maratha policy during this period being erratic and fumbling.
In 1748, after the death of Emperor Muhammad Shah, the new emperor Ahmad Shah appointed Safdar
Jung, the governor of Awadh and Allahabad, as wazir. Safdar Jung deemed it a golden opportunity to
deal with two of his biggest internal enemies, the Ruhela Afghans of Shahjahanabad and Bareilly who
had usurped many new areas in the districts of Badaun, Pilibhit etc., and the Bangash Afghans of
Farrukhabad, who, likewise, had extended their control to Kora-Jahanabad on one side, and upto Aligarh
the other. In the complicated struggle which followed, Safdar Jung, unable to cope with the Ruhelas,
turned on the Bangash Afghans. But he suffered a sharp defeat at the hands of Ahmad Khan Bangash.
Safdar Jung now appealed to the Marathas for help. The Marathas under Sindhia and Holkar, responded
with alacrity, deeming it a good opportunity not only to curry favour with the Imperial wazir, as also to
establish themselves in the doab. The wazir promised them campaigning expenses at the rate of
Rs.25,000 per day. The Jat Raja, Suraj Mal, was also employed for the purpose.
The Marathas gained a big victory over Ahmad Bangash. But before they could crush him, the wazir
received urgent summons from Emperor on account of a renewed invasion by Ahmad Shah Abdali.
Hence, a treaty was patched up with the Ruhela and Bangash Afghans. Safdar Jung transferred on to the
shoulders of the Afghan chief, Ahmad Bangash, the payment of the campaigning expenses due to the
Marathas. It would appear that in satisfaction of their claims the Marathas acquired the parganas of
Phapund, Shikohabad and Etawa, in addition to Kora and Jahanabad in the name of the Peshwa. These
were managed by Maratha agents. Thus, the Marathas got an entry into the doab.
Safdar Jung appears to have gained a high opinion of the Marathas and came to the conclusion that the
Abdali menace could only be countered with their help. He was also conscious of the close links
between his internal enemies, the Ruhela and Bangash Afghans with the Abdali. This may explain why
he lent a sympathetic ear to some far-reaching demands and promises the Marathas put forward at this
time. According to a document (yadi) dated 12 April 1752, it was stipulated that the Marathas should
protect the Emperor from internal enemies, such as Pathans, Rajputs and other rebels, and external foes
like the Afghan King Abdali; that the Emperor should pay to the Marathas 50 lakhs for their help, and
that the Peshwa be granted the subahdaris of Agra and Ajmer. The document also mentions that the
Peshwa was to be given right to levy chauth from Punjab, Sindh and the doab. These perhaps were the
Maratha demands and proposals. Safdar Jung could have hardly agreed to pay chauth in the doab out of
his dominions. In any case, these demands were not considered by the Emperor because he agreed to
the Abdali demand for the grant of the subahdari of Lahore
and Sindh before Safdar Jung and his Maratha allies could reach Delhi.
These proposals show once again the scale of Maratha ambitions, as also their inherent contradictions.
The Marathas could not fight the Abdali and realize these far reaching demands without meeting and
overcoming the resistance of the Nawab of Awadh, the Jats, the Afghans as well as the Rajputs -precisely
the sections whose help they needed to fight the Abdali.
No attempt seems to have been made by the Peshwa and his advisors to resolve these glaring
contradictions. A key occasion arose in 1753 when the wazir, Safdar Jung, fell out with the Emperor
Ahmad Shah, and a civil war ensued. The opposition to the wazir was led by Ghazi-ud-Din Imad-ul-Mulk
(then only 16 years old), son of the former wazir, Qamaruddin Khan. He was joined by Najib Khan
Ruhela, a determined enemy of the wazir and an ally of the Abdali. Both sides bid for Maratha support.
Imad-ul-Mulk offered to the Peshwa to pay one crore of rupees and allot the subahs of Awadh and
Allahabad to him if he was helped to become wazir., The Peshwa deputed Sindhia and Holkar to help
Imad. But before they could arrive, Safdar Jung had been defeated. He was allowed to continue to hold
Awadh and Allahabad as governor and retire to his charge. He died a year later. Imad-ul-Mulk became
wazir and Najib Mir Bakhshi.
We do not know what considerations made Balaji Baji Rao to refuse support to an old friend like Safdar
Jung and choose an immature youth backed up by the Ruhela chief who could never be a friend or be
trusted. Perhaps, the Peshwa felt that a weak wazir would be more convenient for the fulfilment of the
Maratha ambitions for the chauth of the doab. It left a deep sense of suspion towards the Marathas on
the part of Awadh Nawabs for which the Marathas had to pay already later on. Interestingly, the Jat
Raja, Suraj Mal, who had joined the Marathas in Safdar Jung’s campaign against the Afghans, refused to
abandon his erstwhile friend.
The alliance with the wazir Imad-ul-Mulk from 1753 to 1759 was the period during which Maratha
power in North India reached its climax but during which the Marathas alienated all their potential
friends and allies, and paved the way for the disaster at the field of Panipat in 1761. During this period,
Mughal Emperor’s prestige reached a very low ebb, with successive rulers, Ahmad Shah in 1754, and
Alamgir II in 1759 being assasinated by the wazir Imad-ul-Mulk. By virtue of their alliance with Imad, the
Marathas, too, had to suffer the ignominy of being parties to such dark deeds.
During the period, the Peshwa launched three major campaigns to North India, the first two by his
younger brother, Raghunath Rao, a youth of 18 who had never been to North India, and the third by his
nephew, Sadashiv Bhau, a reputed general and administrator and the victor of Udgir. It has been usual
to blame Raghunath Rao for worsening the political and financial crisis which faced the Marathas in
North India, and creating a situation which it was impossible for the Bhau to resolve later on. However,
both Raghunath Rao and the Bhau faced the same set of problems for which there was no solution: they
were asked to collect money to liquidate the huge debt of the Peshwa, and, at the same time, hunt for
allies against the Abdali. In consequence during his first expedition, Raghunath Rao’s first action was to
demand one crore rupees from the Jat raja, and restoration of the areas he had encroached upon, Imadul-Mulk having cleverly granted the subahdari of Agra and Ajmer to the Peshwa. The four months long
Maratha investment of the powerful Kumbher fort could only lead to a compromise in the absence of
the Marathas possessing siege guns. The Jat raja agreed to pay 50 lakhs in three yearly instalments
which were never paid, being always in arrears. The only other area from which money could be gained
was the doab which meant war with Safdar Jung and the Afghans. Since this was not feasible, Raghunath
Rao made only feeble raids in the doab. He then marched into Rajasthan which had already come under
the sway of Holkar and Sindhia. Thereafter he returned without adding any territory, or acquiring
During Raghunath Rao’s absence, in 1756-57 Ahmad Shah not only ravaged Delhi, but extended his
marauding activities upto Mathura, Gokul and Vrindavan. In the absence of the Marathas, Imad-ul-Mulk
had to make peace with the Abdali who left after appointing Najibud-Daula as Mir Bakhshi and as his
virtual representative. The only opposition the Abdali faced was from the Jat raja who stood behind his
strong forts of Dig, Bharatpur, etc.
Returning to North India early in 1757, no effort was made by Raghunath Rao to bring together a
coalition of Northern powers to fight the Abdali. This could only have been possible if the Peshwa had
been prepared to drastically modify, or at least defer his ambitions in the North till the Abdali danger
had been met with. In fact, even at this time the Peshwa had grandiose plans which is evident from his
letter to Ramaji Anant, manager of the Sindhias, written on 23 February, 1759. The Peshwa postulated a
plan for the conquest of Bengal and Bihar to collect a krore or a krore and a half in order to liquidate his
debt. For the purpose, Shuja-ud-Daula the Nawab of Awadh, was to be induced to join by offering him
the post of Imperial Wazir. In return, he was to cede Banaras and Allahabad and pay 50 lakhs. Najib-ulDaulah who was untrustworthy was to be destroyed. There is no reference to utilizing Shuja’s support
against the Afghans.
It is clear that what was at stake was not just the battle against the foreigner, Ahmad Shah Abdali, but
the establishment of the Maratha, specifically the Peshwa’s supremacy in North India. That is why
neither Suraj Mal Jat nor Shuja were eager to join the Marathas, In fact, both offered to negotiate with
the Abdali inducing him to withdraw from India if the Marathas promised to withdraw to the Deccan.
Blissfully ignoring the sentiments of either the Nawab of Awadh nor of the Jat raja, Suraj Mal, Raghunath
Rao went about asserting and establishing Maratha “supremacy” in North India. Reaching Delhi early in
1757, after the departure of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Marathas made little affort to win over the Awadh
Nawab, Shuja, to their side by removing Imad-ul-Mulk and destroying the Ruhela chief, Najib-ul-Daula.
They did help Shuja to counter the invasion of Awadh and Allahabad by the armies equipped and
prepared by the Abdali and backed by Imad-ul-Mulk. They also opposed successfully Imad’s attempt to
deprive Shuja of the province of Allahabad. But they were not prepared to ally themselves with Shuja for
fear of annoying Imad-ul-Mulk.
Without befriending Shuja or dealing with the Ruhelas, Raghunath Rao moved into the Punjab. At the
instance of Imad-ul-Mulk, a new Mughal official was appointed as Governor Lahore, the previous
governor Muin-ul-Mulk having died. It was not difficult to do so and to oust the Abdali officials in the
absence of the Abdali. Although the Marathas marched up to the Attock, it was obvious that the line of
the Indus could not be held
against Abdali without a strong, well-knit-army in the Punjab, headed by a leader of repute. Such an
army would have to be duly supported from the doab and Delhi With none of these conditions existing,
Raghunath Rao’s Punjab adventure was bound to fail. It was only after the advance into Punjab that the
need was realised of protecting the Maratha rear by taking action against Najib-ul-Daula, the Ruhela
chief. However, little effort was made to do so in conjunction with the Awadh Nawab who had
hereditery enemity with the Ruhelas. In consequence, the Maratha chief, Dattaji Sindhia, received no
support from the Nawab. In fact, Shuja moved to support Najib in his siege at Shukratal, on the
philosophy that if the Rulelas were destroyed, the turn of Awadh could come next.
In this situation, the hope of Sadashiv Bhau to win over, or at least neutralize the Aw adh Nawab in the
coming contest with the Abdali was extremely difficult to realize. Much has been made of the Maratha
agent, Govind Ballal’s inability to gather boats near Etawah due to untimely rains so that the Bhau could
not enter the doab, and exert pressure on the Awadh Nawab Shuja to join him or remain neutral.
Negotiations between Shuja, the Marathas and the Abdali backed by Najib-ul- Daula had been in
progress for a long time. The Marathas had emphasized the alliance of their hereditary, enemies, the
Ruhelas, with the foreign invader, and the hereditary friendship of the Marathas and Safdur Jung. They
were also willing to accept Shuja’s demand for the wizarat, and to make Ali Gauhar, the enemy of Imad,
king at Delhi. The Abdali through Najib-ul-Daulh, also offered the wizarat to Shuja, and making Ali
Gauhar the king at Delhi. But he shrewdly argued that the Maratha policy, which required no elucidation
even to a layman, was one of enslaving the whole of Hindustan. The communal argument was also used.
Shuja’s joining the Abdali was certainly a tactical and psychalogical help to him. The Marathas failed to
exploit the long standing differences between Shuja and Najibud Daulah on account of their errors of
judgemetn during the proceeding half-a-dozen years, as we have shown.
Even if Shuja had remained neutral, the Bhau would not have been able to prevail over the Abdali,
saddlled as he was with heavy artillery and women folk. In this context, the best course for Bhau would
have been to accept the suggestion of Holkar not
to cross the Chambal but to make the area around Gwaliyar-Dholpur as his base, or of the Jat Raja, Suraj
Mal, to leave the heavy artillery and the women and children in the territories of the Jat ruler, and
engage the Abdali in a war of movement in which the Marathas had always been adept. This would not
have adversely effected the second wish of the Peshwa – to collect funds from north India to liquidate
his huge debt of one krore. However, Bhau not only advanced to Delhi (July 1760) and reinstated Imadul-Mulk as wazir which resulted in Suraj Mal abandoning his side, he went further and entrenched
himself at Panipat (Nov. 1760) exposing his flank in the doab to the Abdali.
The defeat of the Marathas at Panipat (14 Jan 1761) also showed the weaknesses in the Maratha mode
of warfare, and their inability to cope with new developments. The mobile Maratha mode of warfare
had been slowly changing to the cumbersome Mughal mode of warfare in which the administration and
the royal ladies moved with the camp. However, the Mughal camp was protected by a highly mobile
artillery, called artillery of the stirrup. Peshwa Balaji Rao had been highly impressed by the artillery and
disciplined soldiers of Bussy, and had deployed a detachment of such soldiers under Ibrahim ‘Gardi’.
While the artillery had improved under the Peshwas, we do not know the extent to which the mobile
artillery loaded on camels etc., had been adopted. It seems that the Maratha soldiers still depended on
the lance and sword, while the Afghans had been shifting to quick firing flint-lock muskets. Ibrahim
Gardi’s artillery at Panipat was a largely immobile artillery which became useless unless protected by
gun-firing cavalry. Ahmad Shah Abdali’s artillery, on the other hand, was hi ghly mobile mounted on
camels and could be moved anywhere when occasion demanded. The Maratha lack of coordination was
also a factor of weakness.
The Marathaa defeat at Panipat meant the end of the Peshwa’s bid for establishing a supremacy in
North India. Its failure left the other Maratha sardars – the Gaikwar, the Bhonsle, the Holkar, the Sindhia
etc. free to carve out their own regional states. Some of these regional states grew in size and power. It
was the Maratha leader, Mahadji Sindhia, not the Peshwa who escorted (Ali Gauhar) Emperor Shah
Alam II back to Delhi in 1772.
Thus, the battle of Panipat may also be seen as a struggle between the forces of centralism and
regionalism. While the Peshwa’s bid for supremacy and centralism, failed at Panipat in 1761, the
ultimate beneficiaries were not the Maratha sardars and erstwhile Mughal nobles who stood for
regionalism, but the English who brought in centralism of a new-kind, the colonial type.
Review and Conclusions
The fifteenth-sixteenth centuries were great periods for empire building in Asia. During this period,
three empires – the Ottoman empire, the Safavid empire, and the Mughal empire dazzled the world by
their brilliance, and their achievements in the fields of art and culture. Yet, the basis of the organization
of the three was different: the Ottoman empire was a Sunni Turkish domination in which the non-Turks
played an important but subsidiary role through the institution of janissaries, the Safavid rule was a shiite domination underprinned by the Qizilbash. For the Mughals in India, neither race nor religion co uld
provide an adequate base. This was realized most clearly by Akbar. Akbar, who made a breach with the
orthodox ulama, adhered to Ibn Arabia’s philosophy of sulh-i-kul whereby all religions were to be
regarded as different roads to the same Truth and contention among them was to be avoided.
Akbar not only drew in Hindu rajas as loyal-supporters, but accorded them the status of being partners
in the kingdom. This policy survived, even Aurangzeb upholding it during the first two decades of his
reign. Akbar also sought to win over the old, Turkish nobles by using the concepts of khanazad and
muridi, thereby ensuring their personal loyalty.
Finally, career was thrown open to talent whereby the services of a limited number of people not
belonging to the ruling sections – kayastha, khatri, brahmans among the Hindus, and shaikhzadas could
be utilized in the service of the Empire.
The polity set up by Akbar was both liberal and open-ended. However, from the beginning it faced a
number of serious problems. First there was the opposition of Muslim orthodoxy which was unhappy at
being displaced from its position of preeminence in the state. These sections raised the slogan of Islam
in danger. It also appealed to the nobles, pointing out like Badayuni that they were being displaced by
the Hindus who had their own principalities, and received jagirs in additon.
It is significant that neither of these slogans made much headway during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah
Jahan. Thus, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s effort to rally the nobles to the cause of orthodoxy failed. It does
not seem correct to think that Aurangzeb’s attempt to base the empire essentially on the support of the
Muslims, and to win the orthodox to his side for the realization of this objective were the logical or
inevitable consequence of the growtli of Muslim orthodox sentiment during the preceeding fifty years.
As Athar Ali has shown, in the struggle between Aurangzeb and Dara, the nobility was divided not on the
basis of any ideology but personal contacts. Also, Aurangzeb’s orthodox policies developed only slowly
during the first two decades of his reign, jizyah being reimposed in his twenty second regnal year. Later,
he had to compromise by inducting large numbers of Marathas in the service.
Aurangzeb’s orthodox policies failed. For one, the Muslims were too divided internally to act as a
cohesive body. Second, the nobility resented the arrogance and venality of the orthodox clergy. Finally,
the traditions of liberalism, both in the field of social relations and culture had become too deep seated
to be subverted easily, as the attitude of many princes and princess Roshanara who emerged s the
leader of liberal thought at Delhi shows. The nobles too, followed. It was Asad Khan and Zulfiqar Khan,
the favourite wazir and Mir Bakhshi of Aurangzeb who overturned his orthodox policies within half a
dozen years of his death. Earlier, Bahadur Shah had made a breach with the orthodox ulama by claiming
to be a mujtahid, and putting the title of wasi after Ali in the khutba.
Thus, except for a brief period under Aurangzeb, the Mughal policy was liberal and remained so during
the eighteenth century, despite the prolonged struggle with the Marathas. Nor were the subsequent
efforts of Shah Waliullah to rally the Muslims in the name of orthodoxy successful.
Despite its liberal character, like all pre-modern states, whether in India, West Asia, Europe or
elsewhere, the Mughal state was also a “war state”. The ruling class had acquired and maintained its
position by military means, and much of its energies were expended in planning or carrying out military
operations, against neighbouring states and expanding what has been called the “internal frontier”, i.e.
dealing with recalcitrant and subordinate
autonomous rajas. Much of the available resources were also utilised for war purposes, or for
maintaining the military aristocracy. Despite these limitations, economy and culture developed. One
reason for this that war was then not so destructive as it has been in recent times. Hence, we have
pictures of peasants carrying on cultivation while a battle waged at the side!
It has now been accepted that despite continuous wars, and a top heavy military aristocracy which
received the highest emoluments in the world, a heavy land tax and an authoritarian outlook, the Indian
economy developed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and continued to do so with some
exceptions during the first half of the eighteenth century. This process was helped rather than hindered
by Mughal rule. The growth of a money/market economy was aided by Mughal centralization and
revenue policies which emphasized payment of land-revenue in money. Even where the revenue
demand was paid in kind, it was quickly converted into money. The villages did not remain unaffected by the growth of money economy. The richer sections in the villages used Mughal agrarian policy of
expanding, and improving cultivation to strengthen their own economic position, by producing more
cash crops which could be sold in the growing mandis and market-towns (qasbas). It were these sections
which emerge as ijaredars during the eighteenth century.
Growth of a money economy and centralization of the revenue surplus in the hands of an essentially city
based ruling class, with its hordes of servants and retainers, created a demand for specialized
commodities drawn from different regions of the country. The class of merchants and manufactures
which grew in numbers and wealth felt confident enough to cope with the “feudal” nobility, as also to
withstand the arrogant and aggressive foreign traders. There is evidence that commercial capital was
growing, and that the powerful merchants began to dominate the manufacturing processes more and
more. The influx of gold and silver in the country was an index of the expanding foreign trade. While no
conditions of the growth of industrial capitalism were created, a rich self-confident and skillful
commercial class, combined with skillful artisans and a productive countryside could have provided the
basis of industrial capitalism under
favourable circumstances. The pattern of state stucture during the eighteenth century was a crucial
factor in such a process.
The downfall of the Mughal empire has to be seen against the background of these developments. It is
clear that from the latter part of Aurangzeb’s rule, the khanazads who still constituted more than half of
the nobility were feeling restive. Loyal service to the Emperor no longer appeared to yield the results for
which they and their family members felt they were entitled. Deepening of the jagirdari crisis, and
distancing of the khanazads led to their moving in the direction of carving out separate principalities for
themselves. The dormant but strong sense of regionalism helped them in the fulfilment of their
ambitions. It is noticeable that in these new principalities, while the jagir system remained, the element
of transferability disappeared. Hereditary jagirs ensured that the khanazads would not again face the
threat of being displaced by new entrants.
The relationship of the Mughals with the countryside has been a subject of considerable study and
research. Recent studies show that although the Mughal land tax was heavy, it was not so heavy as to
leave behind only peasants living at a level of subsistence, or lead to flight of peasants to neighbouring
rajas. Apart from the rural gentry i.e. the zamindars, there was a small section of cultivators who we re
financially better off and able to invest in expanding and improving cultivation. These sections were the
biggest beneficiaries of the Mughal policy of agrarian improvement were what we in modern parlance,
call the “intermediary castes.” They were the land-holding castes which in Medieval terminology were
the khud-kasht. Thus, while the Mughals tried to convert autonomous rajas into kharaj paying
zamindars, and to yoke the zamindars in the task of assessing and collecting land-revnue, with the threat
of military interventionif they did not co-operate, they also tried to limit the exactions of the zamindars
by establishing direct relations with the khud-kasht or the owner-cultivators. This is what I have called
the tripolar basis of Mughal peace and stability in North India during the first half of the seventeenth
Any deepening of the alliance with the resident cultivators raised serious political, economic and
ideological issues. The zamindars had at their disposal not only armed retainers, but could recruit
sections of the armed peasantry to their side on a caste/clan, regional basis or even on the basis of
slogans. The disarming of these powerful sections was almost an impossible task as Shivaji found. Also,
far from delegating greater power and responsibility to the body of resident cultivators who constituted
the village community, Mughal centralizing policies tended to undermine clan or caste based village
bodies. Finally, a basically hierarchical structure was not prepared to accommodate within its large
numbers of non-elites.
Growing prosperity, and an enhanced sense of self-confidence following a long tradition of popular
religious movements which emphasised equality and social justice, and opposed a heirarchical division
of society prepared the ground for popular movements which came into clash with the Mughals, and
then moved towards setting up their own states (Jats, Sikhs, The Afghans were more tribal and orthodox
but also egalitarian in their approach). The Marathas do not fit into any of these slots, representing both
a regional and popular dimension with plundering proclivities. But their role in undermining the Mughal
polity was considerable.
Neither a comppsite ruling class, nor growth of a money economy could control these rural upsurges.
The zamindars used the local armed peasantry to withhold revenue, and to engage in expanding their
spheres of authority as soon as they discerned weakening of Imperial authority.
Thus, the distancing of important sections of the nobility from the central power, and growing loss of
control over the countryside were two major factors in the disintegration of the Empire. Military failure
of the Mughals against the Maratha tactics of extended, guerilla type of warfare was another important
factor. It has been suggested that the failure of the Mughals in keeping up with the advances in artillery,
and their refusal to adopt on a large-scale quick-firing flint-lock guns was an important factor in their
failure in withstanding the Marathas in the open plains of North India.
The political obduracy of Aurangzeb in not permitting any dialogue with the rulers of Bijapur and
Golconda about leaving them in possession of the Karnataka, thereby stretching the Mughal lines of
communications strained the administration, and prolonging his stay in the Deccan must be considered
supplementary factors. More serious was his late acceptance of the importance of the Marathas in
Deccan affairs. Could a settlement with Shivaji at the time of his visit to Agra made a
significant difference? It is tempting to think so, but any agreement with the Marathas was dependent
on a forward policy in the Deccan, as Jai Singh had made clear. Whether the adoption of such a policy
twenty years before it was finally undertaken would have had a different result is a speculative question.
As far as the commercial classes are concerned, while the traders generally welcome peace, all sections
of the commercial classes were not equally effected by periods of warfare. Thus, the great banking
houses of Poona financed the military operations of the Peshwas. In a number of Maratha states in
Central India, bankers acquired important political positions. Some bankers even emerged as ijaredars
to pay off their loans. With investments from the Mughal nobles drying up, foreign trade and shipping
by Indians was adversely affected, the slack being taken by European trading companies. The number of
Indian merchants who benefited from this shift was small. Internal trade, however, was hardly effected,
with traders such as Jagat Seth playing an important role in the economic life of a regional state, such as
Overall, there seems no reason to accept the suggestion that rich traders, bankers, and monied men in
the rural areas found a community of interest in the efforts of the English and French trading companies
to displace Indian rulers, and establishing their own spheres of domination.
The question is: Was it possible for the emergence during the eighteenth century of a network of
regional states with different internal structures held together by a system of balance of power? The
biggest challenge to the emergence of such a system after 1720 were the Marathas and then the Abdali
in North India. But the Maratha effort at establishing a hegemony under the Peshwa had been
exhausted by 1761. It is clear that the establishment of a Maratha hegemony in North India was clearly
beyond the reach of the Marathas, taking into account their weak economic base, and inability to
change from guerilla leaders whose object was to subvert established authority to one who could
support the functions of administration, and effectively meet armed opposition from outside its
Thus, the events after 1761 were largely determined by the developments between 1720 and 1761.