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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 to Ahmad Shah Abdali into the Punjab.

First Phase (1741-1752) :

During the first phase (1741 -1752), 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 bram 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.

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In the Deccan, the Marathas clashed with Nizam (Asaf Jah) and his successor, Nasir Jang, for the control of the Karaataka and Khandesh. Karnataka was raided by Raghuji Bhonsle, but on account of Raghuji’s involvement in Bengal and Orissa, the Nizam was able to establish his domination in the Karnataka for the time being.

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. It 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 deficit 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.

This “explosion of Rajput hatred”, was not the fust instance of this Earlier, Vijai Singh, the grandson and successor of Abai Singh of Marwa treacherously killed Jayappa Sindhia. These instances show the negative r of the narrow and selfish Maratha attitude towards Rajasthan for whic Peshwa and his lieutenants, Sindhias and Holkar must be held responsil

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The Second Phase (1752-61):

Balaji Rao or Nana Sahib Peshwa as he has been called was a human cultured man who set up fine buildings at Poona, and did much to mat centre of culture, He also attracted many Brahman bankers to settle in th He gave careful attention to building up an administration in the terri which had been ceded to the Peshwa. Kamvisdars were appointed in district who started sending detailed reports on the state of agriculture.’ reports which were on the Mughal model, giving names of the farme amount of land and crops cultivated, ploughs, oxen and wells in the vi etc. enabled the levying of land tax on a more realistic basis, and also encouraged a policy of resettling ruined villages, and expanding cultivation. Both zami and village headman were employed for collecting and assessing land rev The impact of these sound measures on state and economy is still a mat controversy. Baji Rao had left behind a debt which has been estimated seventeen lakhs to a crore.

This was the reason why Baji Rao had demanded 50 lakhs from Nizam-ul-Mulk at the battle of Bhopal. Although Nizam to pay this amount, it was never paid, either by Nizam or by the M Emperor. Despite his financial skills, Balaji had to cope with a country had not yet recovered from the aftermaths of prolonged war and break of administration.

Balaji combined this policy of consolidation with an aggressive forward in North India. This is the puzzle because according to GS. Sardesai, new Peshwa (Balaji Baji Rao) was no soldier either by inclination or and managed to execute military operations through loyal and to subordinates of his own.”

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Perhaps Balaji Baji Rao was unable to forsake even for a limited to aggressive forward policy in the North because a source of the Pesl strength was the capable and ambitious leaders such as Ranoji Sindh Malhar Rao Holkar. These ambitious leaders could not be kept idle lest it in the Peshwa’s own position. In other words, with the conquest of Gujarc Malwa, the Peshwa had mounted on a tiger from which it was difficult dismount.

With the rise of Ahmad Shah Abdali and his invasion of India in 1748, was followed by many others in regular succession, a new political situ had risen in North India. On hearing of the Abdali’s capture of Lahori Emperor had appealed to the Peshwa for help. The Peshwa was will in, 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.

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? 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 sardeshmukhi in Bengal, Bihar (except 12 lakhs) Orissa and Awadh were assigned to Reghuji 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.

In 1748, after the death of emperor Muhammad Shah, the new emperor Ahmad shah appointed Safdat Jung, the governor of Awadh and Allahabad. As wazir, Safdar Jung deemed it a golden opportunity to deal with two of this 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 on the other. In the complicated struggle which followed, Safdar Jung, unable to cope with the Ruhelas, turned on the Bangash Afghans. But the suffered a sharp defeat at the hands of Ahmad Khan Bangash.

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The Marathas gained a big victory over Ahmad Bangash. But before they could crush him, the wazir received urgent summons from the 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. 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 of 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 proposals show once again the scale of Maratha ambitions, as also their inherent contradictions. The Marathas could not fight the Abdali and realise 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.

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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 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.

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, the Mughal Emperor’s prestige reached very low ebb, with successive rulers, Ahmad Shah in 1754, and Alamgir II in 1759 being assassinated 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. In this situation, the hope of Sadashiv Bhau to win over, or at least neutralize the Awadh Nawab in the coming contest with the Abdali was extremely difficult to realise.

Much has been made of the Maratha agent, Govind Ballal’s inability to gather boats near Etawah due to untimely rains so that the Bahu could not enter the doab, and exerts pressure on the Awadh Nawab Shuja to join him or remains neutral. Negotiations between Shuja and the Marathas, and between him and the Abdali backed by Najib-ud-Daula had been in progress for a long time.

The Marathas had emphasised the alliance of their hereditary enemies, the Ruhelas, with the foreign invader, and the hereditary friendship of thi Marathas and Safdar 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-ud-Daula 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. The Marathas failed to exploit the long standing differences between Shuja and Najibud Daula on account of their errors of judgment the proceeding half-a-dozen years.

Even if Shuja had remained neutral, the Bhau would not have been able to prevail over the Abdali, saddled 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 Gwalior-Dholpur as his base, or of the Jat Raja, Suraj Mai to leave the heavy artillery and the women and children in the territories of the Jat ruler the Abdali was engaged in a war of movement in which the Marathas had always been adept.

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.

The Maratha defeat at Panipat meant the end of the Peshwa’s bid for establishing supremacy in North India. Its failure left the other Maratha sardars-the Gaikwar, the Bhonsle, the Holkar, and 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 Peshwar’s bid for supremach 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.

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