The First Anglo-Maratha War, 1775-82:
The first phase of the Anglo- Maratha struggle was brought about by the inordinate ambition of the English and accentuated by the internal dissensions of the Marathas. The Bombay Government hoped to set up in Maharashtra the type of Dual Government Clive had set up in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The mutual differences of the Maratha leaders gave to the Company the much sought for opportunity. The fourth Peshwa Madhav Rao died in 1772; the fifth succumbed to the intrigues of his uncle Raghunath Rao, another claimant for the gaddi.
The birth of a posthumous son to Narayan Rao drove Raghunath Rao to the point of desperation and he signed with the Bombay Government the Treaty of Surat hoping to gain the coveted gaddi with the help of English subsidiary troops, however, the British attempt proved premature.
In the war that followed fortune wavered on both sides till the two parties realised the futility of the struggle by concluding peace at Salbai on the basis of mutual restitution of each other’s territories. It proved a drawn struggle. Both sides had a taste of each other’s strength which ensured mutual respect and peace for the next twenty years.
The Second Anglo-Maratha War, 1803-1806:
The second phase of the struggle was intimately connected with the circumstances created by the French menace to India. Wellesley who came to India as Governor-General in 1798 was an imperialist to the backbone and believed that the only possible way to safeguard India against French danger was to reduce the whole of India to a Position of military dependence on the Company. He relentlessly pursued that objective by the infamous Subsidiary System of alliances. The Marathas refused all offers of the Governor-General for acceptance of the subsidiary alliance, ut were driven into Wellesley’s trap by their internal differences and criminal self-seeking.
In March 1800 Nana Fadnavis, the Chief Minister at Poona, died. “With him”, remarked Colonel Palmer, the British Residents at Poona, “departed all the wisdom and moderation of the Maratha Government”. Nana had well understood the inherent danger of English intervention in Maratha affairs and declined all I overtures for a subsidiary alliance from Wellesley.
Freed from Nana’s vigilance, Baji Rao’s worst qualities found a free play. With his fondness for intrigue, the Peshwa sought to keep up his position by putting the Maratha chiefs one against another. However, Baji Rao was caught in the net of his own intrigues. Both Daulat Rao Sindhai and Jaswant Rao Holkar sought pre-eminence at Poona.
The Sindhia prevailed at first and the Peshwa passed under his virtual control. On 12 April 1800, the Governor-General advised the Resident at Poona to exert his ‘utmost endeavours to engage’ the Peshwa to conclude a secret of treaty with the Company offering British help in turning out the Sindhia from the Deccan. The Peshwa did not accept the offer and in May the Resident reported that ‘no consideration, but that of unavoidable and imminent destruction will induce his assent to the admission of a permanent subsidiary British force into his dominions’.
Events took a serious turn at Poona. In April 1801 the Peshwa brutally murdered Vithuji, the brother of Jaswant Rao Holkar. This brought the Holkar with a large army in the field against the Peshwa and the combined troops of the Peshwa and the Sindhia were defeated on 25 October 1802 at Hadapsar, near Poona. The Holkar placed Vinayak Rao, son of Amrit Rao, on the gaddi of the Peshwa. Baji Rao II fled to Bassein and on 31 December 1802 signed a treaty of ‘perpetual and general alliance’ with the English.
The Third Anglo-Maratha War, 1817-1818:
The third and the final phase of the struggle began with the coming of Lord Hastings as Governor-General in 1813. He resumed the threads of aggressive policy abandoned in 1805 and was determine to proclaim British Paramountcy in India.
The breathing time that the Marathas had got after Wellesley’s recall in 1805 was not utilised by them for strengthening their power, but wasted in mutual conflicts Hastings’ moves against the Pindaris transgressed the sovereignty of the Maratha chiefs and the two parties were drawn into a war. By carefully calculated moves the English forced humiliating treaties on the Raja of Nagpur, the Peshwa and the Sindhai.
Exasperated the Peshwa made the last bid to throw off the British yoke. Daulat Rao Sindhia, Appa Sahib of Nagpur, Malhar Rao Holkar II also rose in arms. The Peshwa was defeated at Khirki, Bhonsle’s army routed at Sitabaldi and Holkar’s army crushed at Mahidpur.
The entire Maratha force was routed by superior military power of the Company. Baji Rao’s possession of Poona and its districts were merged in the Bombay Presidency, while the other princes were confined to greatly reduced territories in subordination to the Company.