The Surat Treaty was in fact the direct provocation for the first war between the Marathas and the English East India Company. Incidentally differences had arisen between Bombay (now Mumbai) and Calcutta Presidencies. By the Regulating Act of 1773, the Governor- General-in-Council was empowered to superintend the affairs of the other two Presidencies of Bombay (Mumbai) and Madras (Chennai).
In May 1775, Warren Hastings, the Governor- General-in-Council wrote to Bombay (Mumbai) government declaring the Surat Treaty as “invalid” and the war in support of Raghunath as, “impolitic, dangerous, unauthorised and unjust.” Bombay (Mumbai) did not pay heed to this condemnation by the Governor- General.
However, Hastings concluded a treaty at Purandhar in March 1776 with the Peshwa in power. But the terms of this treaty remained a dead letter on account of the recalcitrance of Bombay (Mumbai) whose stand was upheld by London by validating the Treaty of Surat. Raghunath was given asylum at Surat and later at Bombay by the English government. The London authorities encouraged interference in the Maratha affairs and did not favour Hastings’ plan of withdrawal from it. To them, territorial gain out of this game was the primary consideration.
The war against the Marathas was also mixed up with the Anglo- French rivalries after the London verdict on Maratha-English relations, Hastings prosecuted the war most vigorously. Two forces sent by the English, one under Raghunath another under ‘Vol. Leslie got entrapped by the Marathas. Finding no alternative, English sued for peace in January 1779 at Wadgaon, by which Salsette, Thana and territories conquered by them from Gujarat were returned to the Marathas. The Wad truce was a disgraceful surrender of the Company’s prestige.
The complications of the Company increased tremendously by the setting up of a confederacy of the Marathas, Haider Ali, the Nizam and the Bhonsle of Nagpur in February 1780. Governor-General Hastings took firm action on both diplomatic and military fronts. Subsequent to this, the Nizam deserted the confederacy with Guntur as his prize from the English. Gaikwad of Baroda and Bhonsle of Nagpur also changed their side in favour of the Company. The Maratha leader was Mahadji Sindhia. In the fight that ensued, the English captured Ahmedabad in February 1780. Soon Thana, Gwalior and Bassein fell to them.
War-weary Marathas made a truce with them in October 1781 by which both parties agreed on ceasefire. Later the Treaty of Salbai was concluded by Mahadji Sindhia acting as the Peshwa’s envoy in May 1782. The English retained possession of Salsette and Broach and surrendered all other places conquered by them since the Treaty of Purandhar. They also agreed not to support Raghunath Rao. The Peshwa would pay Raghunath Rao a maintenance allowance of Rs. 25, 000 per month.
The first Anglo-Maratha War caused great losses to the Marathas whose vitality, which had not been exhausted either by the disaster at Panipat or by the death of their Peshwa Madhava Rao, gave way to weakness. It marked the distressingly fast pace of decline of the Poona rulership; the rule of the active Peshwas was replaced by that of a dominant individual. The empire became a loose confederacy of regional states like those ruled by Sindhia, Holkar, Bhonsle and Gaikwad. With it we find the hasty disappearance of Maratha nationalism nurtured by Shivaji.
Nana Fadnavis was the prime mover of Council of Babhais and the real leader of the Poona government during the first Anglo-Maratha War. The young Peshwa Madhava Rao Narayan was a mere puppet in his hands. Nana enjoyed full dictatorial powers for over two decades while Mahadji Sindhia concentrated on the North India affairs, Nana limited his interest primarily to the south.
Peshwa Madhava Rao Narayan died in October 1765 and was succeeded by Baji Rao II, son of Raghunath Rao. The new Peshwa soon developed enmity towards the great statesman Nana Fadnavis and confined him until his death in March 1800. With him had gone all the wisdom and moderation of the Maratha government.
In the post-Salbai period, the Peshwa government under the influence of Nana Fadnavis involved itself in three wars. The first of these was the Maratha-Nizam War against Tipu Sultan of Mysore (1785-87). The relations between the Nizam and the Marathas were very cordial during this crucial period. By the Treaty of Gajendragad (1787) Tipu promised to pay arrears of tribute amounting to 48 lakhs and made certain territorial cessions to both Peshwas and the Nizam.
The second was the Third Anglo-Mysore War (1790-92) in which both the Marathas and the Nizam were allies of the British against the Tiger of Mysore. As per the Treaty of the Seringapatam (1792) Marathas secured from Tipu Sultan the district laying between the rivers Wardha and Krishna. The third and the last crucial was the Peshwa participated in under the direction of Nana Fadnavis was against the Nizam of Hyderabad, culminating in the victory of Peshwas at Kharda in January 1795, The Nizam of Hyderabad was forced to surrender territories worth 30 lakhs.
Lord Cornwallis’s policy of imperial expansion reached its climax during the administration of Lord Wellesley through his system of Subsidiary Alliances. But during the interval after Comwallis and before Wellesley, the reins of the government were in the hands of Sir John Shore, Governor-General of India from 1793 to 98 who followed a policy of non-intervention.
The policy had its acid test in the events which led up to the defeat of Nizam at Kharda; Shore refused to support the Nizam against the Marathas. Nizam’s request to the British government for a treaty of gurantee was turned down by them.
The raison d’etre for this policy of Sir John Shore and his successor the Marquess of Wellesley (1798-1805) was the growing influence of the French in the court of the Nizam. Wellesley feared that the influence of French military men in Hyderabad and even at Poona might, in due course, establish the power of France in India upon the ruins of the states of Nizam and Sindhia.
In September 1798, immediately after the arrival of Lord Wellesley, steps were taken to pocket the Nizam and a defensive treaty was signed forthwith. The Nizam agreed to maintain a subsidiary force at his cost for emergencies like the suppression of internal rebellions. He also undertook not to entertain any French or other European in his state. All disputes and complications between the Nizam and the Peshwas were to be settled accordingly in British advice.
In the Anglo-Mysore war, the Nizam proved his loyalty to the English and got a fair share of the territories secured by the Company from Tipu. In 1798 it was thought expedient to make a treaty with the Nizam, generally defensive, against all powers and to take him under the protection of the English government in India.
These motives were fulfilled by the treaty concluded in October 1800 by which the Company assumed responsibility for the defense of the territories of the Nizam and also full control over his foreign relation. No longer could the Nizam enter into political relations with other powers without the permission of the English.
The English on their part agreed to station 8 battalions at Hyderabad for the use of the Nizam in lieu of which he was the ceded Cuddapah, Kurnool Anatpur and Bellary to the English. This subsidiary treaty hatched by Lord Wellesley deprived the Nizam of his sovereignty and made him a permanent subordinate of the British.
Moreover, the presence of British Resident at Hyderabad with power of interference in internal affairs of the country was a factor that limited the freedom of native ruler. The Karnataka, Mysore and Maratha wars made the English masters of large tracts of land in the Deccan and the sessions of territory by the Nizam ended in the encirclement of the state of Hyderabad by the British possession. Thus, the British paramountcy was firmly rooted in the princely state of Hyderabad by 1800.
The transformation of the British Empire in India into the British empire of India under Lord Wellesley started from South India. He crushed Tipu, tamed the Nizam of Hyderabad and then moved on the north and crippled Oudh. Further he shattered the political preeminence and military prowess of the Marathas considerably. Wellesley was bent upon destroying the great Marathas.
The Marathas, who defeated the Nizam in 1795 at Kharda, had practically lost their age-old spirit of nationalism and unity. After the death of Nana Fadnavis the man behind all actions of the Marathas was Daulat Rao Sindhia. Meanwhile Yaswant Rao Holkar came to Deccan to deliver a heavy blow at the growing eminence of Daulat Rao Sindhia.
In October 1802, Holkar defeated the joint force of Sindhia and the Peshwa near Poona. Baji Rao II, the Peshwa, fled to Bassein, where he concluded a subsidiary treaty with the English on the 31st December 1802. The treaty provided for the stationing of subsidiary force in Poona and for its maintenance Peshwa agreed to cede to the Company territories worth 26 lakhs.
Besides surrendering his right over Surat, he also gave up his claim for the collection of Chauth from the dominions of the Nizam. The Peshwa’s submission to the company’s supremacy and far reaching political effects beyond the boundaries of his own dominions. Some historians hold the view the Baji Rao II bartered away national Independence by his treaty with the Company in 1802. But it was the rivalry among the Maratha leaders and the consequent threat to the central authority that forced him to the British camp. By the supplementary articles added to the treaty of Bassein in December 1803, some of the ceded territories were restored to the Peshwa by the Company. The dissolution of the Maratha confederacy was formally recognized by the Company.
In fact their instigation might be considered as the most important single factor that helped the dissolution of the Maratha Empire. The division of the empire among Holkar, Bhonsl,e Gaikwad etc. has had all the blessing of the company authorities, in which they saw Britain’s chance to unfold her colonial umbrella.