Short Essay on British Supremacy in South India


Aurangzeb’s seemingly flourishing empire fell down like a house of cards only 31 years after his death. The Marathas now saw their chance and revived quickly and the Peshwas assumed leadership of this virile nation which subsequently became a dominant power in India. This period also saw the crucial Anglo-French rivalry in India as part of their deadly fight in Europe.

The maintenance of British supremacy in India had become the chief and often the exclusive concern of British statesmen after the opening of the Orient to the Occident. Indian affairs which by all odds were dictated by the needs of the situation in Europe were discussed in the British Parliament. Side by side, in India, the Peshwas and the Nizam carried on their bitter struggle against each other. The English who won victory over the French interfered in the politics of the Deccan and subjugated the Nizam and obliterated the Peshwas.

Having defeated Tarabai, Sahu, son of Sambhaji, ascended the throne on the 12th January 1708. Sahu appointed Balaji Viswanath as his Peshwa or the Prime Minister in November 1713. This was in fact a reward for Balaji Viswanath, who served Sahu. Selflessly during the latter’s trying times to secure the throne.


For more than a century Balaji and his successors gave the Marathas continuous leadership; it was under the Peshwas’ flag that they built their empire. Sahu being a very incompetent ruler, Viswanath exploited the chance extended to him to the fullest advantage and made himself the most noted personality in Maharashtra.

Meanwhile the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah died in 1712 and Farruksiyar was raised to the Padshahi. In 1718 Sahu accepted the formal vassalage of the Mughal Empire. The position of the Sayyid brothers in Farruksiyar’s court was deteriorating and Sayyid Hussain Ali who was in the Deccan found it essential to start with his military force for the north.

Enlisting the support of the Marathas, the emperor recognised Sahu’s authority not only over Shivaji’s “Swarajya” but also over the newly conquered territories in Khandesh, Berar, Gondwana and Karnatak. Sahu’s right to collect Chauth and Sardeshmukhi from all the six Mughal Subahs in the Deccan was also admitted. The Maratha Chief reciprocated by agreeing to pay to the superior, an annual tribute of ten lakhs and to send a contingent of 15,000 troops for his security.

This development raised Sahu’s prestige and he established his position as the rightful ruler of the Marathas. The arrangement about Chauth and Sardeshmukhi in the Deccan was a virtual recognition of the Marathas as “co-partners in the revenues of the Imperial provinces and as a corollary in political power there”. This settlement was a triumph for the statesmanship of Balaji Viswanath who laid the strong foundations of the Maratha Empire and paved the way clear for future Maratha inroads. Balaji Viswanath died in April 1720.


In 1713 Emperor Farruksiyar appointed Nizam-ul-Mulk as the Subedar of the Mughal Deccan. Very soon, he fell out with the Sayyid brothers and opened a clash, in which are defeated the enemy at Khanwah and carried Asir and Burhanpur. After the defeat and consequent fall of the Sayyid brothers, Nizam-ul-Mulk was appointed the vizier by the then Emperor Muhammad Shah.

But soon both the Emperor and Vizier lost faith in each other and the Emperor encouraged Mubariz Khan, Governor of Hyderabad to put down Nizam-ul-Mulk. Both fought for some time and at last at Sankarkedla a decisive battle was fought in which Mubariz Khan was defeated and killed. The winner Nizam-ul-Mulk set himself up at Hyderabad and became an independent ruler by the 16th of January 1725. In order to save the situation, the Emperor conferred the title of Asaf jah to Nizam-ul-Mulk and reappointed him as Subedar of the Deccan province.

Thus at last the stage was set for the final bid for power in modern Indian politics. Baja Rao, the Peshwa and Nizam-ul-Mulk, the Nizam, both ambitious and competent rulers, began to fight each other on the question of the collection of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi over the territories of the Nizam. Noam’s claim was that the Peshwa interfered in the affairs of his country while the Marathas claimed Karnataka on the ground that it was conquered by them during their struggle with Aurangzeb.

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