The Marathas Part 14 Peshwa Balaji Rao Section I: A Hesitant Start

Canberra, 7 January 2022

On the untimely death of Baji Rao, the Deccan faction in the Maratha court once again attempted to stop the hereditary appointment of the Chitpavan Brahmin Bhat family as Peshwas. This faction was led by Raghuji Bhonsle, who was also one of King Shahu’s favourite nobles. Raghuji had been at loggerheads with Baji Rao and now used his influence with the king to prevent the nomination of Baji Rao’s eldest son, the 19-year-old Balaji Rao (also called Nana Sahib and Balaji Bajirao), as the Peshwa. The arguments put forward against Balaji were, his relative youth and more importantly the enormous debt that was left behind by his father, which had to be repaid.

Baji Rao had accumulated a debt of 14.5 Lakh rupees, borrowed from several moneylenders on interest rates ranging between 12 and 30 percent. Immediately on Baji Rao’s death, his eldest son had stared to be hounded by the money lenders, particularly by Babuji Joshi who was Baji Rao’s brother-in-law although the amount owing to Joshi was relatively meagre. Balaji was provided a temporary reprieve by Mahadji Purandare, who paid off Joshi in full. Thus, the ability or otherwise to repay his father’s debts was pushed aside as a consideration for Balaji’s ascension to the Peshwaship. The objection raised regarding his relative youth did not have much weight since Balaji had already distinguished himself in battle repeatedly, especially in the campaign against the Sidis in the Konkan.

Balaji had been brought up under the careful mentoring of his uncle Chimnaji Appa to shoulder great responsibility. While he had grown up into an able, resourceful and industrious man, he lacked the constructive genius of his grandfather Balaji Viswanath and the more effervescent and splendid talents of his father Baji Rao. The deciding factor in his favour was that King Shahu loved him like a son, and despite some heavy lobbying against him, appointed Balaji as the Peshwa on 25th June 1740. On his appointment, the king exhorted Balaji to achieve his father’s ambition to conquer all Hindustan and ‘lead the Maratha horsemen beyond Attock’.

Balaji’s tenure did indeed see the zenith of the expansion of the Maratha kingdom and the greatest success of Maratha arms across India. It also witnessed the growing strength of four new powers in the subcontinent; four powers that would go on to contest for supremacy over India—the Afghans, Sikhs, French and the English. Balaji’s tenure as the Peshwa was also eyewitness to the end of an epoch—the eventual and final fall of the Mughal Empire—and the spectator to the rise of another—the Maratha Confederacy.

The Mughal Decay

By the third decade of the 18th century, the Mughal Empire was weak and corrupt and had reached the point of no return in its descend into disintegration and oblivion. A large number of factors, individually and in various toxic combinations, led to this state of affairs—the rising power and aggression of the Marathas; Nadir Shah’s invasion and the plunder of Delhi; incompetency of successive Mughal rulers and their disinclination or inability to remedy the situation; the selfishness of senior nobles and their personal rivalries that carried forward into official functioning; and many other factors that left the very foundations of empire shaken and crumbling, beyond possible repair. In the provinces, the subahdars and viceroys created personal armies, rebelled against Delhi, usurped power, and ruled independently. The nawabs of the Deccan, Karnataka, Awadh, Allahabad, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa had all declared independence. Mughal rule had ceased to exist in Hindustan.

Tasks for the New Peshwa

At the time of Balaji Rao assuming power as the Peshwa, the Marathas had already invaded, conquered and occupied the provinces of Gujarat, Malwa, Bundelkhand and Berar. The Mughal emperor had been forced to grant Chauth and Sardeshmukhi rights over other parts of the empire—the Marathas could not be ousted. Therefore, the first task for the new Peshwa was to consolidate these conquests, regularise the administration of the rights that had been granted, and then expand the influence of the Maratha State across all of India. It is certain, that in the early stages of his tenure, Balaji also envisioned bringing the entire Indian sub-continent under Maratha paramountcy. Unfortunately, he was not served well by his ministers and generals who continued their internecine conflicts between each other and were reluctant to support the young Peshwa purely out of jealousy.

The second task was to meet the legacy debt of over 14 Lakh rupees that his father had incurred during the incessant campaigns, which he had successfully conducted. To mitigate these two challenges—control the conquered territories and repay the debts—Balaji had to wage continuous war against external adversaries, while at the same time being engaged to contain internal dissention. The third task was to plan and execute fresh advances to the south and north to create buffer territories and consolidate Maratha holdings. The 19-year-old had inherited Herculean tasks.

The Southern Expedition

King Shahu was aware that his appointment of Balaji as the Peshwa was not popular with the Deccan faction of the nobles, especially Raghuji Bhonsle, and that the possibility of violent dissentions existed. In order to contain any disruptions engineered by Raghuji Bhonsle, the king send him on an expedition to the south of the Peninsula. The ostensive reason for the expedition was an appeal for help from Pratap Singh, the Raja of Thanjavur (Tanjore). The underlying factor was that after the fall of Gingee, the Mughals controlled the south-eastern parts of the Peninsula and this Muslim suzerainty in their own ‘backyard’ had to be questioned. Sadat Ullah Khan who had been appointed the ‘nawab of the Carnatic’ had further entrenched Muslim control of the region. Thanjavur, ruled by a branch of the Bhonsle clan, had managed to survive by making submissions and at times paying tribute to the nawab.

A brief background to the situation is given below. Chhatrapati Shivaji’s stepbrother Vyankoji, who had set up the throne of Thanjavur, had died in 1687. He had left behind three sons who had succeeded each other, occupying the throne between 1687 and 1735. The youngest and the one to occupy the throne last, Tukoji, left two legitimate and a natural son, Pratap Singh. The eldest son died without issue and the second son Sahooji who succeeded him was deposed by Pratap Singh. Pratap was now being harassed by Chanda Sahib (more details regarding Chanda Sahib will be provided in the narrative of the French–English rivalry in a forthcoming volume) and sought Maratha assistance. King Shahu responded with the Raghuji expedition. Sadat Ullah Khan, who had been a sagacious ruler had died in 1732 and was succeeded by his nephew Dost Ali. The new ruler decided to defend his kingdom and decided to meet the Maratha army at Damalcherry Pass, about 30 miles north of Ambur. He also asked Chanda Sahib, who was also his son-in-law, for assistance, but no help was forthcoming.

Dost Ali had a meagre 10,000-strong-force to face the large Maratha army. Further, his Hindu commander of a key defensive position defected on the eve of battle, leaving the Muslim army almost debilitated. Raghuji Bhonsle attacked on three fronts—the Muslim army was destroyed in a few hours and Dost Ali killed in battle. Hearing of the debacle, Chanda Sahib fortified himself at Tiruchirappalli and Dost Ali’s son Safdar Ali who had ventured out to support his father beat a hasty retreat to Arcot. After plundering the surrounding countryside, Raghuji moved against Arcot, upon which Safdar Ali fled to Vellore, from where he negotiated a peace settlement with the Marathas in August 1740. According to the terms of the treaty, in return for Maratha support and sponsorship in declaring him ‘nawab of Carnatic’ in his father’s place, and removing Chanda Sahib from Tiruchirappalli, Safdar Ali would pay 10 million rupees to Raghuji and also reinstate all Hindu princes, who had been dispossessed since 1736, to their original holdings.

Raghuji now moved towards Tiruchirappalli but managed to trick Chanda Sahib into believing that he was withdrawing to the Deccan. Chanda Sahib in turn let his guard down, weakened his defences and distributed the stockpiled grain and foodstuff. Once his ruse was seen to be successful, Raghuji attacked Tiruchirappalli and laid siege to the fort. Chanda Sahib held out till 21st March 1741, and when his ammunition was almost fully expended, and the fort was on the verge of exhausted starvation, he surrendered. Raghuji send him to Satara as a prisoner, to remove him from the Carnatic. Chanda Sahib had send his family and his personal treasure to Pondicherry in the care of the French before the Maratha deluge had poured into the southern Peninsula. Raghuji now marched against the French in Pondicherry.    

The Beginning of Pondicherry

In 1672, the French admiral M. de la Haye, established himself at Saint Thome, an erstwhile Portuguese settlement on the Coromandel coast. However, two years later, the king of Golconda urged on by the Dutch, attacked Saint Thome. In 1674, after bravely defending his fort, M. Francois Martin the French governor surrendered but was permitted to march out with full military honours of war.  

While some of the French soldiers embarked for home, Martin with some soldiers marched to a spot at the mouth of River Gingee to lands that he had purchased from Sher Khan Lodi, the governor of Bijapur, some years earlier. (The River Gingee, also called Varahanadi, is another name for River Sankaraparani. The Sankaraparani river is in the modern state of Tamil Nadu in South India. It originates on the western slopes of the Gingee Hills in Villupuram district and flows south-east to empty into the Bay of Bengal, south of Pondicherry.)

When Francois marched there, the land was empty and almost barren. He laid out gardens and built houses for his followers. Gradually around this core a native town grew, which was called Phulcherry, the town of flowers. The French corrupted the native name to Pondichery and the English further to Pondicherry.    

In May 1677, Chhatrapati Shivaji arrived at the walls of Pondicherry. However, Martin’s enormous courtesy, generous presents and a solemn promise never to wage war against the Marathas appeased the great king, who left the French colony alone. The Dutch captured Pondicherry in 1693 but the French regained control of the town and fort after the Treaty of Ryswick, on 21st September 1697. [The Peace (Treaty) of Ryswick was a series of treaties signed between 20th September and 30th October 1697 in the Dutch city of Rijswijk (Ryswick), which formally ended the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697) between the Grand Alliance (England, Spain, Austria and the Dutch Republic) and France.]

After this four-year hiatus, Martin fortified the township against any future attacks and turned Pondicherry into one of the thriving towns in South India. It was against this town that Raghuji now marched, demanding of the French governor that he surrender the family and treasure of Chanda Sahib that was in his safe keeping. Very obviously, the French governor, M. Dumas refused to oblige, stating that trust had been placed on him by his ally and that he was responsible for the protection of the families. Although there were threats that were traded, reconciliation took place apparently through the governor sending Raghuji ten bottles of the finest French liqueurs, which is supposed to have captivated both Raghuji and his wife. The Maratha demands were withdrawn and Raghuji returned home in triumph.

The Peshwa’s Challenges – First Phase

Balaji was Peshwa for 21 years during which the Maratha kingdom went through tumultuous events and the future history of the entire sub-continent was altered forever from what had been considered a pre-ordained trajectory. For convenience of narration and ease of chronological understanding, his tenure can be divided into two distinct phases. The first phase starting from his taking over the mantle of Peshwa on the death of his father, till 1749 at the death of King Shahu; and the second phase, from the coronation of Ram Raja as the successor to Shahu, till 1761.

Throughout King Shahu’s reign, Balaji was constrained by the King’s overbearing attitude and his repeated attempts at taking over the broader policy directions of the Maratha polity and the guidance of its progress. While not a genius or a strategic thinker of any distinction and never having proven himself as a military commander in the field, Shahu insisted that the Peshwa make no alterations to his policy directions. The king had never participated in any meaningful military campaigns and therefore he had no field experience in the brutal aspects of wars and battles, which made his directives devoid of reality on numerous occasions. Balaji was beholden to Shahu not only for his appointment, but also for the love and affection the king had lavished on him during his growing-up years. He could not go against the wishes of the king. While meddling in the affairs of State over which he had only limited knowledge, Shahu was also perpetually attempting to reconcile the existing and emerging differences between nobles by allocating duties to disgruntled nobles and ministers to placate them in order to avoid, or at least minimise, internecine conflicts between different factions.

King Shahu’s Flawed Policies

Shahu also entertained dreams of making Maratha power paramount in India. However, the modus operandi that he envisaged to achieve this end-state was almost diametrically opposed to the path that Peshwa Baji Rao had envisioned. King Shahu wanted to achieve Maratha paramountcy in alliance with, or even as the primary agents of the decaying and defunct Mughal empire. Baji Rao on the other hand had wanted to fully replace the Mughals by an independent Hindu Maratha Empire. Although Shahu had not voiced his opinions with any decisiveness during the tenure of Baji Rao because of the overbearing personality of the Peshwa and his own precarious position as the king, now he ardently advocated a Maratha–Mughal alliance to govern the sub-continent. He also toyed with the idea of a hybrid system of Maratha governorships with Mughal nominees acting as viceroys, but with the Marathas collecting Chauth and Sardeshmukhi across the entire empire. In Shahu’s conception this entire system would function within a Maratha provided and enforced security blanket. The reluctance displayed by Shahu throughout his long tenure to be independent of the Mughals, the primary objective of Shivaji’s life-long effort, is inexplicable. The only plausible explanation seems to be that his long incarceration with the Mughals in Delhi/Agra during his formative years may have subconsciously influenced his thinking.   

There is no doubt that Shahu’s perceptions created weak policies that made no attempt to leverage off the great power that the Maratha polity wielded by the third decade of the 18th century. Unfortunately for the possible progress of the Maratha empire, the King continued to vehemently pursue these weak policies throughout his 42-year reign. This ‘blind’ pursuit of an inimical policy was detrimental to the progress of the Maratha quest for paramountcy in the sub-continent. It could not, under any circumstances, result in an independent Hindu Maratha empire, since Shahu’s fundamental aim was to seek Maratha legitimacy through being subservient to the Mughals, however weak and decrepit that dynasty and empire had become. On the other hand, Shahu’s mis-guided policy provided a false legitimacy to the Mughal rulers and their ‘reign’, when in reality they should have been swept aside as so much accumulated dust and hubris. This weak central policy did not permit stabilisation of Maratha politics and therefore it remained inconclusive on many fronts, with even decisive military victories not becoming an end in themselves. The last two decades of Shahu’s reign was nothing but opportunity lost to bring about a Hindu India, purely because of the vacillating weakness of thought of one individual.

If Shahu’s external policies and attitude towards the creation of a Maratha empire was flawed in the extreme, his domestic policies were riddled with indecisiveness and only aimed at reconciling nobles who were becoming ever more traitorous to the core Maratha cause. He refused to punish nobles who opposed the Peshwa, or colluded with the enemies of the State, or even sabotaged Maratha campaigns. Instead of building strength, Shahu’s domestic policies continually bled the kingdom of its inherent strength.

For Shahu, the vision of a unified Hindu Maratha kingdom did not stand out like a beacon on the hill, as it had for his grandfather, the great Shivaji. Centralisation of power and the exercise of such control were concepts that eluded him throughout his life. Balaji’s own inclinations in this sphere were tempered by those of the overbearing king, who while considering him a loving son, was not prepared to openly accept the gravitas of the position that he held. As long as Shahu remained alive Balaji’s efforts at empire building remained within the rigid lines drawn by Shahu’s timid approach to Maratha sovereignty.

The Northern Campaigns

It is clear that at this time in Indian history only the Marathas thought about India as one entity to be conquered, brought together, and ruled as an empire. In pursuing this objective, however, the Maratha policy towards North India flowed in two independent tracks. This itself was an indication of the prevalence of dichotomous opinions and the inability of the king to establish and enforce a central policy that would be followed by all. The two tracks were: one, of conquest and annexation, like in Gujarat and Malwa, which was often preceded by the imposition of Chauth; and two, only the imposition of Chauth over invaded and conquered territories, without exercising any administrative control. The two tracks, one of ‘conquest and stay’, and the other, ‘fight and carry’ were not compatible as a combined policy. The second track did not develop any permanent position of the Maratha entity in the conquered regions or entrench political influence. It harked back to the original days of the Marathas when they adopted guerrilla warfare to plunder the adversaries treasure and then retire.

By following the second track during their invasion and conquest of territories to the north of Malwa, the Marathas inadvertently curtailed the possibility of their permanent absorption of more territories. Their repeated and successful forays into North India therefore did not result in the expansion of the Maratha State—the administration of the overrun territories remained with the old rulers, who were neither destroyed nor stayed loyal to the Marathas for long. They had no reason to remain loyal to the new conquerors, who were only interested in levying tribute.

Shahu, still obsessed with reconciling the disparate factions among the nobility, divided the erstwhile Mughal empire into separate spheres of influence and military activities as a mechanism to avoid conflict between his nobles/generals. His actions are indicative of the tenuous control that he had over the kingdom and its nobility, having to resort to compromise rather than bold central control that a capable king should have exercised. In the king’s division, the entire North India was given as the field of the Peshwa and his primary generals—Holkar, Scindia and Pawar. In the first phase of his tenure as Peshwa (1740–48), Balaji personally led four expeditions to the north.

Campaigns in Rajputana

The first expedition was to Rajputana in 1740–41. At this time succession wars had become endemic to the Rajput kingdoms—in Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kota and Bundi, the thrones were being contested. Since the strong imperial power needed to curtail such minor contests had not existed in Rajputana for a few decades, the Marathas as a strong power, even though external to the region, were looked upon as possible arbitrators and in most cases each faction in the contests approached them for support and military assistance. Maratha assistance was provided after taking huge subsidies and tributes and was not based on any old alliance or friendship. Assistance was given to the largest bidder, irrespective of the political allegiance of the Rajput prince in question.

Further, the Maratha generals at times imposed conflicting policies on the same allies, which in turn ensured that there was absolutely no unity of action. The situation deteriorated to an extent where at times the Maratha generals were assisting opposing sides in their succession struggles. The Peshwa was not powerful enough to check this confusion and enforce his writ on the Maratha generals. The pure avarice of the Marathas in their interference turned an already confused political situation in Rajputana into a complete and unstable disaster. Very rapidly, the political circumstances in Rajputana descended into chaos and economic turmoil brought on by continuous internecine wars and the pecuniary demands of the Marathas. The Rajputs, as a bloc, ceased to wield the great influence in the socio–political and economic spheres that they had for centuries of Indian history. The Maratha contribution to this downfall cannot be underestimated.

During this first expedition, the Peshwa concentrated on gathering money to defray the debt he had inherited from his father; relying on realising Chauth wherever possible and gathering tribute for assistance being provided, much like all other Maratha generals in the fray. Balaji entered Rajputana through Bhilsa and met with Sawai Jay Singh at Dholpur, through whom he settled an arrangement with the Mughal emperor. The Peshwa had demanded the right to collect Chauth in all the important provinces, but the Mughal emperor demurred, permitting the collection of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi in Malwa and sending a payment of 15 Lakh rupees. There are two unanswered questions that emanate from this situation—one, does the powerless Mughal emperor ignoring the Peshwa’s demands mean that the Marathas had lost stature in the eyes of the Mughals, who were already on their death throes; and two, did the Mughal emperor know of the restrictions that were placed on the Peshwa by king Shahu who was keen to continue a servile role with the Mughals? Irrespective of the reason for the denial of Balaji’s demands, for the Rajputs, the loss of stature of the Marathas and the limitations under which the Peshwa operated was very obvious.

Bihar and Bengal 1741–43

Peshwa’s second expedition was to Bihar and Bengal between 1741–43. Bengal consisted of vast and fertile plains covered with rice fields, traversed by the mightiest rivers of North India, and inhabited by a peaceful population. So far, the region had not attracted much Maratha interest only because of the distance of Bengal from the centre of Maratha power in Pune. However, Bengal had long been a source of almost inexhaustible wealth—it was based on Bengals resources that Sher Shah Sur had driven out Humayun from Hindustan; it was Akbar’s overrunning the region that had finally stabilised his kingdom; and it had provided untold wealth for Aurangzeb to wage his self-destructive war in the Deccan.

Aurangzeb had appointed Murshid Kuli Khan, first as the civil administrator and then the military governor of Bengal with the title Jaffir Khan. Murshid went on to found Murshidabad and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Shujah ud-Daulah, a Turk. Shujah supported the sons of his kinsman Mirza Muhammad and appointed Ali Vardi Khan as the governor of Patna. On Shujah’s death, his son Sarfraz Khan succeeded to the throne. However, in 1740, Ali Vardi joined hands with his brother to defeat and kill Sarfraz, and appointing himself the viceroy of Bihar and Bengal.

In the division of North India by Shahu, the Bengal region was considered to be the sphere of influence and military activities of Raghuji Bhonsle, headquartered at Nagpur. However, so far, he had been unable to impose his writ over Ali Vardi Khan. At the same time, Balaji wanted to impose the Chauth in his name over the Bengal region. Ali Vardi Khan was also facing a rebellion from Sarfraz’s brother-in-law, another Murshid Kuli Khan. Ali Vardi expelled him from the region, but Murshid’s minister Mir Habib invited Raghuji Bhonsle to invade Bihar. This invitation was immediately accepted since it was the desired opening the Maratha general had been looking for, in order to step into the Bihar–Bengal region. Raghuji deputed his minister Bhaskar Pant Kolhatkar to lead the expedition into Bihar.

The Maratha invasion surprised Ali Vardi, and although he lost his baggage in the fighting withdrawal that he did, he managed to create a strong defensive position on the banks of the River Ganga. At this turn of events, Bhaskar Pant was ready to retire but was persuaded by Mir Habib to stay and continue the fight. To induce Pant, Mir Habib had 4,000 Maratha cavalry under his guidance plunder the ‘factory’ of Jagat Seth Alamchand, one of the wealthiest bankers in the region, and carry away ‘millions’ of rupees. [The role of the ‘bankers’ in the politics of the time, especially in Bihar and Bengal will be elaborated in a later volume.] This was incentive enough for Bhaskar Pant to continue the campaign. The Marathas captured all the districts west of the River Ganga and Ali Vardi, fearing being bottle up, reached out to the Peshwa for assistance. Not one to be inactive, Ali Vardi went on to attack Bhaskar Pant’s camp near Plassey, forcing the Maratha general to flee. Subsequently, Bhaskar Pant was conclusively defeated in an encounter at Midnapore and chased out of Bengal.

On hearing of the setback to his forces in Bengal, Raghuji gathered a larger army and moved out of Berar towards Bengal to remedy the situation. In the meantime, Balaji had accepted Ali Vardi’s call for assistance and started for Bengal on 8th December 1742. He entered Bihar in February 1743 and met Ali Vardi on 8th March 1743. Balaji aspired to look the part of an ‘imperial general’ like his father, and wanting to settle scores with Raghuji for having opposed his appointment, attacked and routed the Bhonsle forces, who retired to their own territories. Balaji stayed on in Bengal, plundering the countryside as if it were enemy territory and not the holdings of an ally who had invited him for assistance.

The complete irony of the situation now unfolded. The Mughal emperor rewarded Balaji for victory over Raghuji. Nothing could be considered more paradoxical and incongruous than a defunct Mughal emperor lauding the victor of a purely internal fight of the Marathas. The Peshwa was appointed the governor of Malwa, which in any case was fully under Maratha control. The absurdity of the situation masked the underlying disdain that the Mughals and the Muslim ruling hierarchy felt for the perpetually feuding Marathas, even though their own power had already waned inexorably. Ali Vardi retained control of Bengal, continuing to pit one faction of the Marathas against another to sap their combined strength. As an aside, Ali Vardi Khan did not have any sons and before his death in 1756, designated his youngest daughter’s son, Mirza, as heir to the throne. This unhappy lad would be known in Indian history as Siraj ud-Daulah, who fought and lost the famous Battle of Plassey to the English. [The European interlude in Indian history will be covered in a later volume of this series of books.]

At this stage the ever-reconciliatory king Shahu stepped in to make peace between his Prime Minister and Raghuji, a senior general. He divided the region between the Peshwa and Raghuji—the ‘subahs’ (provinces or states) of Malwa, Agra, Ajmer and Allahabad, as well as Tikari and Bhojpur from Bihar were allocated to the Peshwa; Bengal, Orissa and Awadh were assigned to Raghuji Bhonsle. They were also ordered not to interfere in each other’s spheres of influence. On their own, Balaji and Raghuji met and agreed to a pact to keep out of each other’s activities. The king’s interference and the mutual pact between the two ministers/general had long term implications for the Maratha polity.

First, once and for all it became clear that the Peshwa was no more considered to be the chief among equals, he was not the top minister anymore, but equal to all others in the eyes of the king. This was an indication of the waning influence of the Peshwa and his position. Second, the internecine warfare that had become the bane of Maratha politics after the time of Chhatrapati Shivaji continued unabated, to the detriment of the broader Maratha polity. Third, it became apparent to even the casual observer that as long as Shahu remained king, the Marathas would never gain real independence. Shahu was still bent on attempting to gain legitimacy through the approval of the already defunct Mughal ruler. He could not come up to the level required to provide strong and independent leadership to the rising Marathas, which was the need of the hour. Fourth, the entire political spread of the sub-continent accepted the greatness of Maratha power. However, canny adversaries continued to exploit the internal divisions to their advantage, limiting the Maratha growth to politico-economic and social supremacy.

The Peshwa, truly loyal to his sovereign, did not interfere with Raghuji Bhonsle again. Raghuji went on to mount six expeditions into Bengal with varying success, at the end of which the Marathas had gained Orissa as a vassal state, which was later annexed fully as an integral part of the Berar kingdom of the Bhonsles of Nagpur. The Peshwa returned from Bengal, settled a turbulent Bundelkhand and established the collection of Chauth from the entire region.

Third and Fourth Expeditions 1744–45 & 1747

The third campaign of the Peshwa was into Rajputana and Bundelkhand, where the politico-economic situation was in a state of eternal flux. On 11th March 1745, Bhilsa was captured by Ranoji Scindia from the Nawab of Bhopal. Large tributes were collected and Chauth imposed in some regions. The fourth expedition was almost an extension of the third and undertaken in 1747. On 6th December 1747, Balaji marched north to help the Mughal emperor stop the invasion of Ahmad Shah Abdali. He was also keen to settle the turbulent Rajputana. On 3rd March 1748, Abdali was defeated by the Mughal forces, before the Maratha forces reached to assist. The Peshwa met Sawai Madho Singh of Jaipur in April 1748, made arrangements for the temporary settlement of Rajputana, and returned to the Deccan.

Nearly a decade of incessant warfare against external adversaries, compounded by a continuous stream of strength-sapping and debilitating internecine warfare had achieved very meagre results. In 1748, the Marathas were nowhere near to achieving supremacy in North India, as they had intended to do for the past two decades and more. In fact, their influence had dwindled to an extent wherein they had to fight constantly to realise the Chauth and other tributes promised to them. More importantly, the Maratha avarice and internal divisions lost them the support of the Rajputs, who had initially welcomed them as allies in the broader fight against the Mughal/Muslim adversaries. Instead, the Rajputs became hostile as different Maratha factions supported opposing sides in the succession struggles; and increased their pecuniary demands for the provision of military assistance, while not settling any matter with the finality required. This split between the two major Hindu factions was to have a salutary effect in the following years.

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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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