The Marathas Part 18 The March to Destruction: 50 Years of Chaos Section VII: The Second Anglo-Maratha War

Canberra, 29 July 2022

The new regime in Pune, propped up and controlled by Yashwantrao Holkar was inherently flimsy by nature. For all his military acumen, Holkar was no visionary and did not have a long-term prescience to follow—his governing decisions were always short-sighted and opportunistic. On the other hand, the challenges to the government were many and increasing daily; Yashwantrao was incapable of reining them in or solving them. The State was floundering under the ineptitude of its rulers and the chaos that had been brought about by the incessant civil war, with no respite in sight.

The financial difficulties of the kingdom were acute, which the undiplomatic Holkar tried to pass on to the unhappy citizens of Pune who had already been subjected to terrible misery for the past few years. There is no doubt that Yashwantrao Holkar was intimately aware of the dire straits that the State was in, but he was powerless to stem the spreading rot, which had already eaten into the vitals of the Empire. The great Maratha Empire was now an empty shell, the inside core having become untenably weak and tottering—there were no strong foundational supports left to hold it up. Holkar’s control of the court was so tenuous that he was not even able to confirm Vinayak Rao, son of Amratrao, as the heir to the throne. This failure let Bajirao, continue as the de facto Peshwa although he was absconding and under the protection of the English in Bassein.

The Second Anglo-Maratha War … and After

Even though he was not a visionary, Yashwantrao was able to perceive the sad state of affairs within the Maratha Empire. As a remedy, he started to make attempts to cobble together a confederacy to protect Maratha independence. However, it would seem that he had no confidence in a positive outcome for his efforts since at the same time he also made contact with the English resident to reach an agreement with the absconding Peshwa. At the same time, the Scindia–Holkar negotiations were also not making any progress. Holkar’s position was becoming increasingly precarious. He left Pune on 25th February 1803, moving on the Hyderabad–Ahmednagar Road, to sustain his army through plunder of the surrounding areas.

Once the Treaty of Bassein had been ratified by the Governor–General in Calcutta, in March 1803, the English started to assemble a large force on the northern borders of Madras under Arthur Wellesley, the younger brother of Lord Mornington. Since Bajirao, the de facto Peshwa, was in the English camp, several Maratha families who supported him flocked to the English flag. Then, as now, the larger good of the country was obscured by personal ambitions for many people, being relegated to a lower priority. The English army marched to Pune. With the English moving towards Pune, Amratrao decamped from the capital on 20th April. On 13th May 1803, declared auspicious by the astrologers, Bajirao II re-entered Pune on the strength of English bayonets and was restored to the throne of the Peshwa. The English claimed this to be a great achievement for Arthur Wellesley, although no battle had been fought to bring about this conclusion. Wellesley assured Amratrao of English protection, a powerful and direct message to the puppet Peshwa Bajirao as to where the ruling power actually rested.

Preliminary Phase

Arthur Wellesley had been commissioned in 1787 and had experience as a temporary brigade commander in the European Flanders campaign of the 1790s. In Pune, he surveyed the scenario and concluded that only Daulat Rao Scindia possessed military power capable of offering any serious opposition to the English plan to annex the Maratha kingdom. Of course, this plan was kept hidden from all and not articulated. He sent a message to Scindia asking him to endorse the Treaty of Bassein as an equal and agree that it had been signed ‘upon terms of equality and [was] honourable to all parties’. This assertion was a blatant lie, since the treaty was actually one of abject surrender of Maratha independence signed by a Peshwa who was already in English ‘custody’ of his own volition. The alternative given to Scindia was to prepare for war in case he was not ready to endorse the treaty. Wellesley also wanted to bring Daulat Rao Scindia down a notch and get rid of the French influence that he was under.

Daulat Rao Scindia and Raghuji Bhonsle, both more astute than Yashwantrao, came together and attempted to create a Maratha coalition against the English. They tried to win over the ruler of Bundelkhand to join them and were aware that Baroda was already making attempts to get out of the constricting English influence. They were hopeful of facing the English with a united front. Daulat Rao made an approach to Holkar and in order to appease him, released Khanderao and with Raghuji Bhonsle mediating, agreed to settle all existing differences between them. As a goodwill gesture, Daulat Rao also released all Holkar territory in Malwa that had been under Scindia control after their victory at Indore. Even though time was of the essence, these reconciliatory negotiations progressed rather slowly, while the English were preparing for war at a furious pace. On 7th August 1803, Arthur Wellesley declared war, even though no official reply had been received from Daulat Rao Scindia.

Even after war was declared, Holkar opted to stay aloof and showed no inclination to join the coalition—either unable or unwilling to join the anti-English enterprise. He moved with his forces to Burhanpur and encamped at Bhikangaon. This was inexplicable behaviour on the part of a noble who had sworn vengeance against Bajirao. The distinct lack of vision, a drawback that troubled him throughout his career, once again came to the fore. He was unable to fathom even the medium-term repercussions of his actions that could contribute to a possible defeat of the Maratha coalition, and unwittingly played into the hands of the cunning English who were carefully following their plan to divide and separate the major Maratha powers. Different reasons have been put forward for Yashwantrao Holkar staying away from the hastily put together coalition, ranging from a lack of funds to field an army, to his claim that he was staying aloof from the Deccan War to take care of Maratha interests in ‘Hindustan’, meaning North India.

The real reason for Holkar’s reluctance and refusal to join the fledgling Maratha confederacy seems to have been his fear that in case the English were defeated, Scindia would become all powerful within the Maratha polity. Yashwantrao feared that subsequently Daulat Rao would turn on him in a battle of extermination and become the ruler of Pune and the Maratha State. Some respected modern historians also point to the letter written by Wellesley to Holkar, dated 16th July 1803, before the declaration of war, in which he states very clearly that he, Wellesley, was ‘anxious’ to cultivate good relations with Yashwantrao—the divide and rule policy clearly at play. The effort by Arthur Wellesley to deal with the major Maratha powers bilaterally and not as a confederacy was clearly aimed at ensuring that they did not come together with one purpose in opposing the English activities.

There is also a little reported episode that sheds light on the varied influences that were at play at this crucial juncture in Maratha history. Daulat Rao had written a letter to the Peshwa, Bajirao, stating clearly that after making a show of satisfying Holkar’s demands, at a later time they could jointly take action to wreak their vengeance on him. The letter was intercepted by Amratrao, who promptly passed it on to Wellesley on whose largess he was dependent for survival. Wellesley, immediately let Holkar see the letter. Yashwantrao reacted by writing an angry letter to Scindia, rightly accusing him of planning treachery and double-dealing. While one single factor cannot be attributed as the reason for Holkar staying away from the confederacy, it can be seen that different inputs, of limited consequences individually, came together to sway Holkar’s decision. Viewed holistically, the primary responsibility for the non-formation of a cohesive Maratha Federation to oppose the English at this critical juncture in Maratha history must be laid at Daulat Rao Scindia’s feet—no other power had the capacity to make, or more importantly, break the Coalition/Federation.

Progress of the War

On 12th August 1803, Wellesley captured Ahmednagar, beating back both Scindia and Bhonsle forces. He then adopted tactics that were a modification of the tried and tested Maratha modus operandi. He ensured that: the Maratha forces were never allowed to remain undisturbed in one place; never attacked a strongly defended position; always forced the enemy to move; and attacked in strength when disorder was apparent in the adversary’s camp. This was a classic case of observing and studying the enemy’s winning tactics and then adapting them to suit the prevailing conditions and the capacity of one’s own forces. On 23rd September 1803, the English, although outnumbered, won the hard-fought Battle of Assaye.

The Battle of Assaye–23rd September 1803

Assaye is a small village, about 45 miles north-east of Aurangabad, situated on the southern bank of the River Juah, a tributary of the River Kalena that flows south-east in the Deccan Plateau and joins the River Godavari.

The Anglo-Indian forces were commanded by Major General Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). The bulk of this force consisted of the native sepoy infantry battalions of the Madras Native Infantry and three squadrons of Madras Native Cavalry. The purely English units were a contingent of cavalry of the 19th Light Dragoons and two battalions of Scottish infantry from the 74th Regiment of Foot. The opposing Maratha army was commanded jointly by Daulat Rao Scindia and Raghuji Bhonsle, consisting mainly of fast-moving light cavalry.

After an extremely bloody battle, the combined Maratha army was soundly beaten by Wellesley who claimed it to be a victory better than any so far achieved in the Deccan. The English casualties were 428 killed; 1,995 wounded; and 18 missing—a total of 2,441, which was more than one-third of the force engaged in combat. Measured in a different manner, the English casualties were 663 Europeans and 1,778 Indians—the cost of victory was enormous. The Maratha casualties are more difficult to ascertain. Initial estimates by English officers put the figures at about 1,200 dead and an equal amount wounded, which would seem to be approximately correct. However, some modern historians put the figure closer to 6,000 an inordinately high figure, considering the actual conduct of the battle. [The details of the battle and the actions of the day are superfluous to the flow of this narrative and is not being elaborated. This author is of the opinion that the estimates of the English officers at the end of the battle would be nearer the actual figure of Maratha casualties.]   

The Governor–General lauded the battle as a ‘most brilliant and important victory’ and awarded each unit that participated in the battle with a set of honorary colours. They were also permitted to adopt the Assaye elephant as part of their regimental insignia.

Battle Honours

The 74th Regiment of Foot came to be known as the ‘Assaye Battalion’. Its modern-day successor, the Royal Highland Fusiliers (2 SCOTs) still celebrate the anniversary of the victory at Assaye each year and carry the Assaye elephant as part of their insignia.

The Native Indian Infantry Battalions that participated in the Battle of Assaye still survive within the modern Indian Army as the Madras Regiment. While they still wear the Assaye elephant on their crest, neither does the regiment celebrate the victory at Assaye; nor does it claim the battle honour for the Battle of Assaye that was given to it in 1803. [This has been done in pursuance of the policy of the Government of India, which has declared as ‘repugnant’ some battle honours that were earned by Indian army units that trace their origins back to erstwhile units of the armies under the East India Company and later under the British Indian Army. Indian Army units no longer inscribe these battle honours on their colours and do not celebrate commemoration days associated with these battles. This post-independence decision was taken by the Indian government and concern those battle honours given for battles fought in un-divided India, which it regards as part of the ‘subjugation’ of the sub-continent. The Battle of Assaye is perhaps the earliest of these battles.]     

The English captured Burhanpur on 15th October and Asirgarh, one of the strongest fortresses in the sub-continent, on 21st October. On 29th November, Bhonsle was defeated at Argaon, although even the English accepted that the Maratha forces fought with exceptional bravery and Gawilgarh fell on 15th December 1803.

In North India also events were going in favour of the English, although the protection of Maratha interests in the north had been one of the supposed reasons for Holkar staying away from the Federation. Perron, the French commander of the Scindia forces, moved his seasoned battalions away from the English point of attack and made it easier for the English to carry the day. No doubt, Perron was influenced by monetary considerations. The English captured Aligarh on 5th September and the Scindia army was defeated on 11th September at Patparganj near Delhi. In this battle, the English commander General Gerard Lake is reported to have led every infantry charge personally, a rare feat for any senior officer. The 83-year-old blind Mughal emperor, Shah Alam was taken into English custody two days later.

The triumphant English march continued, with their forces taking Agra on 17th October and the Raja of Bharatpur signing a treaty with the Company. On 1st November, the remainder of the Scindia army was vanquished at a battle fought at Laswari, about 20 miles from Bharatpur. Ambaji Ingle, the Scindia commander ruling the entire Malwa fled from the battlefield. The Battle of Laswari was the last straw that broke the back of Scindia’s ascendancy and nailed shut the coffin of Scindia’s military and political power for good. For the English, this victory was dearly bought— they lost 882 soldiers, including that of Major General Weir.

The English were victorious in Orissa and Bundelkhand and in Gujarat, they captured Broach on 29th August and Champaner and Pavgarh on 17th September. The English campaign, conducted simultaneously on three axes, was singularly successful for two primary reasons. First, from a military perspective, the English were commanded by an experienced General, Arthur Wellesley, who studied the enemy dispositions and operational tactics, always countering them effectively. He chose a strategy to harry and harass the somewhat disorganised Maratha army, using a page from their own old book of operational art, which to some extent the new Maratha army seems to have forgotten in their frenzy to adopt ‘European’ fighting modus operandi. The English army was a combination of native forces officered by the English who fought side by side with pure English Army battalions. Mixed in the right balance this was a winning combination, as demonstrated repeatedly. Second, on the diplomatic front, the English managed through coercion, cajoling and bribery to keep a large number of minor Rajput, Jat and even Maratha princes, along with the Nawabs of the Doab and the Bundela chiefs, away from the coalition. This move weakened the Maratha Confederacy considerably since these were traditionally Maratha feudatories who would have contributed troops and resources to the war-effort.

The Aftermath

The Governor–General Lord Mornington wanted to humiliate Scindia and Bhonsle by having them sent to Calcutta to beg for peace personally. However, Wellesley considered it more important for the long-term prospects of the English in Central India and the Deccan to make the two Maratha stalwarts innocuous and powerless, rather than humiliated chiefs. He offered peace treaties to both Daulat Rao Scindia and Raghuji Bhonsle. The treaties offered were individual and separate for each of the Maratha chiefs even though their armies had fought jointly, and it was a combined army of the Marathas that had been defeated. Wellesley intended to divide the nascent Maratha Federation, even before it had had time to coalesce into a viable entity.

Raghuji Bhonsle. The English East India Company, in the person of Arthur Wellesley, signed the Treaty of Deogaon with Raghuji Bhonsle on 19th December 1803. According to this treaty, Bhonsle ceded to the English the province of Orissa that included the entire coast including Balasore, all territories to the west of Wardha and south of the hills that contained Narnaulla and Gawilgarh. He was forced to return western Berar up to the River Wardha to the Nizam. In terms of his own independence, Bhonsle was prohibited from interacting with any foreign government or individual, including British citizens, without prior permission of the English. He was also to respect all bilateral treaties signed by the English with his feudatories, while recognising the validity of the Treaty of Bassein, the primary cause of the war itself. An English resident, Mountstuart Elphinstone, was foisted on him to stay in his court. Raghuji Bhonsle had been effectively defanged and reduced to a ruler in name only, with a fraction of his original territorial holdings to count as his own.

Daulat Rao Scindia. Daulat Rao was also dealt with in a similar manner, signing the Treaty of Surji Aryangaon on 30th December 1803. According to the treaty—he recognised the Treaty of Bassein; surrendered his territories between the Rivers Ganga and Yamuna and all domains north of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Gohad; ceded Ahmednagar, Broach and territories between Ajanta and the River Godavari to the English; renounced all his claims made on the East India Company, the Peshwa, Nizam and Gaekwad; agreed to respect all bilateral treaties between the English and his feudatories; renounced his control over the Mughal emperor; agreed to not interact with any foreign national; and accepted Malcolm as the English resident in his court.  Scindia was so badly beaten down that two months later, on 27th February 1804, he entered into a defensive alliance with the English.

From the terms of these unequal treaties, it becomes clear that the English were trying to grab as much territory as possible while the going was good. Thus, the first phase of the Second Anglo-Maratha War came to an inconclusive end.

Continuing Disunity

Not being a foresighted statesman, Yashwantrao Holkar was unable to read into the meaning of the humbling terms of peace imposed on both Scindia and Bhonsle. He not only managed to stay aloof from the conflict, but also managed to give the overt impression of favouring the English. However, disturbed by the turn of events that made the English more powerful than even their own dreams, he tried to create a coalition of Indian rulers to oppose any fresh initiatives of the English. Yashwantrao entered into secret correspondence with the Rajas of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Macheri and the Rana of Udaipur along with a number of smaller chieftains. He also approached the Sikhs exploring the possibility of an alliance.

He was aware that Daulat Rao was in the process of entering into a defensive alliance with the English and sent an envoy to the Scindia court on 5th February 1804, attempting to persuade Scindia to withdraw from the proposed alliance-in-the-making. Daulat Rao, already a toothless tiger, immediately told the English about the clandestine approach that Holkar had made to him. On becoming aware that his approach to Scindia was not a secret anymore, Yashwantrao felt that the English would now single him out for attack. Therefore, he decided to take the initiative to deal with the English, in a manner that he thought would be fitting. He was unwilling to be swept aside like Scindia had been and within his limited thinking process felt that threatening the English was the appropriate attitude to adopt. He laid out his demands in a most high-handed manner, completely unaware of the changed power dynamics in the Deccan and the relative inferiority of his military power vis-à-vis the English.

Yashwantrao Holkar demanded the following: the English were not to interfere with his right to collect Chauth from his feudatories; the territories that were currently in his possession were to be conferred on him; and the domains that were previously held by Holkars in the Doab—essentially the provinces of Etawah and Haryana—were to be returned to him. As a concluding remark he threatened to unleash his army on the English, which he wrote would be like ‘the waves of the sea’. The high demanding tone set in this correspondence immediately doomed the negotiations to failure—the English, exulting in their great victory was in no mood to accept the insulting words of a small time chief.

As mentioned earlier, neither was Yashwantrao a visionary nor was he an experienced statesman. Even before the English could respond to his demanding letter, in March 1804, he attacked and sacked Pushkar and Ajmer, both within the Jaipur domain. The English considered this act of pillage a direct challenge since Jaipur had already accepted an English subsidiary force as part of a mutual defence pact. At this juncture, Holkar committed an act of impetuous immaturity, which bordered on the barbarous. There were three young English officers in his military service, who wanted to resign and go over to the English army in accordance with a proclamation of the Governor–General asking all Englishmen in the service of Indian princes and chiefs to resign. Instead of releasing them, he had the three officers murdered—this proved to be the proverbial last straw for the English; they declared war on Holkar in April 1804.

The Campaign Against Holkar

The English, and the Governor–General in particular, were suffering from a pardonable bout of over-confident hubris after their long and arduous, but eventually victorious, campaign against Scindia and Bhonsle, the two stalwarts of Maratha power. They expected and prepared for a short war. Lord Mornington in Calcutta thought that one battle would annihilate his army and bring Holkar to heel. His brother Wellesley, the commander in the field, did not plan for more than a fortnight of campaigning at the most. In the initial phase, the English under command of Brigadier George Monson advanced about 50 miles from the Mukundra Pass, which is about 30 miles from Kota and then was soundly beaten by Holkar. Although he continued to skirmish for some weeks, Monson was finally forced to retreat towards Agra by end-August 1804. During this period, he had lost five battalions and six companies of soldiers as casualties, dead or injured. It must be admitted that even if his statesmanship was terribly short-sighted, Yashwantrao was a general of a very high calibre.

Holkar had returned to employing the old guerrilla tactics to counter his adversary, something for which the Maratha light cavalry was rightly famous. However, Monson’s retreat was assessed wrong by Holkar, adding to the already long list of both strategic and diplomatic blunders that he had already committed. The Holkar army at this stage consisted of 60,000 cavalry, about 16,000 infantry and nearly 200 artillery guns. His emphatic victory over the English at Mukundra Pass, encouraged Yashwantrao to pursue the retreating army into Hindustan, a decision that gradually started to sap the vitality of his military forces. He attacked Delhi and was repulsed—his senior commander Harnath Singh being defeated at Dig on 13th November 1804 and Holkar himself being routed at Farukhabad on 17th November.

Ranjit Singh, the Raja of Bharatpur, came to the aid of Holkar, now reeling back under pressure from the English forces—placing two battalions of his own forces, under command of his son Lachman Singh, with the Holkar forces. In the meantime, fort Dig, which was still being held by the Marathas fell to the English on 23rd December and the retreating Marathas took shelter in the fort at Bharatpur. General Gerard Lake, commanding the English army besieged the fort from 7th January 1805. Three attempts to storm the fort failed and the siege was converted to a blockade. Although the Jats displayed the grim determination and resolution, characteristic of their race in the face of extreme adversity, Ranjit Singh was more pragmatic and realised that he could not stand-up to the English in the long term. He sued for peace and concluded a treaty on 10th April 1805, after months of negotiation.

As per the terms of the treaty, the Raja of Bharatpur paid 20 lakh rupees to the English East India Company as indemnity; handed over the fort at Dig; and had his son stay in the English commander’s camp at Agra as an unofficial ‘hostage’. The English had suffered 3,203 casualties, of which 103 were Europeans, during the siege and blockade of Bharatpur. They felt that the treaty was an ‘honourable’ settlement between two equal powers, however, as is evident it was nothing of that sort. It was an unequal treaty foisted on a Raja at the end of his tether and unable to resist any further without destroying his people.

A Little-Known Conundrum

There is an aspect of the Second Maratha War, in its entirety, that contemporary as well as later-day historians have ignored, some willingly sweeping it under the carpet. This author believes that this aspect needs to be brought to light to put the actions of the English East India Company in perspective vis-à-vis their greed and avarice to gather wealth and territory. The fact remains that the Second Maratha War was the result of a ‘forward policy’ pursued by the Governor–General, Richard Wellesley (Lord Mornington), through the army commanded by his brother Arthur Wellesley. No doubt they were successful in dramatically increasing the territorial holdings of the Company. However, the casualties suffered at the Bharatpur siege/blockage campaign was so heavy that it acted as the catalyst for the recall of Mornington, from his position as Governor–General in July 1805, by the Court of Directors of the Company in London.

The forward policy of the Wellesley brothers had increased the debt of the Company from 17 million rupees in 1797 to 31 million in 1806. This was impossible for the Company to condone, especially considering that the fundamental reason for the existence of the Company was to bring in profits. This much is clear—the Directors felt that Mornington had overstepped his remit and they were unwilling to let him run amuck as he pleased, while continuing to expend Company resources. A more important fact that has seldom been brought out, let alone highlighted, is that the British Parliament of the time distinctly felt that the Governor–General had acted ‘most impudently and illegally’. Although a condemnation was not issued by the Parliament, this perception added urgency to the decision of the Company Directors to recall Richard Wellesley. The debate that has not yet taken place, but needs to be undertaken, is that if the British Parliament felt that the actions of the Company in India were ‘illegal’, what actions did they initiate to curtail the illegal activities being committed by their citizens in India. It would seem that the glimmer of an emerging empire was visible to the worthies in London, and they decided that the recall of the Governor–General was sufficient to reduce the importance of this ‘unfortunate’ illegal action by an overzealous official in a faraway land. This was not the first, nor would it be the last, instance of clearly illegal actions being recognised as such by the British authorities but being consciously swept under the carpet, since the result of the illegal action was to improve the position of the Company, and later the British government. After all, the ‘natives’ did not have to be treated with any decency or as legal equals.

Yashwantrao Holkar’s Ignominious End                   

From the defeat at Bharatpur, Yashwantrao made his way to Sabalgarh, where he was received cordially at the Scindia camp. However, he did not get any tangible assurance of assistance or collaboration from Daulat Rao Scindia for three reasons—Ambaji Ingle had a temporising influence on Scindia and would not permit him to take any rash actions, which could antagonise the English; the old Scindia–Holkar rivalry was rekindled by minor frictions between the respective followers; and Scindia was convinced that it was futile to fight the English since long-term victory seemed out of reach for the Marathas. Unable to find any support, Yashwantrao proceeded to Amritsar in September 1805, hoping to receive aid from the Sikh Maharaja, Ranjit Singh, which was also not forthcoming.

In the meantime, Daulat Rao Scindia concluded a fresh treaty with the English—the Treaty of Mustafapur on 21st November 1805. According to this treaty, Gohad and the fort at Gwalior was restored to Scindia for his renouncing all claims to the territories north of the River Chambal. Further, the Company agreed not to enter into any alliance with the Rana of Udaipur and the Rajas of Jodhpur and Kota; they would also not make any claims on territories south of the River Chambal.

General Lake had been doggedly following Yashwantrao on his move towards Amritsar and the hoped-for Sikh sanctuary. Finally, he forced the Treaty of Rajpurghat, on the banks of the River Beas, on Holkar on 24th December 1805. As per this treaty, Holkar renounced all claims to territories north of the River Chambal and on Pune and Bundelkhand. He also agreed not to employ any Europeans in his service without prior consent of the Company. In return, the English agreed not to interfere in Holkar affairs south of the River Chambal. Forts and other territories belonging to the Holkar family in the Deccan were returned, other than Chandor, Ambar and Shegaon. Yashwantrao was permitted to return to his domains via a route that was prescribed by General Lake.

Later, Tonk and Rampura north of Bundi Hills were restored to Holkar control. By doing so, the English abandoned the Raja of Bundi to an uncertain fate. This Raja had rendered invaluable assistance to Monson against Holkar earlier in the war and was sure to be targeted by Yashwantrao. Fickleness of commitment and a lack of integrity in adhering to solemn promises, especially to minor chieftains, which was later to become a distinctive character trait of English leadership in the sub-continent, both political and military, was clearly on display here. The English signed treaties with local rulers, only for the same treaties to be either repudiated or dishonoured by the next incumbent of the position, to suit the current needs of the Company/Government. The only priority was the advancement of the Company interests—morality, integrity and such esoteric words and their meaning became so much nonsense with the English ‘elite’ in the sub-continent.

Unfortunately, the princes and chieftains of India never learned the long-term lessons that were being etched on the stone walls of history by the unscrupulous behaviour of the English. They perished, one at a time, led to the sacrificial altar as dumb offerings—a sad commentary on the lack of sagacity and perspicacity of these rulers. They came up against an existentialist threat to their kingdoms and were found wanting.

The Treaty of Rajpurghat brought the curtain down on the career of Yashwantrao and his conflict with the Peshwa, fought on the Peshwa’s behalf by the English. However, he was still not done— he was a man of great endeavour, as mentioned earlier. Once he was left alone in his domain, he aspired to reunite members of the Maratha Confederacy. There is an ironic twist in this initiative, since Yashwantrao was the one who shunned the coalition that Scindia and Bhonsle were cobbling together before their defeat. He started to reorganise his army and opened a gun factory at Bhanpura. Scindia consciously stayed away from all these activities.

Yashwantrao Holkar was relatively young, he was not yet 35 years old. However, the rigours of continuous campaigning, combined with a dissipated lifestyle and the frustration of repeated failures of his various enterprises wore him down and affected his mind—he sank into insanity from which he never recovered. He died, before completing his 35th year, on 27th October 1811, at Bhanpura. Although he died a raving lunatic, he must be seen in perspective as a bold and fearless warrior with no small capacity as a general in the field. He had repeatedly displayed his ability to endure severe fatigue and great pain, bearing adversity with great fortitude. With his death, Yashwantrao’s dreams, meagre as they were, lay shattered along with any possibility of the revival of Maratha power.

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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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