The Maratha entry into the North: the background

The Maratha entry into the North: the background


Not a sudden political phenomenon, the Maratha entry into the Delhi politics dates back to the times of Shahu. Balaji Vishvanath, the first Peshwa, marched to Delhi in 1718 to obtain approval of the Emperor Farrukhsiyar for the peace treaty agreed between Shahu and Husain Ali. The treaty was finally approved in March, 1719 b> Muhammad Shah. The prestige of the Marathas further increased under Baji Rao whose mother Radha Bai undertook pilgrimage tour to various places in northern India including Kuruksherra and everywhere she was provided escort by the imperial government and local chiefs. Then followed Baji Rao’s sudden appearance before Delhi on March 28, 1737 when after having plundered the suburbs of the capital and routing a Mughal force, the Maratha army, in its return march visited Rewari (March 31). But the first phase of Maratha ascendancy at Delhi court may be said to have actually begun from the death of wazir Qamr-ud-din and Emperor Muhammad Shah in 1748 and continued with short intervals till the battle of Panipat in 1761.


The Marathas gained considerably in the struggle for power between the Turani and Irani parties at the Delhi court. They at first supported Safdar Jang, the head of Irani party against Tntizam-ud-daulah, son of the late Qamr-ud-din Khan. Safdar Jang employed them against Rohillas and the Bangash Afghans (1751) who were committing aggression in his home province of Oudh and Allahabad. The Maratha victories in these ventures brought forth Dattaii Sindhia for the first time into prominence. In view of the Abdali invasion (1751-52) the Marathas entered into a subsidiary alliance with Safdar Jang, which is very important in so far as it explains the causes of the Maratha entry into the north. According to the terms of agreement the Peshwa was promised thirty lakhs of rupees for keeping Abdali out of India; another twenty lakhs for defending the Empire against internal danger; was granted chauth on the revenues of Sind, Panjab, and certain districts in upner Ganga Doab to meet the expenses; further he was to be appointed governor of Agra, Mathura, Narnaul and Ajmer without disturbing the existing administrative set up. But the pact did not materialise. The Emperor had formally ceded the Punjab to Abdali and his agent Qalandar Khan had been given the royal rescript to this effect (April 23, 1752). Since there was no more necessity of the Maratha help, the Emperor declined to confirm the treaty. The Maratha leaders demanded fifty lakhs for their immediate withdrawal, and further started plundering the area around the capital which greatly worried the Delhi court. The Marathas finally retired with a promise that Ghazi-ud- din (the eldest son of Nizam-ud-mulk) who was friendly to them would be appointed viceroy of the Deccan. But the promise could not be fulfilled. Ghazi-ud-din was poisoned to death by other aspirants to his new assignment.


In 1753 the Marathas joined the Emperor and deserted their old ally Safdar Jang who was deeply involved in the struggle for power at Delhi court. Raghunath Rao accompanied by leading Maratha nobles with a huge army was sent to the north to procure money, but before their arrival Safdar Jang was defeated, returned to Lucknow and died a broken hearted man (October, 1753). Passing through Rajasthan the Maratha army reached Delhi (May, 1754) while its advance guard under Khande Rao Holkar marched to the capital, had interview with the Emperor (December 22, 1753) and received presents. The wazir Intizam-ud-daulah and the mir-bakshi Imad-ul-mulk— the deadly enemies, had their own plans — the former aiming at a united front of the Nawab of Oudh, Surajmal and Rajput princes, while the latter with his Maratha allies contemplating means to keep intact their hold over the Emperor. In this struggle for power Imad-ul-mulk came out as the prime-minister, deposed Ahmad Shah and declared Alamgir II as the Emperor. As Raghunath Rao did not get the promised price for his assistance to the wazir, the Marathas took recourse to plundering the capital and its adjoining region. The Maratha soldiers first started molesting the villages in the northern suburbs of Delhi (August 31, 1754). The suffering Dahiya farmers of Jalalpur and other villages near Narela retaliated making surprise attack on the Deccanese foraging parties and carrying of their horses and property. Malhar Rao fought them and attacked their three villages— Jalalpur, Nahra and Nahri. Many other villages of the region suffered the same fate and the booty carried off from them sold in Delhi. Complaints made to the imperial authority against these outrages were of no avail. Imad eventually agreed to pay eighty two and a half lakh of which only one third could be collected. The new Emperor showed his gratitude to the Marathas by issuing a royal script (October 25, 1754) by which Kurukshetra and Gaya, the two holy places of the Hindus, were surrendered to the Peshwa and the Muslim officers were withdrawn at these places which were then placed under Hingne brothers, Peshwa’s agents at Delhi. Raghunath Rao after crossing the Jamuna returned via Badarpur, Gurgaon, Jhajjar, Narnaul, Singhana to Pushkar, while Malhar Rao followed the route via Naraina, Rewari and Pataudi districts levying tributes from Gujar and Baluch landlords of Haryana.


The fourth Durrani invasion of India in 1756 again necessitated the despatch of a strong army from Poona to Delhi under Malhar Rao and Raghunath Rao. The former left Poona earlier but was joined by the latter at Indore (February 14, 1757). By this time Delhi was already under the Durrani occupation. Ahmad Shah appointed Najib-ud-daulah mir bakshi (February 19, 1757) and was to act as his plenipotentiary after the former’s departure from India. So long as Durrani was in India Raghunath Rao was hesitant to march straight to Delhi. He instead entered Rajasthan first and when Durrani reached the confines of Afghanisthan, planned the recovery of Gangetic doab (June— July, 1757). The wazir Imad intended on putting the Marathas against Najib whom the emperor also desired to get rid of. Malhar Rao and Raghunath Rao joined the advance Maratha party in the suburbs of Delhi. A sharp encounter between the Marathas and Najib took place on August 11.’ y\s a fresh Durrani invasion in support of Najib, their best Indian ally, was feared, Ragunath Rao sent Manaji Paygude for intelligence up to Thanesar and also urged the Peshwa to depute Dattaji Sindhia to take his position in the Punjab and to keep himself in touch with Abdali’s movements in that quarter. Death, desertion and famine forced Najib finally to open negotiations with the Marathas. On September 3, Najib agreed to vacate Delhi, resign the office of mir bakshi and pay an indemnity of five lakhs to the Marathas who were thus left supreme in the capital.


Having ousted Najib from Delhi in September 1757, the Marathas entered Haryana and collected revenues from Kamgar Khan Baluch in Rohtak district through his superintendent Sathhami. Malhar’s women who had come to Kurukshetra for a religious bath on a Somavati Amavasya day (January 9, 1758) were attacked at Shahbad by a contingent of Abdus-Samad Khan, Abdali’s governor at Sarhind. The Marathas fought bravely, slew many Afghans and seized their horses. Malhar Rao further plundered Taraori and Karnal and collected a tribute of five lakhs from Kunjapura, then crossed the Jamuna, met Raghunath Rao and discussed the scheme of the conquest of the Punjab.


The expedition of Raghunath Rao began towards the end of February, 1758. Passing through Thanesar the army reached Mughal-ki-Sarai near Ambala (March 5) and the vicinity of Sarhind (March 8). With the assistance of Adina Beg and his Sikh allies, the fort of Sarhind was captured, Abdali’s lieutenents Abdus-Samad Khan and Jangbaz Khan were imprisoned and the city was given to plunder. As the formidable Maratha army approached Timur Shah followed by Jahan Khan decided to return to Afghanisthan (April, 1758). The Marathas, now complete master of the Punjab, pursued the enemy till they captured Attock, Peshawar and Multan. After having made proper arrangements for the administration of the newly acquired territories Raghunath Rao ‘prepared to return (from Lahore) to the Deccan at the express orders of the Peshwa’. He appointed Adina Beg, an experienced administrator, as the Governor of the Punjab, who could successfully deal with the Sikhs, and from whom the Marathas could easily realise the settled tribute. Satisfied with his achievements Raghunath Rao returned to Delhi via Thanesar where they had a religious bath on Somavati Amavasya (June 5).


The Maratha settlement in the Punjab did not survive long. After Adina Beg’s death (September 15, 1758) advance Maratha detachment from Peshawar and Attock were recalled. Imad-ul-mulk sent his officers to eschect the cash and property of the deceased governor but Raghunath Rao who had received the news of Adina Beg’s death in Malwa, sent a strong force to the Punjab led by Sabaji Patel who overtook Imad’s agents at Sonepat and drove them back to the capital and then proceeded up to Peshawar. Another Maratha contingent led by Dattaji Sindhia was heading towards the Punjab at the instruction of Raghunath Rao. This marked a reversal of the Maratha policy in the north. In effect it meant the passing of Maratha leadership from Malhar Rao, a follower of conciliation and compromise with regard to the Muslims of northern India, to Dattaji Sindhia ‘a rough impatient hustling soldier. Dattaji met Imad at Delhi who told him about the possible Durrani attack and stressed the need for the fortification of the frontier outposts by the Marathas and offered seven/eight lakhs of rupees for the purpose (January 31, 1759). Dattaji accepted the terms, called Sabaji from Peshawar and met him at Machhiwara to gather fresh information about the frontiers so as to make necessary administrative changes.


After his return from the Punjab (May, 1759) Dattaji crossed the Jamuna opposite Panipat at Ramraghat and encamped at Shamli, where he invited Najib to settle terms. To over awe Najih, a large Maratha force was also sent to Saharanpiir district. Najib agreed to the proposal. But Dattaji’s companions, in opposition to his wish, wanted to capture Najib who also grew suspicious and the plot eventually failed due to the courage show’n by Najib and his chief officers. This resulted in open breach between Dattaji and Najib and remained a source of deadly hostility of the latter towards the Sindhias in the following period.


As most of Najib’s territory fell into Dattaji’s hands, the former took up a defensive position at Sukkartal (June 1759) and on September 15 repulsed Maratha assault. Early November came the news of Abdali’s entry into the Punjab w’hich forced Dattaji to raise the siege at Sukkartal (Dec. 8, 1759) and hasten to check the progress of Durrani in the Punjab. Najib too left Sukkartal (December K) and advanced towards Jamuna to welcome his master, Ahmad Shah Durrani. With the resume of the circumstances leading to the Maratha entry into the politics of the Delhi court and their subsequent movements in Haryana and the Punjab we shall now proceed to Durrani invasion of India (1759).


The Durrani Invasion (1759-61)


After suppressing rebellions at home Ahmad Shah got ready to invade India. He had this time the advantage of securing the co-operation of the Ruhelas who had been harassed by the Marathas, and that of Nawab of Oudh who also came round the view that the Marathas, who were fiiendly to Imad, the greatest enemy of his house, cannot be relied upon. Ahmad Shah was also in constant touch with Najib-ud-daulah his greatest Indian ally who had urged him to punish the Marathas. Shah Waliullah, a Muslim theologian of Delhi, strongly advocated the revival of Muslim power in Ind’ia in suppression of the Marathas, the Jats as well as the Sikhs. He wrote a detailed letter to Ahmad Shah, ‘one of the most important documents of the 18th century’ it appraised Abdali of the p ditical development in the country, requesting him to relieve the Muslims from the Maratha domination. The Marathas, on the other hand, could not gain the support of the Rajputs already alienated by Balaji Rao’s unsympathetic policy towards them, nor could they secure the alliance of the Sikhs who had now become a considerable pow’er in the Punjab. The undiplomatic policy of Balaji in fact, deprived the Marathas of the support of many indigenous powers at a very critical moment when they were required to face the formidable combination of the Durrani and their Indian allies.


Ahmad Shah left Qandhar in the beginning of September and reached Lahore in November (1759) and towards the end of that month brought Punjab under his subjection. By that time the wicked wazir Imad had planned and executed the murder of Alamgir II who was found in league with Durrani and Shuja-ud-daula of Oudh, and declared Shah Jahan II (a Prince of the royal family), the new Emperor. After making administrative arrangements for the proper governance of the Punjab, the Abdali moved from Lahore by way of Govindwal, Khizrabad (near Rupar) Sarhind, Ambala and Taraori. At the last mentioned place the Durrani soldiers were supplied with scarlet caps prepared by the Afghans of Kunjapura under Najib’s instructions.


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