The Marathas had built their empire on the ruins of the crumbling Mughal Empire. The British also took advantage of similar circumstances. Both worked in their respective fields. At that time the Marathas were the most powerful of the rest of the Indian powers, just as the British had emerged as superior to the rest of the European powers. As a result, the struggle for the best between the British and the Marathas lasted for 25 years and finally the British emerged victoriously. In this article, we will study the struggle for supremacy between the Marathas and the British and its consequences.
First Anglo-Maratha Conflict-1775-82
Due to the first phase of the Anglo-Maratha war, there were conflicts between the Marathas and the ambitions of the British. Just as Clive had established a dual system of government in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, the Bombay Company (East India Company) also wanted to establish a similar dual system in Maharashtra. After Madhavrao’s death in 1772, his son Narayan Rao became a victim of the conspiracies of his uncle Raghunath Rao who aspired to become a Peshwa.
When Narayan Rao had a son posthumously, Raghunath Rao became disheartened. He made the Treaty of Surat (1775) with the British so that he became a Peshwa with the help of the British. The effort proved untimely. The war lasted for 7 years and in the end, both the powers felt its failure. Finally, the war ended with the Treaty of Salbai (1782). The conquered territories were returned. This strength test was inconclusive. Peace prevailed for the next 20 years.
Second Anglo-Maratha War 1803-6
The second round of this conflict was related to French fear. Lord Wellesley who was the Imperial Governor-General came to India in 1798. He realized that the only way to avoid French fear was to make all the Indian states become dependent on the Company and for this purpose he resorted to the subsidiary alliance system.
Marathas tried to escape from this trap but failed due to mutual quarrels. In Poona, Chief Minister Nana Fadnavis died in March 1800. According to the statement of Colonel Palmar, who was the British Resident in Poona, with his death, the understanding among the Marathas also ended. Nana knew the consequences of the English intervention and therefore kept away the subsidiary alliance.
Peshwa Bajirao, who was freed from the control of Nana, showed his disgusting form, he got into fights and conspired to maintain his position among the Maratha chieftains. But he himself got entangled in them. Both Daulatrao Scindia and Yashwantrao Holkar wanted to establish their superiority in Poona. Scindia was successful and Scindia’s dominance over Bajirao solidified.
On 12 April 1800, the Governor-General wrote to the Poona Resident to “offer assistance in ending the dominion of Scindia from the Deccan in exchange for a subsidiary treaty, but Bajirao declined.”
On the other hand, the situation in Poona took a serious turn. In April 1801, the Peshwa brutally murdered Yashwant Rao Holkar’s brother Vithuji. Holkar attacked Poona and defeated Peshwa and Scindia’s army at Hadapsar’s place (25-10-1802) and captured Poona. He placed Amritrao’s son Vinayakrao on the throne of Pune. Bajirao II fled and took refuge in Basin and made a treaty with the British on 31-12–1802 according to which:-
1- Peshwa accepted English protection and accepted to keep the army of Indian and British settlers in Poona.
2 – The Peshwa gave Gujarat, the territories between the Tapti and Narmada, and all the adjoining territories of the Tungabhadra river, whose income was ₹ 260000, to the company.
3- Peshwa gave it to the Surat Nagar Company.
4- The Peshwa gave up the right to receive Chauth from the Nizam and promised not to fight against the Gaikwad.
5- Peshwa accepted the mediation of the company in the quarrel with Nizam and Gaikwad.
6- The Peshwa expelled all the Europeans who were anti-British from the army.
7-Designed his foreign affairs for the company.
Significance of the Treaty of Basin
Different historians have expressed different views on this treaty. Lord Casselre, the head of the Board of Control, cast doubt on the political intelligence of the treaty. According to him Wellesley encroached on his legal powers and tried to rule over the Marathas through a Niral Peshwa.
In response to this remark, Wellesley wrote in 1804, “The Company has for the first time in India achieved peace and stability… The base has been found. The foreign conspirators have been driven out of the capital. The company’s military power has expanded without any financial burden, and the Peshwa’s army can be available to us when needed.”
It is true that the Peshwa’s power was equal to zero, but it brought many political benefits to the British. Poona was dominated and the leading leader of the Maratha confederacy was bound by a subsidiary alliance, which reduced the real position of the leaders under him.
By subordinating his foreign policy to the British, the Peshwa became free from the burden of wars in which he was involved. He gave up his rights over the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Nizam now came under the Company.
Another advantage of the Treaty of Basin was that the auxiliary forces were stationed at Mysore, Hyderabad, Lucknow, and Poona, which were the main central places of India, from where it could reach the whole of India very quickly.
Although this treaty did not establish the superiority of the British, it was a step in that direction. Sidney Owen’s statement that as a result of this treaty, the company got the empire of India directly and indirectly, there is some exaggeration but in fact, it is true.
It was difficult for the Marathas to bear this national humiliation and Bhonsle challenged the British. Gaikwad and Holkar remained separate. Wellesley and Lek quickly defeated the Marathas in South and North India and forced them to enter into a humiliating treaty. By the Treaty of Devgaon (17-12-1803), Bhosale ceded Cuttack and the western part of the Wardha river to the British. Similarly, Scindia handed over the area between Ganga and Yamuna to the Company from the treaty of Surji Arjun village from 30-12-1803 and relinquished his dominion over the Rajput princely states of Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Gohad. The fort of Ahmed Nagar, Bharuch, Godavari, and Ajanta Ghat was also handed over to the company. Both the kings also accepted having a resident in the court.
In April 1804, war broke out between Holkar and the Company. Although Holkar had some success in the beginning in the end his defeat was certain. In the meantime, Wellesley went back and George Barley made the treaty of Rajpur Ghat on 25-12-1805, due to which the Maratha Sardar left Bundelkhand, the northern region of the Chambal river, and left his authority over other friends of the Company.
In this second period Maratha’s power though not ended definitely weakened.
Third Anglo-Maratha War -1817-18
The third and final phase of this war began with the arrival of Hastings. He again took the attitude of the invader and tried to make the best of the British in India. The years of peace that the Marathas had got in 1805, instead of strengthening them, they lost their use in mutual discord. In the campaign against the Pindaris of Hastings, the dominance of the Marathas was challenged, so there was a conflict between the two. Due to this systematic campaign, Hastings forced the Raja of Nagpur to enter into very humiliating treaties on 27-5-1816, Peshwa on 13-6-1917, and Scindia on 5-11-1817. Eventually, being compelled, the Peshwa made an attempt to break the bondage of slavery.
Daulat Rao Scindia, Appa Sahib of Nagpur, and Malhar Rao Holkar II decided to fight. The Peshwas were defeated at the place of Kirki, the Bhonsles at the place of Sitabardi, and the Holkars at the place of Mahidpur. So the entire army of Marathon was defeated by the British army. The territory of Poona of Bajirao II was annexed to the British Empire. The rest remained small states and they came under the Company.
Reasons for the defeat of the Marathas
We can describe the brief reasons for the defeat of the Marathas as follows –
1- Incompetent leadership – The autocratic polity role of the Marathas was the main one. The Maratha Empire did not have a constitution. Maratha rulers used to oppress the people by being autocratic. Peshwa Bajirao II and Daulatrao Holkar merged the Maratha Empire into the soil with their misdeeds. Bajirao was a murderer in the eyes of the public who for his selfishness pledged the freedom of the Marathas. The Marathas had no leadership. He had no war experience.
2- Maratha State Natural Defect – According to Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Marathas did not make any effort for the welfare of their people, nor for education, health, or integration. The people in the Maratha Empire no longer had the religious sentiment that played a major role in the decline of the Mughal Empire.
3- Lack of a definite economic policy – Most of the soldiers in the Maratha army were farmers whose agriculture had been destroyed and they did not get any salary in the army. They were dependent on loot and Chauth and Sardeshmukhi. Similarly, the Maratha rulers were also dependent on this and they did not pay any attention to agriculture or industry in the state. So they had no source of income.
4- The weaknesses of the Maratha political system – The Maratha Empire was united under the leadership of Chhatrapati in its heyday. But now this place was taken by the Peshwa and the Maratha union was disintegrated into many unions. These Maratha confederations used to fight among themselves and never tried to unite against the enemy.
5-The poor military system of the Marathas – There was no shortage of brave soldiers in the Maratha army, but they neither had a system of training nor good weapons. The Maratha army had forgotten Shivaji’s guerrilla warfare system. The Marathas began to rely on artillery more than their traditional strength, the cavalry. As a result, their mobility decreased.
6-British’s best diplomacy – The British were always ahead in diplomacy. The British made friends against the Marathas by taking the Nizam to the Gaekwad and weakened the Marathas.
7-British’s best intelligence system – Maratha’s army was completely unaware of the benefits of the intelligence system. On the contrary, British officers used to collect any information in the name of excursion and provide it to the British army, which they used to take advantage of during the war.
8-Progressive approach of the British – Even before the British came to India, they had come out of bigotry and ostentation and were engaged in scientific inventions, exploration of new places, and discovery of new colonies. In contrast, Indians used to fight among themselves for their superiority in one place like a frog in a well. The Marathas also placed unqualified Brahmins on high posts simply because the Brahmin in the religious form is superior and worshiped. Under the leadership of these incompetent brahmins, the Marathas were completely buried in the soil.