Baji Rao II
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Baji Rao was the son of Peshwa Raghunathrao and Anandibai. Raghunathrao defected to the English and caused the First Anglo Maratha war that the English lost. Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao committed suicide in 1796, and died without an heir, and with the assistance of Daulatrao Scindia and Nana Phadnavis, Baji Rao became Peshwa. Writes Manohar Malgonkar, the versatile English novelist of India in his book The Devil's Wind:
"Only someone perversely gifted could have succeeded in squandering so vast an inheritance in so short time or disgraced a noble name so thoroughly. He was mean, cruel, vindictive, avaricious but surprisingly well-read and shrewd in financial dealings. He was above all a moral and physical coward, the only Peshwa held in contempt by his subjects. Of course he was more a victim of circumstances. He was born in 1776 when both his parents were in imprisonment of Peshwa's cabinet. Till the age of 19, he along with his brothers were kept in confinement denying even basic rights of education. He lost both his parents early & was unfortunate to have inherited legacy of father & mother who both despite from same Brahmin family were involved in the murder of young Peshwa (In relation"Nephew") Narayanrao in 1774 AD. As such, being heir of murderer, he was always looked down upon by his dukes & Earls & other ministers & thus by his subjects also. His every action was watched with prejudice by people & it is said that though a good administrator & builder of modern day Pune, he was often labeled as incapable & coward Peshwa. A popular song about him ran as follows:
We emptied the well
And drained the land dry,
To grow a tree of thorns,
"Running" Baji Rao.
"As a Peshwa he made a deplorable overlord, a man delighted in humiliating his feudatories, seizing their estates on flimsiest of pretexts and what worse, someone imagined that their womenfolk too belonged to him".
After the death of Phadnavis in 1800, the Maratha leaders Yashwantrao Holkar of Indore and Daulat Rao Sindhia of Gwalior contested for control of the empire; their rivalry made its way to Pune, seat of the Peshwa. Holkar ultimately triumphed, and Baji Rao fled west to Bombay in September 1802 to seek the willing hands of the British who were waiting for this opportunity with great patience. There, he concluded the Treaty of Bassein in December 1802, in which the British agreed to reinstate Baji Rao in return for the Marathas allowing British troops in Maratha territory and paying for their maintenance, and acceptance of a British political agent (Resident) at Pune. Holkar and Sindhia resisted the British intrusion on Maratha affairs, which resulted in the Second Anglo-Maratha War of 1803-1805. The British triumphed, and the Marathas lost due to misunderstanding created between Hokars & Scindias & treachery at all the battles done by Scindia's French & other European Officers & were forced to accept losses of territory.
The raids of the Pindaris, irregular horsemen who resided in the Maratha territories, into British territory ultimately led to the Third Anglo-Maratha War of 1817-1818 which ended in the defeat of the Bhosles, Holkars and other maratha feudatories. On Nov 5, 1817 on the day of Pournima, the British Resident at Pune, maintained and paid by Baji Rao for his 'protection', attacked Baji Rao II's army led by his Attorney Mor Dixit. Bajirao II could have won this battle had he not halted progress of his forces by succumbing to the request of British Resident Elphinstone for a ceasefire. Baji Rao watched the battle that ensued between his forces and the British from a hill now called Parvati. This battle is referred to as Battle of Khadki. He moved his forces to Garpir on outskirts towards present day Solapur road to block the British forces coming from Jalna but treachery of one of his dukes, Sardar Ghorpade Sondurkar, led to his forces withdrawing as the sound of the gunfire came too close. Later he captured Chakan Fort from British troops and repulsed the attack of Ghodnadi's Company Regiment at Korgaon, where lots of company officers as well as soldiers were killed including loss of guns at the hands of his feudatory Tryambakji Dengle. Five British columns set out after him in full cry, slavering at the thought of the "Prize money" that lay at the end of the chase. After running for five months from one fort to another, awaiting promised help from Scindias, Holkars and Bhosles, Baji Rao II surrendered to Sir John Malcolm. Much to the chagrin of the Company's Governor-General Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings (no relation to Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India), Malcolm was prepared to keep him a lifelong prince, allow him to retain his personal fortune and pay him a pension of a hundred thousand pounds every year. In return, Baji Rao II would have to live in a place assigned by the British along with his retainers on the condition that he would never return to his homeland at Pune. He would also have to forsake all his claims to his heritage and could not style himself as Peshwa but there was no objection to call himself as 'Maharaja'. The only reason why 1st Marquess of Hastings ratified the treaty made by Malcolm was his conviction that Baji Rao II would not live long as he was already above 40 and many of his ancestors did not live much beyond that age.
To keep Baji Rao II under watchful eyes, the British selected a small village on the right bank of Ganges at a place called Bithur near Kanpur, where they had one of their biggest military establishments. The place selected was exactly six square miles in area and in it, together with his relatives and others who moved from Pune along with him in 1818, there were about 15,000 inhabitants. He had once ruled 50 million. There Baji Rao added 5 more wives and led an empty life, spending the day time in religion. Contrary to the Company's wishes, he lived for another 33 years and died in 1851 at Bithur.
There were many stories making the rounds in the Court of Gwalior about Baji Rao II, where Malgoankar’s grandfather P. Baburao was a minister. One such story was about the ghost of a slain Peshwa, Narain Rao, haunting Baji Rao throughout his life that was widely known to many people due to Baji Rao II’s unceasing efforts to exorcise the ghost. Narain Rao was the fifth Peshwa who was allegedly murdered with the connivance of Baji Rao’s parents as was mentioned earlier. In order to get rid of the ghost, Baji Rao employed the priests of Pandharpur, a temple town of Maharashtra on the banks of a local river. Initially the priests succeeded in driving away the ghost and in gratitude, Baji Rao II ordered the building of a riverside embankment in Pandharpur, which still bears his name. However when Baji Rao II was exiled to Bithur the ghost re-appeared and started haunting again. Since he was forbidden to visit his homeland, he performed religious penances prescribed by the priests of Benares and was extravagant in distributing alms to Brahmins. He built temples, bathing ghats, performed endless poojas (religious prayers), underwent countless stringent fasts, fell at the feet of sadhus and soothsayers, etc., but the ghost wouldn’t leave him. It stayed with him till end warning him that his line will end with his successor, his house will burn to ashes and his clan will perish. Much later, in July 1857 during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, after their successful re-capture of Kanpur, the British forces burnt down Bithur, including the residence of Baji Rao II (wada) where many members of his extended family except his adopted son, Nana Sahib, resided.
In Defence of Bajirao
Bajirao II has been panned as deceitful by all English writers. It is said he plotted against them even before the ink at Bassein ran dry. The treaty of Bassein was fashioned in peculiar circumstance and the Peshwa, to regain his seat of power, had no option to play the English against his opponents, the Holkars and his brother Amrutrao in Pune. Immediately he secured this objective he tried to shake off the treaty in insidious ways and later when he felt his independence to deal with the chiefs being stifled, more openly. Yet, he lacked that fire and risk taking ability or warriorship that his grandfather Bajirao I was known for. All his diplomacy crashed before his own weak soldiership. Bajirao II could have lived a most opulent life amongst all princes of India, yet in 1817 he chose to throw it away and cross swords with the powerful English war machine, to try to retain his independence. The English armies looked after their soldiers well and in battles like the one at Koregaon (31 Dec 1817), the Peshwa could not achieve complete victory due to the intrepid fight put up by the British army. Opposing Bajirao II and the Marathas of the day were stalwarts like Wellesley, Malcolm and Elphinstone. Daulatrao Scindia and Yeshwantrao Holkar could not match the genius of these English stalwarts. The 'style' of fighting changed, also, and French generals abandoned Scindia before important battles.
Bajirao II, himself, was not trained in the craft of war or to rule. Kept in prison practically since birth, his education was neglected, something his mother always lamented. The death of Sawai Madhavrao Peshwa propelled him to the office of Peshwa with the help of a very young Daulatrao Scindia, adopted son of the great Mahadji. Bajirao had neither an army nor a treasury, and so he remained a puppet of the Scindia - till Scindia finally left to look after his Northern domains in 1801-2. The war between Holkar and Scindia erupted shortly after and Bajirao sought Scindia's help to keep the warrior Holkar at bay. The combined armies of Scindia and Peshwa were defeated at Hadapsar near Pune in 1802 and the Peshwa left Poona, as he feared being killed by Yeswantrao Holkar (owing to his killing a Holkar a few years earlier for rebelling against his (Peshwa's) authority). Bajirao II quit Poona and went to Bassein where the English offered him allurements to sign the Subsidiary Treaty in return for the throne. After deliberating for over a month, and after threats that his brother would otherwise be recognised as Peshwa, Bajirao II signed the treaty surrendering his residual sovereignty, and allowing the English to put him on the throne at Poona. The English armies then waged war and defeated the Scindia and Holkar armies separately. The divisions in the Maratha confederacy therefore helped the British defeat the Maratha power. It is ironic that at a time when British armies boasted of men like the Wellesley brothers at the helm of affairs, the Marathas had small leaders without a strategic vision like Bajirao II, Daulatrao Scindia and Yeshwantrao Holkar. The death of Tipu Sultan in 1799 and of Nana Phadnis in 1800 had indeed cleared the path for British sovereignty in India on the back of Indian soldiers.
Bajirao II began to feel his subservient status after 1811, and challenged the whittling down of his authority by the new English Resident Mountstuart Elphinstone. This accelerated after the 1815 murder of an agent of the Gaikwad, named Gangadhar Shastri, at Pandharpur. Secretly, Bajirao II began gathering an army ostensibly to fight the Pindaris. Finally, but too slowly, he made his move in 1817 and his army attacked the British residency in Poona. The Battle of Khadki was neither won nor lost and after losing the skirmish at Yerwada due to treachery, a few days later Bajirao II chose to leave Poona rather than inflict hardships on the city. His running battle with the British continued for four months until, having lost his army, his Generals and many wars, he surrendered to John Malcolm in 1818 and was pensioned off. Bajirao's story deserves to be retold and re-analysed. His personal life was no different from the rulers of the time. He tried to shake off his treaty with the British, but was not strong enough to build an all-India coalition. Scindia stayed neutral and did not move against the British. His proteges, Nana Sahib, Rani Laxmibai, Tatya Tope and Rao Saheb, were at the forefront of the 1857 war of independence that followed his death in 28 January 1851 at Bithoor near Kanpur.
It was not the fault of Bajirao II that the bonding between the Maratha Sardars, especially Bhosale-Shinde-Holkar and many such others, had weakened substantially since the 1790s. The power of the British and their political connections across India had increased phenomenally. Such a situation — nothing less than "Shivaji Maharaj" — could have re-established the Maratha supremacy. Unfortunately, Bajirao II was neither born nor trained to be the head of the Maratha Confederacy. At least he showed the will to fight against the British until the end, unlike the Shinde, Holkar, and Bhosale, who shook hands with the British to save their skin. Even the Chhatrapati himself (the owner of the state), Pratap singh, withdrew his support to save his Gaddi.
- Malgoankar, Manohar; Devil’s Wind, Orient Paperbacks, New Delhi, 1972
- Vaidya, Dr. SG; Peshwa Bajirao II and the downfall of the Maratha power (5th ed.) 1976, Pragati Prakashan, Nagpur, India.
- The Marathi historical novelist N. S. Inamdar has written two books on the career of Peshwa Baji Rao II. The last Peshwa has been much-maligned by historians. In these novels, Inamdar tries to show the Peshwa in different light. A person who was imprisoned in his childhood for a crime which was supposedly committed by his mother Anandibai, a person who came to the Peshwai not knowing the ABC's of politics, and a person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- The first of the books is "Jhep" (1963) is actually based on the life of Trimbakji Dengle who was a guard of the Peshwa and rose to become his chief minister (Karbhari). He helped the Peshwa resurrect the Peshwai from the ruins after the Second Anglo Maratha War. He also tried to form a sort of coalition with some kings to try to overthrow British rule. In this he failed and the British framed him in a murder of an eminent man Gangadhar Shastri (chief minister of the Gaekwad) and he was arrested. The Peshwa wasn't willing to give up his much-valued prime minister and was willing to start a war against the British but Trimbakji asks him to lie low and wait until the right time has come.
- The second book is "Mantravegala" (1969) is a sort of continuation of "Jhep". The difference is that "Jhep" deals more with the personal life of Trimbakji whereas "Mantravegala" deals with the personal life of Bajirao between the years 1817-1818 and the Third and last Anglo Maratha war. In the initial part of the book Baji Rao is very angry that the English are constantly interfering in the affairs of the Maratha kingdom to a great extent. He is secretly making plans to destroy the British once and for all. He knows it will not be possible but still wants to attempt it nonetheless. He frees Trimbakji from the prison in which the British have imprisoned him but refuses to acknowledge to Mounstuart Elphinstone that he is behind it. Also some Maratha chieftains are aiding marauders called the Pindaris who have harassed the British. They ask the Peshwa to stop the chieftains from aiding the Pindaris which he says he cannot do. Finally the Pindari War takes the form of the Anglo maratha war. In the initial part of the war Baji Rao wins some battles as the British are caught unawares. But the British manage to defeat the Maratha chieftains and finally Baji Rao himself. He is made to give up the Peshwai (which is abolished) and is exiled to Bithur (near Kanpur). The book very beautifully captures the Peshwa's feelings and thoughts. His hatred of the British, his acknowledgement of his past mistakes (like refusing to accept Yashwantrao Holkar), his sadness at not being able to father any childs (all his children died very early or were stillborn) and also his last tearful farewell to Trimbakji at the end of the books.