Colonialism Vs. the Maratha Empire - British and Maratha Empire




British and Maratha Empire:

The political relations between Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the British began due to the Afzal Khan episode. Prior to the meeting between Maharaj and Afzal Khan, Dabhol was conquered by the Maratha army. At that time there were three ships of Afzal Khan unloading in the Dabhol port. On receiving the report of Afzal Khan’s death, Mahamud Sharif, his representative in Dabhol, took hold of the ships along with the wealth and goods on it and fled to Rajapur. Fazal Khan, Afzal Khan’s son, asked Abdul Karim, the Subhedar of Rajapur, to unload the ships at Rajapur. The Marathas took advantage of this opportunity to attack Rajapur and conquered it. Now, Abdul Karim who had taken loan from the British, was unable to repay it. Hence, the British seized one out of the three ships, which were in Abdul Karim’s charge. Of course, this was unacceptable to the Marathas and they asked the British to return the ship. The British refused to do so. Hence, the Marathas detained Velaji, the local agent of the British at Jaitapur. Phillip Gifford, a British officer, visited the Maratha camp to request Velaji’s release but he was also detained there. Later, both of them were released. However, this instance strained Maratha-British relations.

When the ‘Panhala fort’ was under siege laid by Adilshah’s army and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was trapped inside the fort, Henry Revington, a British officer, Gifford and Velaji were supplying ammunition to Adilshah’s army. They were certain that there was no escape for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj from this situation. However, Maharaj was successful in escaping from Panhala. Next year, the Marathas defeated the British in the Rajapur campaign. The British officers - Henry Revington, Randolf Taylor, and Phillip Gifford - were arrested and imprisoned for two years.

Earlier, LieutenantStephen Ustick had met Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on Raigad for obtaining permissions for the British factory. A meeting between Sundarji and Pilaji, representatives of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Ustick was arranged but the negotiations in this meeting were not successful.

Henry Oxenden, a British agent, was present in the coronation ceremony of Shivaji Maharaj. He obtained the permission to open a British factory at Rajapur. On 12th June 1674 an agreement was signed by the British and the Marathas. The following terms and conditions were included in the agreement : issuing permissions for the British to trade in Swarajya; to open factories in Rajapur, Dabhol, Chaul and Kalyan; right of the Marathas to levy 2.5% octroi on the British goods, etc. Chhatarapati Shivaji Maharaj prohibited use of British coinage in the Maratha dominion. He also refuted some of the conditions put by the British, such as, the British goods found afloat from the wrecked ships should be returned to them and the Marathas should enter a treaty with the Siddis of Janjira. This clearly reveals his resolute policy of safeguarding Maratha sovereignty.

In the times after Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, Nanasaheb Peshwa took charge of administration. The British could ensure their entry in the political affairs of the Marathas as Nanasaheb, on one occasion, sought help from the British.

Nanasaheb was succeded by his second son Madhavrao Peshwa. However Nanasaheb’s younger brother, Raghunathrao wanted to become the Peshwa. Raghunathrao alias Raghoba approached the British for help. It resulted in appointing a British envoy in the Peshwa court, in Pune. In 1765, the British took over the fort at Malvan. After the death of Madhavrao Peshwa, his younger brother Narayanrao became Peshwa. In his reign, the British tried to conquer Thane, Vasai, Vijaydurg and Ratnagiri. In north India, the Mughal Emperor was under the protection of Shinde-Holkars. By this time, the British had become active to get the custody of the Mughal Emperor and to reduce the power of Bhosale dynasty of Nagpur in Bengal.

For the British to bring the region from Sashti-Vasai to Konkan under their sway was a priority for trading operations. So, they were already planning and moving in that direction. Raghunathrao Peshwa was offered asylum by the British. The British army marched from Mumbai to Pune with Raghunathrao Peshwa in their escort. The British army and the Maratha army met at Talegaon-Wadgaon near Pune and had a combat between them. The British army (and of course, Raghunathrao also) was defeated by the Marathas. A treaty was signed, which is known as ‘Wadgaon treaty’. Later, Nana Phadnavis formed an alliance of four rulers, namely, Peshwa, Bhosale of Nagpur, Nizam and Hyder. However, the British successfully persuaded the Nizam to break the alliance. All through these happenings the British Governor Warren Hastings had realised that if the British had to establish their permanent rule in India, it was crucial to subdue the Marathas. In the battle of Kharda (Taluka Jamkhed, District Ahmednagar) the Maratha army had a sweeping victory over the Nizam. The British envoy who was present in the Maratha camp could minutely observe and study the military tactics of the Marathas. Later, with the help of this envoy Lord Wellesley could defeat the Marathas.

Nana Phadnavis died during the time of Bajirao Peshwa II. The relations between Holkar and Bajirao Peshwa II had turned bitter. As a result Yashwantrao Holkar attacked Pune. Bajirao Peshwa II panicked and sought asylum from the British. The treaty signed by the British and Peshwa after this instance is known as ‘Treaty of Vasai’. However, this treaty was not acceptable to Shinde and Holkar. Hence, there was another Anglo-Maratha War in 1803. The Marathas were defeated in this war. The third Anglo-Maratha War was fought in 1817. The Marathas were again defeated and the Maratha rule came to an end in 1818. Bajirao Peshwa was granted an annual pension by the British and he spent rest of his life in Bithoor, near Kanpur.

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