Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rebellions States – Rise of the Regional Powers

The Second category of successor states comprised of those groups which rebelled against the Mughal authority. These successor states were the Marathas, the Sikhs, the Jats and the Afghan kingdoms of Farukhabad and Rohilkhand.

Rebellions States


The Maratha was perhaps the only successor state with a potential to establish a pan-Indian Empire and filling the vacuum of the declining Mughal Empire. But the nature of Maratha polity rendered any such project impossible. Shivaji in the seventeenth century formed a small kingdom on the Western Ghats, a region which experienced relatively less interference from the Mughal. But this changed with the advance of Mughal armies in the South, fall of Khandesh, creation of Mughal viceroyalty in Deccan, and the gradual disappearance of Ahmadnagar. After the death of Shivaji in 1680, the Marathas were plagued by dynastic factionalism and felt the brunt of the pressure of Mughal policy of Deccan conquest. Factionalism led to discord amongst the Marathas with the deshmukhs or revenue officers and zamindars switching allegiance between the Mughals and the Marathas. The nature of Maratha polity changed once again, when from the time of Balaji Vfshwanath, the control of the state passed on to the office of the Peshwas. The Marathas had rivals other than the Mughals, like the Nizam of Hyderabad, Rajputs and the British. The Marathas caused great trouble for these powers as they conducted raids which disrupted other regional states.

The major Maratha sardars were Bhonsle of Nagpur, Gaikwad of Baroda, Holkar of Indore and Sindia of Gwalior. For our purpose the three Anglo Maratha Wars are relevant.


The First Anglo-Maratha War (1775-82)


  • Struggle for power among the Marathas. The first faction of Sawai Madhav Rao was supported by Nana Phadnis while the second faction of Raghunath Rao had the support of the British.


  • The British were defeated by the Marathas at Talegoan in 1776

  • March of the British army from Calcutta to Ahmedabad through Central India and winning battles en route under Goddard in 1779-80

  • Stalemate and deadlock for two years (1781-82)


  • Treaty of Salbai in 1782 whereby the status quo was maintained and it established peace between the Marathas and the British for twenty years.

  • The British with the help of the Marathas exerted pressure on Mysore to recover their lost territories from Haider Ali.

  • Good move on British behalf because due to terms of the Treaty, Haider Ali was isolated.

The Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-05)


  • Wellesly’s aggressive policy of interference in the internal affairs of the Marathas - his desire to impose subsidiary alliance on them.

  • By the end of the eighteenth century almost all the experienced Marathas leaders were dead and this provided a window to the British to increase their political control.

  • Fratricidal strife amongst the Marathas forced Baji Rao II to flee to Bassein which gave the British an opportunity to force upon Baji Rao II a treaty at Bassein in 1802 that provided for a posting of a subsidiary force permanently in Peshwas’ territories. In 1803, Baji Roa II was resorted to the office of Peshwa at Poona under the protection of British troops commanded by General Arthur Wellesley.

  • This treaty provided for British arbitration between the Peshwa and the other Indian powers.

  • War was declared in 1803. General Arthur Wellesley was the main architect of the war. The aim was to end the influence of French adventurers in Sindhia’s service, Perron and others, and to establish the control of the British over the Delhi-Agra region and the Emperor. He also wanted to establish a geographical link between the British territories in Bengal and Madras by occupying Bhonsle’s territories in Orissa.


  • The combined forces of Sindhia and Bhonsle were defeated by the British under Wellesley’s command at Assaye and Argaon in 1803. A series of subsidiary treaties were signed with them.

  • One of the subsidiary campaigns was that of the British against the Holkar (1804-05) which ended with Holkar, by force of circumstances, forced to sign a Treaty of Rajpurghat with Lord Lake. Wellseley had resigned by then

  • The second Anglo-Maratha war led to the establishment of the interests of the British in the Maratha Empire.


The Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-18)


  • Resentment of the Marathas on account of the loss of their freedom to the British

  • Rigid control exercised by the British Residents on the Marathas sardars. Results

  • The Peshwa was dethroned, pensioned off and sent to Bithur near Kanpur. All his territories were annexed and formed into the Bombay Presidency

  • Inorder to placate the Maratha pride a kingdom of Satara was created out of Peshwa’s territories.

  • Maratha chiefs surrendered large part of their territories to the Company.

  • Emergence of British as the paramount power.

1. Sikhs

The Sikh Panth of the Punjab was by the eighteenth century almost as old as the Mughal Empire. Guru Nanak was born in 1469 and when he started preaching his message Babur was founding the Mughal Empire. It was only under Aurangzeb’s reign that the two came in conflict. In time, the Sikh community grew in size and in its political sphere thereby posing a challenge to the central Mughal authority. Conflict between the two emerged. In 1675, Guru Tegbahadur, the ninth Guru, was executed in Delhi. In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh established the brotherhood of Khalsa, which militarized the Sikh community There are two possible reasons for this step. According to K Singh it was the increasing conflict with the Mughal that necessitated steps to protect the Panth McLeod is of the opinion that the transformation was the result of the growing number of Jat peasantry who already possessed a cultural tradition of carrying arms and came to dominate the Khalsa at the expense of the older Khatri leadership. By the eighteenth century the Khalsa gave the Sikh a distinctive identity (though not all Sikhs were a part of the khalsa).

Punjab was strategically important for the Mughals and hence a bone of contention between the two powers. Guru Gobind during the times of Aurangzeb and Bahadur Shah I unsuccessfully tried to take over Anandpur and was murdered in a conspiracy on October 7, 1708. The cause of the Guru Gobind was continued by Banda Bahadur whose revolt was suppressed by Farruksiyar (the then Mughal Emperor) in 1715 and Banda Bahadur was executed in March 1716. The series of invasions by Nadir Shah and Abdali worked in the favour of the Sikhs by exposing the weakness of the Mughal authority. The Sikhs amassed huge wealth after the raids and were able to make use of the breakdown of Mughal law and order in the Punjab to establish their own dominance.

This was followed by a period in which the 12 mils or confederacies based on kinship ties held territories as units. It was only under the leadership of Ranjit Singh that Punjab once again rose to eminence in politics.

2. The Jats

A few smaller states were also established in the eighteenth century after taking advantage of the weakening Mughal control and the Jat kingdom of Bharatpur is an important example of one such state. The Jats were an agriculturalist caste that inhabited the Delhi-Mathura region. Caste affinity with their zamindars enabled the Jats to rise up in revolt against the Mughal authority from the time of Jahangir in 1669. But the Emperor successfully suppressed the revolt. Even though the Jats gradually became politicalised, the Jat state remained feudal with the zamindars holding both administrative and revenue powers. Though Churaman and Badan Singh founded the Jat state of Bharatpur, it was Suraj Mai who consolidated Jat power during his rule from 1756-63. The boundaries of the state were expanded to the Ganga on the east, the Chambai in the south, Delhi in the north and Agra in the west. Though Suraj Mai expanded the Jat state and tried to centralize it by diminishing the powers of the zamindars his death in 1763 also marked the virtual collapse of the Jat state.


3. Farukhabad and Rohilkhand

A few small Afghan kingdoms were also established in the eighteenth century with the gradual decline of the Mughal Empire. In the fifteenth century Afghans had migrated to India forming a part of the roving bands of warlords and circulated in the north India military labour market. In the eighteenth century due to political and economic disruption in Afghanistan, the migration to India increased. Ali Muhammad Khan taking advantage of the collapse of Mughal authority in North India caused by Nadir Shah’s invasion set up a petty kingdom of Rohilkhand in the Himalayan foothills located between Kumaon in the north and the Ganga in the south. However, the Jats, the Awadh rulers, the Marathas and the British gave the Rohilas a lot of trouble as a result of which they could not attain any significant eminence. Ahmad Khan Bangash another Afghan established an independent kingdom to the east of Delhi in the area around Farukhabad. Both petty states helped Ahmad Shah Abdali during the Third Battle of Panipat but their influence declined once again when Abdali retired from the Indian stage.


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