Maratha – Rajput relations in 18th century- A complete mess

The fractured and disjointed nature of the events in this part of the country showed me the limits of a historical novel . I did not have the luxury of putting a title on top – Marathas and Rajputs – and then blazing away with all facts and figures .  Through this blog post , I will try and paint a picture of the scene that was Rajasthan in the 18th century . When the Marathas were on the ascent and the Rajputs had become truly free after serving some or the other sultanate for upwards of 800 years .

The Rajputs , after serving some or the other Mughal for ages , began life as sovereigns in about 1700 . To the north , the Mughals had fallen apart  and to the south , the Marathas were still fighting whatever Aurangzeb could throw at them . This situation prevailed till around 1712 , when the Marathas began plundering Gujarat and Malwa . The Rajputs too were free by then , and one would think they would take the opportunity with both hands . They even had Bappa Rawal , Veer Hammir and others to look up to . A Rajput invasion of Multan and Sindh was highly possible , even desirable . Sadly , that didn’t happen .
Upto the late 1730s there was no real contact between the two powers . After invading Gujarat and Malwa ,    Bajirao did not sweep into the Rajput states . Infact , he seems to have followed a policy of targeting the erstwhile Mughal provinces of Gujarat , Malwa and Hyderabad , which were still being ruled by Nawabs and Nizams . There is one fleeting case of Bajirao being called to settle a Rajput dispute . Bajirao himself , alarmed at the pasting that Nadir Shah gave Delhi , wanted to create a Rajput confederacy in 1739 . As it turned out , Nadir Shah did not venture south , and this grand plan fizzled out .
But by the late 1730s , the Marathas had come to dominate much of western , southern and central India . They were the power brokers . Everyone , including the Rajputs , wanted to ride piggy back on this new kid in town . They were expected to wade into two warring parties and solve their problems . The Marathas also took upon themselves the task of putting the whole country in order . By the mid 1740s , the Marathas and Rajputs were well and truly entangled in their politics .
They had so far maintained a hands off approach , but when they did finally take matters in their own hands , the Marathas found it to be anything but a smooth ride . I will cite two examples here , from the 1740s .. to give a rough idea of the mess that was Rajasthan back then .

Case 1 :  Jaipur

Jaipur was being ruled by Sawai Jai Singh . He promised one of his queens that her son would be the heir . But as it turned out , Madho Singh was born to her AFTER Ishwar Singh was born to another wife of Jai Singh . Incredibly , Jai Singh tried to get Madho Singh killed to settle the issue !  The king died and it came down to war between the two brothers .Madho Singh combined with his uncle Maharana Jagat Singh and  declared war on Ishwar Singh. The latter  called upon Holkar .After a couple of skirmishes ,  Holkar was of the belief that Ishwar Singh should hand over Niwai , Tonk , Toda and Malpura to Madho Singh . But the Rajput did not budge . One thing led to another and finally in 1748 the Peshwa himself arrived at Niwai to settle the issue . This time , Nanasaheb asked him to hand over Rampura , Bhanpura , Toda and Niwai to Madho Singh . It again came down to war at Bagru  , in which Holkar sided with Ishwar Singh and defeated madho singh . Shinde stayed aloof from this . ( Some sources say Surajmal was involved and that this episode is actually the beginning of the Shinde – Holkar rivalry ) . Ishwar Singh refused to hand over the four parganas as promised and the Marathas were once again left wringing their hands . His untimely death in 1750 meant that the whole of Jaipur went to Madho Singh . Holkar and Shinde supported this . Everything seemed settled at last , but Madho Singh was more interested in playing politics of vendetta . He once tried to poison Maratha sardars to death at a luncheon . In another incident , he ordered a summary massacre at a bazaar , where marathas from the nearby camp had gathered . Luckily , none of the important leaders died in either incident . After this , Madho Singh spent his time warring with the neighbouring kingdoms .

Case 2 : Jodhpur

This case in worse than Jaipur . Here the dispute was between one Ramsingh and his cousin Vijay singh  in 1752 . Both were fighting a feud that was two generations old , originating in the time of Farukh Siyar .According to their treaty with the Mughals , the Marathas were called upon to settle this problem too . Jayappa Shinde was deputed to resolve the crisis . He decided to put down Vijay Singh . Accordingly , the Marathas laid siege to Nagore , where Vijay Singh was staying . It was a straight forward battle , until one day when Jayappa Shinde got murdered while taking a bath .Now the Marathas were totally pissed off . They tightened the siege and forced Vijay Singh to give up Ajmer and Jalore forts  This case was also marred by Marathas not receiving khandani as wished .

There were other similar cases like Bundi etc during this time . All follow the same track of infighting , deceit , inability to reach a solution etc .

Further on at Panipat , the Rajputs of this era forgot all their chivalry and dharma of ages past and refused to join the Marathas . As to how was Abdali a better bet, in light of his destruction of temples etc is quite mind boggling .

In the 1780s , Mahadji Shinde tried to bring some order to this province . His artillery under DeBoigne had a telling effect . The nominal control that the Peshwa had in 1740s was tightened further by him . Alwar , Ajmer , Jaipur etc passed into Maratha hands . Mahadji’s death in 1794 put a spoke into these plans .

So there it is .. political wrangling between Marathas and rajputs – a sad chapter in indian history .

Conclusions :

1) The Marathas followed a ‘hands off ‘ policy for much of the time . They were invited in by the Rajputs . After this , there was complete lack of planning and coherence . Suffice to say , Marathas burnt their fingers in this province .

2) Does this absolve the Rajputs ? Ofcourse not . They were truly free for the first time . A Bappa Rawal at this juncture could have changed the course of history . Sadly , the Rajputs spent all the time fighting amongst themselves . and when others like the Marathas tried to resolve issues , they too were dragged into the muck . Further on , no amount of looting by Marathas could match the actions of Abdali . They forgot their chivalry and history on the eve of Panipat .