This article provides an overview on the second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-1805).
The Marathas had lost almost all their top-ranking leaders by the time Wellesley came to India as Governor-General. Mahadji Scindia, Ahalyabai, Nana Fadnavis had been dead.
This removal of the leading personalities led to a selfish struggle among the Marathas. Peshwa Baji Rao II, Daulat Rao Scindia, Yaswant Rao Holkar, etc. entered into a mutual struggle.
Baji Rao, supported by Daulat Rao, nought to ward off Yaswant Rao’s invasion of Poona, but was sig- rally defeated. Baji Rao fled to the English camp and signed a subsidiary alliance with them. This alliance is known as the treaty of Bassein (1802).
According to the provisions of this treaty a subsidiary force of not less than 6,000 regular infantry, with the usual proportion of field-artillery and European artillery men was to be static tied within Peshwa’s territory in perpetuity and for its maintenance territories yielding annual revenue of twenty-six lacs were handed over to the English by the Peshwa. The Peshwa also pledged not to enter into any communication or entertain any European power hostile to the English. In this way the Peshwa sold his independence for his protection.
The treaty of Bassein, in the words of Dean Hutton “a step which changed the footing in which we (the English) stood in Western India. It trebled the English responsibilities in an instant”. It was, no doubt, a landmark in the history of the English supremacy in India and brought the English Company in a definite, superior relation with the formal head of the Maratha Confederacy.
There has been a tendency among some of the British writers to over-estimate the importance of the treaty of Bassein. Owen holds that “the Treaty by its direct and indirect operations gave the Company the Empire of India”. But it may be pointed out that in 1803 the British suzerainty over India was not a foregone conclusion and much had to be achieved before such position was attained by the British. Lord Castlereagh, the President of the Board of Control, in a paper entitled Observation on the treaty of Bassein criticized the treaty by saying that it appeared “hopeless to govern the Maratha Empire through a feeble and perhaps disaffected Peshwa”.
The article of the treaty which provided for the Peshwa’s acceptance of the British arbitrations in his disputes with other powers was according to Castlereagh fraught with the danger of involving the English “in the endless and complicated distractions of the turbulent. (Maratha) Empire”. Wellesley’s optimism that there was no reason to justify apprehension of hostility with the Maratha chiefs was belied, for, war with the Marathas was not long in coming. Wellesley, however, hoped that if was would actually break out the treaty of Bassein would be of much help to meet the Marathas. Arthur Wellesley; brother of Lord Wellesley, called the treaty of Bassein “a treaty with a cipher (the Peshwa)”.
Baji Rao II was replaced as Peshwa by the British, but the way in which Baji Rao got himself reinstated as Peshwa made him a 6tooge of the British and the prestige of the Maratha confederacy, particularly of Peshwaship was lost.
The abject surrender of Baji Rao to the British which meant surrender of national independence of the Marathas was regarded as a great insult by the other Maratha chiefs who sank their mutual jealousies and for a time made a combined effort to retrieve the position.
The Peshwa, Baji Rao II, soon became repentant for what he had done and secretly encouraged the Maratha combination against the British. Daulat Rao Scindia, Raghuji Bhonsle combined their forces and tried to enlist Jaswant Rao Holkar’s support. But even in the face of such national peril, Holkar kept himself out of the combination. Gaikwar also remained neutral.
The Scindia and Bhonsle mobilized their troops. The total strength of the combined forces was 250,000 men besides 40,000 troops trained by the Frenchmen. The British troops numbered £5,000. Hostilities began in August, 1803.
The British troops were under Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, and General Lake. Arthur Wellesley occupied Ahmednagar in the Deccan and in the battle of Assaye he signally defeated the combined force of the Scindia and Bhonsle. The battle of Assaye (Sept. 23, 1803) has been described as a triumph more splendid than any recorded in Deccan history by Grant Duff. Scindia’s European officers deserted him. In the battle of Delhi Scindia was completely routed and both Delhi and Agra were captured by General Lake. At Laswari in Alwar State Scindia sustained defeat at the hands of General Lake.
In the meantime Bhonsle’s army was also defeated in the battle of Argaon and he was compelled to sign the treaty of Deogaon (Dec. 18,1803) with the English. By this treaty Bhonsle ceded the Province of Cuttack including Balasore and all his territory west of the river Warda. A British Resident was posted at Nagpur. Scindia after his defeat at Laswari signed the treaty of Surji Arjangao (Dec. 30, 1803) surrendered all his territories between the Ganges and the Jumna and his forts and territories north of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Gohad. Ahmandnagar, Broach and all territories west of the Ajanta hills were also surrendered. It was also stipulated that Scindia would not exercise any influence over the Mughal Emperor. A British Resident was placed in Scindia’s court. By a separate treaty on February 27, 1804, Scindia signed a subsidiary alliance with the English.
The success of the English in the Second Anglo-Maratha War secured them numerous important advantages. In fact, even Wellesley did not anticipate so quick and complete success. By this war while the Maratha power was broken and disjointed, it gave a great extension to the British Empire in India. The new acquisition of territories linked up the British possessions of Bengal and Madras.
As a result of this war, the titular Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II was brought under the English protection. Extension of territories up-to the borders of Jaipur, Jodhpur etc.. offered opportunities to the English to enter into friendly alliance with Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bundi, Macheri, and the Jat Kingdom of Bharatpur.
The French trained battalions of the Marathas were disbanded and the Nizam and the Peshwa who became more apprehensive of the British, hence fell more under their influence.
According to Munro, as a result of the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the British became the “complete masters of India, and nothing can shake our power, if we take proper measure to confirm it”. Wellesley felt that the treaties entered into after the Second Anglo-Maratha War afforded the “only possible security for the permanent tranquillity and prosperity of these valuable and important possessions”.
But the too narrow and exacting interpretation of the treaties that were at the close of the Second Anglo-Maratha War did not really make the British possessions secure. At least despatches of Lord Castlereagh did not subscribe to Lord Wellesley’s view. Arthur Wellesley, brother of Lord Wellesley, observed very rightly that “Our enemies are much disgusted and complain loudly of our conduct and want of faith; and in truth I consider the peace to be no means secure”.