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Panipat III: A flawed narrative

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Speak for Nationalist Rationale ! Without fear or favour. Masters in History & Economics, graduate of Law..! Politics, international politics, strategic and security issues are subjects of interest..

Third battle of Panipat has for the last 70 years evoked a keen interest amongst the votaries of Maratha Confederacy, to call it an Empire would be a travesty. The Maratha Confederacy was the Ultimate Power in the 18 century goes without saying but never did the executive of the Maratha Confederacy ever dared call themselves an Empire. From Bajirao to Balaji Bajirao to the later ambiguous Peshwas were all more than happy to be Naibs of Mughal Empire and the Emperor, whosoever’s Stooge he maybe, it did not matter. As late as 1772 the Mughal Emperor bestowed upon Mahad Scindia the title of Vakil ul Mutaliq, the Regent of Mughal Empire and also bestowed upon the Peshwa sitting in Poona, the title of Naib of Mughal Empire. It was the utmost endeavour of the Peshwa and his Maratha Captains never to call themselves anything but as in service of Mughal Emperor. (ref; JN Sarkar, Fall Of Mughal Empire, vol 3, pg 293, 294)

Often we are told that Panipat III was a battle between the combined Muslim armies of the sub continent and the Hindu army of the Maratha Empire, an erroneous assertion made on even more erroneous assumption. The historical evidence does not show that the Fifth raid by Ahmed Shah Abdali, also called Durrani, the name he gave to his tribe actually means King Pearl of Pearls, was a Religious War nor was it premised on the destruction of Infidels, the Kaffirs based on the Quranic injunction of Ghazwa i Hind though it becomes a consequence of every Islamic invasion of the mainland Bharat and in this case it was an afterthought to lure the Believers into the conflict. This assumption is made on the evidence that Ahmed Shah was supported by all major Muslim powers in India at the time of his Fifth attack. But what is glaring is that Not One of the Hindu potentates in India was part of the Maratha campaign to North and especially in their endeavour to evict Abdali from mainland India. It is a point to ponder, why did not a single Hindu power aided the Marathas in this War of Hindus against Islamic Invaders ? ( ref ; JN Sarkar, Fall Of Mughal Empire, vol II, pg 255,256)

Preface to Panipat III was laid out in the consequence of Abdali’s repeated raids on Mughal Empire starting from 1748 where in the Battle of Manupur, he swept aside the Mughal Forces, in 1751 he attacked Meer Mannu the Mughal governor for default of payment of taxes. Lahore was besieged by Abdali, Lahore and Multan ceded to Abdali, Punjab was lost to Abdali in 1752 after a treaty was signed by Ahmed Shah Bahadur, the Mughal Emperor. In 1756 Abdali again invaded India on call by Mughalani Begum, widow of Meer, Afghans plundered cities of Lahore, Sirhind, Delhi and attacked the Hindu places of pilgrimage Vrindavan and Mathura. Thousands of Hindu women were taken as slaves.

Maratha Confederacy, the supreme power did not lift a finger in defence of Vrindavan and Mathura though were in near vicinity. However, Adina Beg the Mughal governor of Punjab alongside the Sikhs resisted the Abdali Forces and defeated and captured a troop of 10000 under his son Timur Shah. This alarmed Adina Beg who called the Marathas for assistance, Raghunath Rao led the Maratha expedition to Lahore, defeated the Durrani forces, paving way for Maratha dominance in Punjab. Interestingly, the Maratha expedition to Lahore had nothing to do with Maratha Confederacy, had no stake but went in assistance to Adina Beg for a payment of ₹75 lakh for the post of Subedar.

This led to Abdali’s Fifth Attack to retake his territories and led to the ill fated Third Battle of Panipat whose antecedents in lay Maratha greed for monies and not for the cause of Hindus, had that been the case, Marathas, the foremost power in India, could have at least tried to resist the attacks on Vrindavan and Mathura by Abdali. Jats under Surajmal’s the brave Jawahar Singh did oppose the Afghans and the spirited defence by Naga Sadhus, mostly from Rajputana & North India at Gokul forced Durrani army to retreat but Marathas lurking in close vicinity kept clear of the attacks on Hindu religious centres. While Abdali was attacking Vrindavan and Mathura, Peshwa was ordering Raghunath Rao & Scindia to extract dues promised but long overdue in Rajputana. Yet, Panipat III is called a Battle of Faiths by the proponents of 20th Century Hindavi Swaraj! (ref ; JN Sarkar, Fall Of Mughal Empire, vol II, pg 193 & pg 70, Chapter XIV)

Prelude to Panipat III is overwhelmingly a war for supremacy in the twilight of the fading Mughal Empire. The protagonists are arrayed in pursuit of power and wealth. Maratha Confederacy to substantiate its claim as the supreme authority in India while Durrani to reclaim his hegemony in the North West India with a puppet Mughal Emperor in Delhi. The dye was cast when Adina Beg called Raghunath Rao for his help, what followed was the natural consequences of a War of Supremacy. There is definitely a strong undercurrent of Islam in the campaigns by Durrani Chief but in 1760-61, it was just missing, power and supremacy reigned supreme. Abdali was preparing to attack and retake his former fief of Punjab at the same time Marathas were busy in extracting ransoms from Rajputana ignoring the threat looming large over the new acquisitions of Marathas in Punjab with Adina Beg.

Throughout the years of 1758-59 Holkar, Scindia & Raghunath Rao were in Rajputana. Interestingly, Malhar Holkar had publicly befriended Najib Khan as his adopted son while Datta Scindia was under order by Peshwa to crush Najib, circa 1759-60. Surprisingly, Datta too tried to befriend Najib after his return from Punjab to replace the administration at Delhi, keeping out Imad ul Mulk. The fact that the alliances were changing at blink of an eye should be evidence enough of the transitory nature of friends and foes in the build up to Panipat III. Marathas had aligned with Najib, Ahmed Bangash and Surajmal supported Datta Scindia in his siege of Delhi, to force Imad ul Mulk to ally with Marathas while Abdali had captured Punjab and thrown out Saba Scindia who fled with with heavy losses. He joined Datta in Delhi where Datta was killed at Burari Ghat battle with the Ruhelas supported by Afghans. Marathas fled to Kot Putli, near Jaipur and joined by Malhar as precursor to Panipat III.(ref; James Grant Duff, History of Marathas, vol 2.)

Maratha rout in North led to Sadashiv Bhau’s expedition to Delhi to restore lost dominions and more so the pride. After Raghunath Rao’s Punjab campaign at request of Adina Beg, Marathas had failed in realising any gains in territory or the tributes levied upon Rajputana. This march of Bhau was much anticipated and was meant to be succour for all the ills that plagued Marathas in North. Meanwhile, former adopted son of Malhar Holkar, Najib being pushed around by Datta had aligned with Abdali with disastrous consequences for Datta Scindia and the Marathas.

Bhau then sent his envoys to Shuja ud Daula, Nawab of Awadh to get his support, Shuja was invited by Abdali to be part of his forces, with the Nawab undecided, Bhau moved north with show of strength to force Shuja to join the Marathas. This failed as Najib was more persuasive and promised his head if Abdali in anyway tried to cut Shuja in the campaign. Bhau wasn’t done yet, he moved towards Delhi capturing it on 22 July 1760. His capture of Delhi was an empty vessel, the moribund Emperor and the Empire was all in name. ( ref; JN Sarkar, Fall Of Mughal Empire, vol II, pg 271,72, chapter XX)

Bhau was soon stretched thin in resources, his condition was pitiful. Shuja sent his envoy Raja Devidas to bring about a peace between Peshwa and Abdali through offices of Bhau and Najib. The conditions laid down by Shuja were not conducive to the Jat Raja Surajmal who left the Marathas. Shuja to be recognised as imperial Vazir while Jawan Bakht as Wali Ahad or heir to Mughal Empire. These angered not just Surajmal but it left Imad who was part of Maratha alliance, high and dry. He too left with the Jat Raja. Bhau was now without a single friend north of Narmada. The tyranny of locusts swarms of South was bearing fruit at a time when Abdali was staring down the Marathas and Shuja weighing his options, he finally went with Abdali at behest of Najib. Rajputs whose internecine Wars led to Maratha depredations were sitting on the fence waiting for the outcome of the conflict between the two. They did not come to support of Marathas, nor did any other Hindu power in the North. Marathas were reaping their harvest of Tyranny and Chauth in the precursor to Panipat III. (ref; JN Sarkar, Fall Of Mughal Empire, vol II, pg 255-56, Chapter XX)

When every Hindu potentate abandoned the so called Champions of Hindus and Hindavi Swaraj, the Muslim battalions of Ibrahim Gardi, the famed Gardi Musketeers trained on French lines threw in his lot with Marathas. The result of the battle is well known in history but the prelude to the Panipat III is generally shrouded in mystery as a well thought out machination. Imad, the Mughal Vazir was supporting Marathas, who in a bid to catch two in the bush in form of Shuja lost one in hand, ie., Imad. Surajmal too was betrayed by Marathas, the only Hindu ally they had in a bid to appease Shuja, Nawab of Awadh. In the end they only had themselves to blame for being the rapacious plunderers that they were. Marathas had antagonised each and everyone India and left cursing everyone for their rapacity which robbed them of any friends. The claim of Panipat III being a Battle of Faiths is a flawed narrative by Maratha Revisionists which does not stand scrutiny of historical evidence.

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Speak for Nationalist Rationale ! Without fear or favour. Masters in History & Economics, graduate of Law..! Politics, international politics, strategic and security issues are subjects of interest..
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