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MARATHA-SIKH RELATIONS

MARATHASIKH RELATIONS spanning a period of half a century from 1758 to 1806 alternated between friendly cooperation and mistrust born out of rivalry of political and military ambition. Although Shivaji (1627-80), the founder of Maratha power, and Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the creator of the Khalsa, both rose against the tyiannical rule of Aurarigzib, and although the Sikhs` real crusade in the Punjab took its birth on the banks of the River Godavari in Maharashtra, the two forces did not come in direct contact with each other until the Marathas, in a bid to fill the power vacuum caused by the fall of the Mughal empire, expanded their influence as far as Delhi.

By this time, while the Marathas had reached the zenith of their power, the Sikhs, caught in the pincer grip of Mughal and Afghan persecutors, were still struggling for survival. Ahmad Shah Durrani during his fourth invasion (November 1756 April 1757) had occupied the Punjab. He appointed his young son, Taimur, his viceroy at Lahore with his trusted general. Jahan Khan as his deputy. Adina Beg, reinstated as faujddr of the Jalandhar Doab, on being harassed by Taimur andJahan Khan, sought the help of the Sikhs. With their help he was about to defeat the Lahore force sent against him in December 1757.

But not sure about the Sikh strength that would be available against a heavier force sent or led byJahan Khan orAhmad Shah Durrani himself, he also invited in January 1758, Raghunath Rao, who was stationed at Delhi at the head of a large Maratha army, to invade the Punjab, offering him 1,00,000 rupees for each day`s march and 50,000 rupees for each halt. On 8 March 1758, Raghunath Rao arrived near Sirhind where Adina Beg and his Sikh allies joined him. Sirhind was besieged. On 21 March the town fell and was sacked thoroughly. The SikhMaratha coalition was soon strained over the distribution of spoils. Sikhs, owing to their initiative and knowledge of the local geography, took the lion`s share; the Marathas demanded a share proportionate to the number of troops.

The situation was saved by Adina Beg who brought about peace between the two. To avoid any further clash during their march together, itwas agreed that Sikhs would remain two marches ahead of the Marathas. The combined SikhMaratha army occupied Lahore on 20 April 1758, the Afghan prince and his deputy having fled northward the previous day. Raghunath Rao appointed Adina Beg governor of Lahore and leaving two small garrisons atAttock and Multan returned to Delhi. In November 1759, Ahmad Shah Durrani, invading India for the fifth time, wiped out the Maratha forces in the Punjab.

He inflicted a crushing defeat on the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat in January 1761. The next contact of the Sikhs with the Marathas was in JanuaryFebruary 1765 when they both fought on the side ofJawahar Singh of Bharatpur, against Najib udDaula, the Ruhila chief who had killed theJat ruler`s father, Suraj Mall, in a battle at Delhi in December 1763. Jawahar Singh hired thcservices of both the Sikhs and the Marathas to avenge himself on Najib.

The Sikhs, 15,000 strong, under SardarJassa Singh Ahluvalia defeated the Ruhilas in a battle fought on the northern outskirts of Delhi on 4 February 1765, but Jawahar Singh did not succeed in his venture owing to the faithlessness of the Maratha commander, Malhar Rao, who along with some treacherous Jat officers arrived at a secret understanding with Najib udDaula forcing the Bharatpur ruler to accept peace. Jawahar Singh had another score to settle with the Marathas, too. They had supported his brother, Nahar Singh, in his claim to the throne of his father. He now took nearly eight thousand Sikhs into his pay to make another assault.

He defeated them in a battle fought near Dholpur on 1314 March 1766 and occupied Dholpur, formerly held by Nahar Singh as an appanage. Jawahar Singh with his Sikh troops then went to the help of the Jat prince of Gohad against the Marathas. Together they raided Maratha territory in central India. Jawahar Singh was assassinated in June 1768 and his brother, Ratan Singh, who succeeded him, was similarly done away the following year. A civil war broke out between their halfbrothers, Naval Singh and Ranjit Singh. The Sikhs sided with Ranjit Singh while Naval Singh invited the Marathas and the Ruhilas to assist him. A fierce battle took place on 24 February 1770, in which the Maratha cavalry was severely mauled.

Naval Singh however carried the day and the Sikhs had to retire to the Punjab. Although the Sikhs were now masters of Punjab, Marathas had reemerged as the strongest power in India. Mahadji Scindia, chief of Gwalior, occupied Delhi in January 1771 and the nominal Mughal emperor, Shah `Alam II, who had been living under British protection at Allahabad, returned to the imperial capital early in January 1772 as the Marathas` protege. Mahadji was appointed VakiliMutlaq or Regent Plenipotentiary of the Mughal Empire in November 1784. His principal duty was to restore peace and order in the country and to supply the Emperor with sufficient funds which largely came as revenue from the crownlands.

The Sikhs, free from the danger of foreign invasions after the death of Ahmad Shah Durrani in April 1772, had been plundering the crownlands north of Delhi and in the Ganga Yamuna Doab, and revenues from these lands had almost completely ceased to come to Delhi. Even the imperial city was no longer secure against their raids. Mahadji Scindia tried to win over the Sikhs by diplomacy. He dispatched several agents, one after the other, to open parleys with the Sikhs; on the other hand, he won over Begam Samru to his side making over several parganahs to her in jagir. A treaty of "unity of interests and of friendship" with the Sikhs was concluded on 9 May 1785 according to which the Sikhs agreed to forgo rakhi in the Gang Doab and other crownlands in exchange for jagirs worth one million rupees a year granted to different sardars.

To meet any external danger or internal disturbance both powers were to help each other. The Sikhs also agreed not to cause any injury to the territories of the British East India Company and the Nawab of Oudh. The treaty, however, did not endure beyond a month and the Sikhs entered the Gang Doab in June 1785 to collect rakhi. In December 1785, Khushal Singh Singhpuria occupied Chhatand Banur which belonged to Raja Sahib Singh of Patiala, who soliciting help from the Marathas, regained the territory. In January 1786, in the struggle for succesion among the sons of Raja Gajpat Singh of Jind, Bhup Singh sought the Marathas` help against his brother, Bhag Singh, in lieu of which he surrendered Safidori to them.

In April 1789, Mahadji Scindia deputed two of his generals, Rane Khan and `Alt Bahadur, to negotiate alliance with the Sikhs, Sardar Baghel Singh KarorSinghia and Diwan Nanu Mall of Patiala. The latter, however, doubted their intentions and called reinforcements from beyond the Sutlej. 12,000 Sikhs immediately responded to their call. Nanu Mall, however, presented himself before the Maratha generals and bought peace by offering 4,00,000 rupees as annual tribute and another 2,00,000 rupees as expenses of their army. Rane Khan pressed on towards Patiala. An inconclusive skirmish took place with the Sikhs on 15 April 1789 at Bhuncrheri, 16 km southeast of Paliala.

A settlement was at last arrived at according to which Baghcl Singh was granted a large jagir on the condition that he would keep the Sikh chiefs from assailing the Marathas; the cisSutlcj states acknowledged the supremacy of Mahadji Scindia; and several Sardars were granted jagirs or confirmed in their estates in the Gang Doab against their undertaking not to allow other Sikhs to attack the Doab. This pact, too, was shortlived and the Sikhs resumed, from March 1790 onwards, their depredations without check or hindrance. Only once, in February 1794, the Marathas with the support of Begam Samru`s welldisciplined artillery regiment could frustrate their attempt to seize Saharanpur. Mahadji Scindia died on 12 February 1794 and was succeeded by Daulat Rao Scindia.

In September 1795, one of his generals, Nana Rao came to realize tribute due from the Sikh chiefs, but was beaten back. George Thomas, an Irish adventurer in the Marathas` pay was then given charge of the northern region. He kept fighting the Sardars on both sides of the Yamuna and was often successful because of his artillery, an arm the Sikhs did not then possess. In April 1798, George Thomas gave up Maratha service and settled down atJhajjar and Harisi as an independent chief. He expanded his power and carried out frequent raids on the territories of the cisSutlej Sikh chiefs, who in 1801 sought help from Perron, a French general in the service ofScindias and commander of the northern division of the Maratha army.

He readily agreed, but as the combined SikhMaratha troops forced George Thomas to surrender by the end of the year, the Sikh chiefs began to resent the heavy exactions imposed upon them by Perron. The short spell of Maratha supremacy, however, was broken by the emergence of the British as the dominating power in India. Daulat Rao Scindia after his defeat at Lasvari on 1 November 1803, ceded to the British the districts of Delhi, Agra, Gurgaori, Rohtak and Hissar. The Brilisli also occupied the GangaYamuna Doab. The last SikhMaratha contact look place in 1805 whenjasvant Rao Holkar, Maratha chief of Indore, defeated and pursued by the British General, Lord Lake, entered the Punjab and sought help from Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

The Maharaja, after consultation with his principal Sardars at Amritsar in what is remembered as the last meeting of the Sarbatt Khalsa, only offered to mediate between Holkar and the British. As a result of the parleys that followed, two treaties were signed. The first treaty signed on 1 January 1806 by Lord Lake and Sardar Patch Singh Ahluvalia representing the British GovernorGeneral and Maharaja Ranjit Singh respectively, stipulated Holkar`s exit from the Punjab; according to the second, between the British andJasvant Rao Holkar, signed on 11 January 1806, the latter gave up his rights north of the River Chambal while the former undertook not to interfere with his territories south of that river.

References :

1. Bhangu, Ratan Singh, Prachin Panth Prakash. Amritsar, 1914
2. Gian Singh, Giani, Twarikh Guru Khalsa [Reprint]. Patiala, 1970
3. Gupta, Hari Ram, History of the Sikh,. Delhi, 1978-82
4. Sinha, N. K., Rise of the Sikh Power. Calcutta, 1960
5. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
6. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikh, vol. I. Princeton, 1963

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