Balaji Vishwanath had already proved to be indispensable to Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj in a short time and further strengthened his bond by winning over a great adversary in resources, valour and skill namely Kanhoji Angre. Kanhoji Angre, the wiliest admiral of the Western Coast and head of the Maratha Navy is undisputedly the true champion, architect and Father of India’s naval power.
Kanhoji had extended his power during the reign of Maharani Tarabai and readily joined hands with Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj when he ascended the throne. However, the defection of the unsteady Chandrasen Jadhav to Maharani Tarabai’s camp made him rethink his allegiance.
He declared war against Raje and captured several forts above the Western Ghats belonging to him. Shahu Raje sent Peshwa Bahiropant Pingle to subdue him but he was no match for the shrewd Kanhoji and was soon captured and confined at Colaba. Kanhoji even threatened to attack Satara, the capital of the Marathas.
Maharani Tarabai in the meantime emerged victorious during the monsoon months of 1713. Even Nizam-ul-Mulk who had been appointed as Subahdar of the Deccan was proving to be tiresome. Shahu Raje was at his wits’ end to curb Kanhoji’s aggression and sought the assistance of his trusted Senakarte Balaji Vishwanath.
Shahu Raje promised him the position of Peshwa should he succeed in his mission. Balaji willingly agreed to follow his king, provided he went on this task as Peshwa as this position allowed him to decide on delicate issues of war and peace. He urged Raje as follows, “Here is an enemy who has dared to capture and confine your Peshwa, and insinuates thereby that he would deal similarly with the Chhatrapati himself. Is it not then necessary to impress upon Kanhoji that another Peshwa has already taken the place of the one that is gone and that the king’s government goes on without interruption? This is the only way to put him down.”
The argument was irrefutable and Shahu Raje immediately conferred upon him the office of Peshwa in a grand ceremony. 17 November 1713 marks the historic event when Balaji Vishwanath and his family were given the prized position of Peshwa, thus, chartering a new course in Maratha history and the subsequent transfer of power from the Chhatrapati to Peshwa in the years to come.
Kanhoji and Balaji had known each other for a long time. Through common friends and secret agents, he appealed to Kanhoji’s conscience and urged him to consider how both their personal and national interests would be advanced by acting under Shahu Raje’s suzerainty. He also added that the legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his ambitious goal of Hindavi Swarajya would be in danger if they did not work together to adopt a harmonious army and navy to keep the Mughals, the British, the Portuguese and the Siddis of Janjira at bay.
The pragmatic appeal to Kanhoji not to isolate himself and fight his enemies all alone without the backing of the Maratha army under Shahu Raje had its effect at once. Balaji even offered to stand as guarantee to see that all the promises made to Kanhoji would be fulfilled.
Kanhoji agreed to receive Balaji with respect due to a Peshwa and arranged terms for their future alliance. Balaji marched 30 miles west of Poona to meet Kanhoji. The latter came down from his fort and had a cordial meeting at Valvan in January 1714.
They held long discussions and worked out the terms for a lasting peace between the Chhatrapati and Sarkhel, thus building up a new constitution for the future Maratha expansion. The terms agreed upon received the consent of Shahu Raje. The two chiefs proceeded together to Colaba, where the treaty was ratified on 8 February 1714. This treaty demarcated the possessions of Angre and Chhatrapati and provided for mutual cooperation and common defence.
This treaty also had the desired effect upon the policy of the Siddi of Janjira and the British at Bombay. The Siddi readily appealed for peace with Kanhoji on 30 January 1715. The British on the other hand with their heads full of self-importance kept on waging war year after year only to be on the losing side every single time.
They joined hands with the Portuguese of Goa and launched an attack on Kanhoji during 1721 after the demise of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath. The young Peshwa Bajirao had just taken command of the office and suddenly swooped upon the British by land and routed them near Colaba. The British then retraced their steps and concluded a peace with the Peshwa and Kanhoji Angre.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives