On the history trail: A power struggle at Delhi

When the ruler at Delhi was informed of Sayyid Husain Ali’s approach to the capital, he feared for his life and sent repeated messages and special agents to dissuade the latter. Sayyid Husain Ali requested the Maratha commanders to either halt or return but they refused.

 

They had been given a clear task of returning only after securing the release of Maharani Yesubai, wife Savitribai and brother Madansinh who were held hostage in Delhi. Sayyid Husain Ali informed the ruler at Delhi about the same adding that it would now complicate matters with the Marathas if the mother of their beloved king is not released.

 

Using this as an excuse, the Sayyid brothers and the Marathas pushed forward. The Sayyid brothers met at Delhi to discuss the next course of action.

 

Delhi essentially became a battleground with a large contingent of Marathas, Rajputs and others settling in the capital by February and March. The citizens became greatly alarmed at the developments and pondered over their future.

 

The ruler at Delhi tried to defuse the situation and sent away Jai Sinh and Ajit Sinh to their dominions, but the two of them left the city and encamped in the outskirts. By the last week of February, the writing was on the wall for the ruler at Delhi with a series of meetings with the Sayyid brothers going against his favour. As the Sayyid brothers gained an upper hand, the ruler at Delhi tried to do away with Sayyid Husain Ali thereby, infuriating the brothers to such an extent that they were determined to depose him at the earliest and place their own puppet on the throne.

 

On 27 February, the brothers besieged the palace and the fort and posted their own men at the gates. Once, the strategic points were ably guarded, it became difficult for one to either leave the city or attempt to enter it.

 

The Marathas were posted not far from the main entrance of the palace. Sayyid Abdullah and Ajit Sinh spent the entire night with the ruler, exchanging heated words and angry epithets, that only grew in tone as the night went on. The capital was a deathtrap with men being murdered senselessly and bodies strewn on the streets.

 

By 28 February, Muhammad Amin Khan, a follower of the ruler tried to force open the palace gate with his trusted men. A few skirmishes with the Marathas followed. Around 1500 to 2000 Maratha horsemen lost their lives. Santaji Bhosle of Nagpur and Balajipant Bhanu were among those who were cut to pieces by the barbarians.

 

The Sayyid brothers arrested the ruler and confined him and put two princes on the throne after short intervals. Muhammad Shah was ultimately made ruler until his death in April 1748. The deposed Farrukhsiyar was put to death two months later.

 

Ajit Sinh, the Raja of Mewar sided with the Sayyid brothers and his strong support facilitated their undisputed power in the north. They appointed Nizam-ul-Mulk to take charge of Malwa.

 

Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath and Nizam-ul-Mulk were on friendly terms and the latter personally recommended Balaji and Ambaji Trimbak to the sitting ruler. Jay Sinh and Ajit Sinh supported the newly signed treaty between the Marathas and Mughals and saw that it was ratified.

 

The Sayyid brothers prepared the formal grants for swarajya, chauth and sardeshmukhi and delivered them duly to Peshwa. Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj’s mother and the rest of the party who had been in confinement for twelve years were released and delivered to the Marathas.

 

The Sanad for the grant of chauth is dated 3 March 1719 and of sardeshmukhi is dated 15 March 1719. Peshwa was given a royal send off from Delhi on 20 March 1719 and arrived at Satara in early July 1719, after which the Peshwa paid a hurried visit to Benares and performed the customary rites and rituals.

 

Shahu Raje made his way to Satara to greet the victorious party. He felt deeply indebted to the Peshwa and his diplomacy that had not only secured the Marathas their dominions but also the release of his family.

 

A grand darbar was held in honour of this extraordinary achievement that would bring prosperity, hope and aspiration in the Maratha lands and change the course of history.

 

Written by Lakshmi Subramanian

 

* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives

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