The sudden demise of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath was a tremendous loss to Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj who owed his position and fortune to this devoted servant. Bajirao, then of 19 years had been a part of the contingent that had gone to Delhi and had paid close attention to the events that had unravelled following the death of Aurangzeb.
Though many senior men of prominence in the Court of the Marathas pegged him to be highly inexperienced and impetuous, Shahu Raje was an astute man who had observed Bajirao at close quarters. He trusted his own judgement and intuition and decided to appoint the young man as the Peshwa.
However, the veterans like Shripatrao Pratinidhi, Anandrao Sumant, Naro Ram Mantri, Khanderao Dabhade, Kanhoji Bhosle and others did not approve of this and opposed the appointment vehemently. The elders did not warm up to the idea of taking orders from a young man and expressed their dissatisfaction to Shahu Raje. However, their real reason to oppose Bajirao was the prejudice against the Chitpavan Brahmins hailing from the Konkan (Bajirao was a Chitpavan Brahmin).
Shahu Raje was aware of this and decided to take them into confidence. He expressed that he appreciated the spirit of the young resourceful man who would go a long way in advancing the interests of the Marathas. He urged them to remember the invaluable service of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath and his family when the Marathas were in dire straits.
The robes of Peshwa were conferred upon Bajirao at Masur on 17 April 1720 in a special Darbar. Shahu Raje requested their support and encouragement and stated that if at any time, Bajirao proved to be unworthy of the position, then he would be removed immediately. He also said that he had a heavy debt of gratitude to the Peshwa‘s family and this was one way he could repay it.
Bajirao was already acquainted with the policy and measures of his late father. He had acquired the traditional training in horsemanship, war strategies and preparation, writing and accounts and reading and was conversant with ancient Sanskrit. As an extremely handsome man with pleasing manners and intelligence, he left a favourable impression wherever he went.
Bajirao had grown up listening to the stories of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Dharmaveer Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, Ramchandra Pant Amatya and Santaji Ghorpade and their valour and sacrifice inspired him to work hard to protect the Marathas.
Bajirao along with his brother Chimaji Appa did their utmost to win the good opinion of the elders and Shahu Raje. They kept one of their own trusted men in the Court to make observations and report to them faithfully as well as to counteract any adverse influence or counsel of their opponents. It was imperative for both the brothers to have Shahu Raje’s unconditional support and trust for all their expeditions and successes.
It was a common practice to appoint a Mutalik (Deputy Prime Minister) for every position. It was the duty of the Mutalik to act for the Pant Pradhan in his absence at Court for execution of orders and measures coming for Raje’s consideration. Ambajipant Purandare who was made Mutalik served the Peshwa loyally right up to his death in 1734 and so did his relatives after him.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Information about Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj is taken from archives