Conquests as Peshwa
As a result of the untimely death of Peshwa Baji Rao I, Chhatrapati Shahu, the king of the Maratha Empire, appointed Balaji Baji Rao as the next Peshwa. Balaji Rao assumed the office on July 4, 1740.
He served as the Peshwa until his death on June 23, 1761. Although he was the Peshwa for two decades, but he was not not a good military leader like his illustrious father, Baji Rao I.
His tenure witnessed strong opposition from several quarters, including Raghoji I Bhonsle, the brother-in-law of Chhatrapati Shahu; Tarabai Bhosale, daughter-in-law of Shivaji Maharaj, and Umabai Dabhade, the matriarch of the Dabhade family.
Immediately after the appointment of Balaji Baji Rao as the Peshwa, Raghoji vehemently opposed it, but failed. Their animosity worsened when Balaji Baji Rao helped Alivardi Khan of Orissa against Raghoji. Raghoji was, however, made the in-charge of Orissa, Bengal, and Bihar, after the intervention of the Chhatrapati.
The relationship of the Marathas with the Mughals remained amicable during the first decade of Balaji’s reign. Between 1748 and 1752, the Marathas helped the Mughals quell the rebellion both from within the Empire and outside. The infighting among the Rajputs and the invasion of Durrani, however, created a rift between the Marathas and the Mughals.
The relationship with the Rajputs took a downward trend after the death of Jai Singh II of Jaipur, in 1743, when a war of succession broke out between his sons, Ishwari Singh and Madho Singh. It was further complicated by the intervention of the Maratha chieftains, who initially supported Ishwari but later stood in the support of Madho. Upon Madho’s request to intervene, Balaji brokered a peace between the warring brothers and asked Ishwari to cede 4 mahals to Madho. Iswari agreed, but did not keep his promise after Balaji returned to Pune. The Marathas decided to attack Iswari Singh for his failure to keep the promise, but Ishwari did not have resources to convince the Marathas, so he committed suicide.
In 1749, after the death of another Rajpur ruler, Abhai Singh of Jodhpur, both his sons, Bakht Singh and Ram Singh, laid claim to the throne, which led to conflict. After the death of Bakht Singh, his son, Bijay Singh, continued the war of succession. Although the Marathas supported Ram Singh, Bijay Singh managed to keep them at bay with the help of Madho Singh, Mughals, and the Rohillas.
With neither side being able to claim victory, they decided to sign a peace accord. During one such peace discussion in July 1755, the diplomats of Bijay Singh killed Jayappa Rao Scindia, the Maratha general, which led to further deterioration in the Maratha-Rajput relations.
In 1750, Balaji Rao was on a conquest against Salabat Jung, the Nizam of Hyderabad. Sensing this as the right opportunity to evict Balaji, Tarabai asked Rajaram Bhonsle II to do so, but he did not oblige. Tarabai then got him imprisoned on November 24, 1750. Tarabai was supported by Umabai Dabhade, who held a grudge against Balaji Baji Rao, as he had compelled her to share the revenues of the territories she administered. She sent 15,000 soldiers to help Tarabai in her revolt against the emperor and Balaji. Meanwhile, Balaji was on the Mughal frontier, and his supporters could not manage to suppress the rebellion.
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Balaji Rao reached Satara on April 24, 1751, and crushed the uprising. However, Tarabai ceded to Balaji and agreed to release Rajaram only on September 14, 1752.
Balaji’s conquests against the Nizam in 1750 and 1751 were not successful due to Tarabai’s rebellion. Later in 1752, he attacked Hyderabad again, which ended in a peace treaty with an agreement that some parts of Berar would be ceded to Raghoji Bhonsle.
The Maratha-Rajput conflict also led to the differences between the Marathas and the Jats. In 1754, they laid siege to Bharatpur’s Kumher Fort, which was jat ruler Suraj Mal’s stronghold. The siege lasted four months and was withdrawn only after Suraj Mal agreed to pay tribute to the Marathas.
The Durranis kept invading the north-western parts of India and had brokered an uneasy peace with the Mughals. However, with the rise of the Maratha power, the power of the Mughals had diminished. Balaji Baji Rao even planned to place his son Vishwasrao on the Mughal throne.
In 1758, the Marathas captured Lahore and Peshawar, from Timur Shah Durrani, the son of the Afghan KingAhmad Shah Durrani.
The Mughals were clearly losing their hegemony over the Indian sub-continent and the Marathas posed the greatest threat. Hence, they sought the help of Ahmad Shah Durrani. With the support of the Rohillas and the Nawab of Oudh, the Durranis took on the Marathas, who were supported by Holkars, Scindias, and Gaikwads. The two sides battled it out at Panipat – in the Third Battle of Panipat - on January 14, 1761, in which several important Maratha generals, including his Vishwasrao lost their lives.