The third battle of Panipat has been regarded as one of the fateful battles of Indian history. It marked the beginning of the end of the Maratha supremacy in India. The Marathas, by then, had become the greatest power in India. However, they did not try to replace the Mughal emperor and assume the role of an imperial power. Instead, they tried to dominate the politics at the court of Delhi and attempted to have the emperor and the Vazir of their own choice. The interference in the politics of Delhi by the Marathas was primarily responsible for the battle against Ahmad Shah Abdali on the field of Panipat on January 14, 1761.
Causes and Circumstances Leading to the Third Battle of Panipat
In 1752, the Peshwa signed a treaty with the Mughal emperor. By it terms the Marathas got the right of collecting Chauth from all over India, in return, promised to help the emperor when needed. By these terms, the Marathas became involved in the politics of Delhi directly. At that time, the Mughal court was divided into two rival groups of nobles. The one consisted of foreign Muslim nobles while the other one was that of the Indian Muslims. The Marathas put their weight on the side of the Indian Muslims. The foreign Muslim nobles then sought the support of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan. Abdali agreed to help them as he was interested in grabbing the territories of Kashmir, Punjab and Multan. Therefore, the Marathas and Ahmad Shah Abdali came in conflict with each other which resulted in the third battle of Panipat. The rest was a matter of detail.
In 1752, the Mughal emperor Ahmad Shah handed over Punjab and Multan to Abdali. Abdali appointed Muin-ul-mulk as his governor in these provinces. But, Muin-ul-mulk died in 1753. His wife Muglani Begum governed the provinces but failed to manage them well. At the same time, the Marathas under the command of Raghunath Rao helped Vazir Ghaziuddin in displacing Ahmad Shah and raising Alamgir II to the throne. The foreign Muslim nobles felt dissatisfied with this change. In 1756, Vazir Ghaziuddin snatched away Punjab and Multan from Muglani Begum. Abdali came to India to recapture these places. He conquered Punjab and reached Delhi in 1757. He appointed Najib-ud-daula, the leader of the foreign Muslim nobles, as the Mir Bakshi of the emperor and his own son, Timur Khan, as the governor of Punjab. He returned to Afghanistan the same year. The Peshwa had deputed Raghunath Rao to proceed against Abdali but, before he could reach Delhi, Abdali had retired. Raghunath Rao displaced Najib-ul-daula from his post and snatched away Punjab from Timur Khan. He returned to Poona in 1758. The Peshwa deputed Dattaji to look after the affairs of the North. Dattaji appointed Sabaji as the governor of Punjab and opened negotiation with Najib-ud-daula for the governance of Doab. Dattaji failed to come to terms with Najib-ud-daula and therefore, attached him. In the meantime, Abdali attacked Punjab and forced Sabaji to leave it. Dattaji turned back from Najib-ud-daula and came to face Abdali. He, however, was defeated by Abdali at Loni near Delhi. Abdali captured Delhi. Najib-ud-daula also came to his side and requested him to prolong his stay with a view to fishing the Maratha menace once and for all. The Peshwa deputed Sadashiv Rao Bhau to turn out Abdali from India though the nominal command was given to Vishwas Rao, his own son. Bhau reached Delhi in 1760, declared that he had come to turn out the foreigner from India and attempted to gain support of the rulers of the North. Najib-ud-daula sought support for Abdali on the plea of turning out the Hindu Marathas from the North. Bhau failed in his diplomacy, did not get support from any Rajpur ruler and even lost the support of Suraj Mal Jat, the ruler of Bharatpur who had once agreed to support him. Bhau failed as a military strategist as well and lost three months at Panipat facing Abdali. When the Marathas were in short supply of everything, they were forced to fight on January 14, 1761. The Marathas were badly defeated and lost all their important chiefs including Bhau and Vishwas Rao.
Causes of the Defeat of the Marathas
Several causes were responsible for the defeat of the Marathas. Abdali was a better commander and Najib-ud-daula proved a better diplomat than Bhau. The Marathas failed to maintain their line of communication and did not get supplies. The Marathas fought the battle when they had no food to eat and no fodder for their horses. The Peshwa failed to keep contact with Bhau and send him the required reinforcement and supplies. Abdali and his soldiers were definitely superior in arms, organisation and fighting tactics.
Results of the Battle
Historians have differed regarding the results of the battle of Panipat. Sardesai has maintained that, of course, the Marathas lost their manpower but neither the Maratha power was destroyed nor the Marathas changed their ideal of capturing entire India. Contrary to his view, Dr. J.N. Sarkar says that it was a very serious defeat of the Marathas. The Marathas lost their best leaders in this battle which permitted weak leaders like Raghunath Rao to come up in politics. It reduced the power and prestige of the Peshwa which, ultimately, resulted in the disruption of the unity of the Marathas and led to the creation of a confederacy of the rival Maratha chiefs. The Marathas lost their hold on the politics of the North. The Marathas took time to recover from the reverses of this battle which made way for the capture of Bengal and Mysore by the English and Haider Ali respectively. Therefore, it is mostly accepted that though the Maratha power was not destroyed by the battle, it was certainly weakened.
Points to Remember
- The treaty between the Mughal emperor and the Marathas in 1752 by which the Marathas got the right of collecting Chauth from all over India in return of help to the emperor, when needed, involved the Marathas in the politics of Delhi.
- The Marathas helped the group of Indian Muslim nobles at the court in having the emperor and the Vazir of their choice.
- The group of foreign Muslim nobles, therefore, sought the support of Ahmad Shah Abdali which, finally, resulted in the third battle of Panipat.
- The question of sovereignty over Punjab and its capture and loss alternatively and repeatedly by the Marathas and Abdali during the period 1752-60 became the immediate cause of the battle of Panipat.
- Sadashiv Rao Bhau, the commander of the Marathas, reached Delhi in 1760 and sought the support of different rulers of the North on the plea of turning out the Afghan foreign invader, Abdali.
- But he failed in his diplomacy and even lost the support of Suraj Mal Jat, the Raja of Bharatpur.
- Bhau was defeated by Abdali on January 14, 1761.
- On the one hand, Abdali’s capable commandership and successful diplomacy, his superior fighting tactics and arms and, on the other, the failure of the Marathas to maintain their supplies and communication lines intact and Bhau’s failure as a diplomat were primary causes of the defeat of the Marathas.
- Contradictory opinions have been put forth by historians regarding the results of the battle.
- Sardesai maintains that it led to no significant loss to Marathas except manpower while Dr. Sarkar says that it reduced the power and prestige of the Peshwa, led to the creation of confederacy of rival Maratha chiefs and made way for the capture of Bengal and Mysore by the English and Haider Ali respectively.
Mains Questions :-
What were the circumstances leading to the third battle of Panipat? Briefly describe the battle.
Account for the defeat of the Marathas at the third battle of Panipat and assess its consequences.
“Panipat’s third battle was an important event of Indian history.” Desrible the causes of the defeat of the Marathas in this battle.
Tags : Causes the third battle of Panipat. Who won the battle? Fought between whom and when (in which year)? Causes and its consequences. Defeat of the Marathas history notes based on NCERT.
Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks.
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