Panipat Controversy – Why Maharaja Surajmal Didn’t Fight The Third Battle Of Panipat

With the release of the film Panipat a controversy has erupted, the central question being the role of Maharaja Surajmal and why he did not fight the third Battle of Panipat resulting in a humiliating defeat for the Marathas.

Panipat Controversy Why Maharaja Surajmal didn't fight the Battle of Panipat
Panipat Controversy – Why Maharaja Surajmal didn’t fight the Third Battle of Panipat

Ahmed Shah Abdali

After the death of Shah Alamgir II, there were two rival nobles at the Delhi court, Ghazi Uddin and Nazibudaulah. Some dissident courtiers invited Ahmed Shah Abdali from Kabul to counter Ghazi Uddin. With the help of these accomplices, Ahmed Shah Abdali succeeded in removing Ghazi Uddin from Wazarat, and obtained one crore of rupees as indemnity. On 29th June 1757 Ahmed Shah Abdali sat on throne of Delhi and issued coins in his name. Ghazi Uddin with his friends sought asylum at Bharatpur.

Ahmed Shah Abdali wrote to Maharaja Surajmal to pay a fine of Rs one crore or be ready for war. Maharaja Surajmal accepted the challenge. He sent his son Jawahar Singh on a flank to Balabgarh and himself attacked the forces of Abdali when they were yet busy in preparations for the action.

On 12 Feb 1757, Durrani’s forces created havoc in Bharatpur and massacred a large number of innocent people. Though the Jats had suffered heavy casualties, Durrani dared not proceed to attack Deeg and Bharatpur. Due to this heavy bloodshed Cholera broke out in Durrani’s forces and they had to leave the Jat territory. Surajmal preferred to face all these troubles than to give up one who had sought his protection.

Why Maharaja Surajmal didn’t fight the Third Battle Of Panipat

The political aim of Ahmed Shah Abdali was to create differences between Hindus and Muslims and thereby strengthen the Delhi throne. To some extent he succeeded in his designs. With this policy, a country wide resentment spread amongst Hindus. By this time the Marathas had got sufficient power in Deccan. They became champion of the people’s cause and decided to have a pitched battle with Abdali. They rushed messengers to all Hindu rulers and asked them to unite and support Marathas for the common cause of defending the religion. It is a pity, that the Rajput rulers did not respond favorably and gave an evasive reply. However, the daring Jat Ruler Maharaja Surajmal volunteered readily with his formidable Jats force.

On the other side all the Muslim rulers in India, united to support Ahmed Shah Abdali. Ahmed Shah cunningly invited Ghazi Uddin with the assurances that he would reinstate him as Grand Wazir. Surajmal permitted Ghazi Uddin to return to Abdali, but he was so heavily indebted to the Jats, that he categorically rejected Abdali’s invitation.

An operational conference was held at Agra to discuss the plans for the battle against Abdali. Surajmal was a tactician of high caliber. He appreciated that the enemy had superior forces. The only way in which Marathas could win was by organizing their forces into highly mobile hard hitting groups.

He suggested that they should shed their heavy baggage and their families and send them across River Chambal to the fort of Deeg for safety. He also advised that they should avoid pitched battle, conduct guerilla warfare and continue harassing and delaying the enemy till the on-set of the rainy season. By this time Abdali’s forces which were not accustomed to hard life would get demoralized and worn out. Then the Marathas should attack, and neutralize the enemy forces.

These tactics of Maharaja Surajmal were very much appreciated by all the Maratha Chiefs except (Sadashiv) Raghunath Rao Bhau, who considered the adoption of these tactics to be below his dignity. He bluntly told Suraj Mal that the Marathas did not need help or guidance from any quarter for the battle of Panipat. Inspite of this Maharaja Surajmal remained in support with Ghazi Uddin and 18,000 troops. In July 1760, Marathas occupied Delhi, Ghazi Uddin was appointed Wazir and a prince of Moghul dynasty was placed on the throne of Delhi. But soon after, much against the wishes of Maharaja  Surajmal, the Marathas removed Ghazi Uddin from Wazarat and appointed a Mahratta in his place.

They ordered the golden ceiling of Diwan-e-Am to be removed. Maharaja  Surajmal, disapproved of this action and told them that being a thing of beauty it should not be destroyed. He offered to pay a sum of Rs Five lakhs to Marathas, provided they spared the historical monument but Marathas did not desist from doing so and ultimately they got gold worth Rs 3 lakhs only out of it.

The patience of Surajmal got exhausted by these ravages and the insulting behavior of Bhau. He left for Bharatpur without informing anyone. Maharaja  Surajmal, now had two enemies, and obviously he was required to fight whoever came out victorious.

The Marathas were badly defeated at the Battle of Panipat. A large number of them were butchered, their treasury was looted, their woman molested and they fled away from the battlefield helter-skelter, worn and weary, naked and hungry, the Maratha soldiers entered the territory of Maharaja  Surajmal. He looked after them, gave them food and clothes and finally bid them farewell after giving one rupee and one seer of gram to each for their home journey. A sum of Rs 10 lakhs was spent by Maharaja  Surajmal on this occasion.

Excerpt from the History of the Jats by Ram Sarup Joon translated by Lieutenant Colonel Dal Singh.

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  1. Putting blame on Bhau (losing side) is practical but that doesn’t mean Indians were right in not helping Bhau with his strategy when disagreeing “other Marathas” did! (Why?)

    Irrespective of religion, its impossible for Indians to come together in good cause. #ShortRupee #BuyDollar

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