Typically when we speak of the Holkar dynasty of Indore, the focus is more on it’s founder Malhar Rao Holkar, and the great queen Ahilyabai Holkar, but not much is known about Yashwant Rao Holkar, the last of it’s great rulers.
Thread on a rather under appreciated hero. Credit – @sadaashree
Yashwant Rao Holkar,the last of the great Marathas , who took on the British, attempted to forge a common united front against them, but was let down by self centered rulers who could not look beyond their petty rivalries.
Ahilyabai Holkar had passed away on August 13, 1795 leading to a succession crisis. Her son Male Rao, had passed away earlier in 1767, due to mental sickness. It was at this juncture that her faithful commander in chief Tukoji Rao Holkar took charge.
Though Kashi Rao ascended the throne after his father’s death, he proved to be a weak and incapable ruler. Both Vithoji and Yashwant Rao,opposed him, and wanted to see their eldest brother Malhar Rao take charge.
Though Tukoji had favored Kashi, his incapability and unpopularity among the nobles as well as the masses made him a liability. A bitter conflict broke out between Kashi Rao and Malhar Rao,with the former seeking the support of Daulat Rao Scindia
While Malhar Rao sought the support of the Peshwa, he was killed by Scindia in a sudden attack on September 14, 1797. Yashwant Rao and his brother Vithoji however managed to escape and took refuge under Raghoji II Bhonsle of Nagpur.
Though Bhonsle arrested Yashwant Rao Holkar under the orders of Scindia, he managed to escape with the help of Bhawani Rao Khatri in 1798. He had earlier helped the Dhar ruler, Anandrao Pawar in curbing a revolt by one of his ministers winning his loyalty
And that saw him ascending the throne in January 1799, going on to become one of the greatest rulers of the Holkar dynasty. With the support from the nobles, as well as the army and common people, Yashwant Rao was now firmly established on the throne.
He decided to expand the empire further as he mounted a campaign towards the North, while his brother Vithoji Rao ventured down South. However Vithoji captured by Balaji Kunjir, one of the Peshwa’s loyal ministers and sentenced to death,
Even though the well wishers of the Peshwa, advised him against taking such a foolhardy step which would laid to the collapse of the Maratha Confederacy, he paid a deaf ear, with terrible consequences.
A furious Yashwant Rao swearing revenge against the Peshwa, first attacked Ujjain, then capital of the Scindias in 1801, and routed their army. He still gave an option to the Peshwa asking Scindia to restore all the possesions of Holkar seized by him.
However with the Peshwa paying a deaf ear, he marched on towards Pune in May 1802. In a long campaign, he captured most of Khandesh, and the territories around Pune, before engaging with the combined Peshwa-Scindia forces on October 25,1802 at Hadapsar near Pune.
Though the Holkar forces faced a barrage of cannon fire, Yashwant Rao advised them to wait for some time, and then ordered his forces to fire back. The Holkar forces routed the opponents on a Diwali day, as the Peshwa fled to Sinhagad.
Couple of days later, the Peshwa again fled to Raigad with some of the Scindia soldiers and his loyal associates Chimnaji, Baloji and Kunjir. And finally on December 1, 1802 he reached Bassein( Vasai), where the British made a deal with him to sign the Subsidiary Treaty
Baji Rao II, signed the Treaty of Bassein in 1802, which in effect would sound the death knell for the Maratha empire. Effectively the empire had become a client state of the British, as they began their expansion over India.
Also the British felt that restoring the Peshwa on the throne, would be an effective check on their main rivals the French in India. As well as countering Yashwant Rao Holkar, from attacking the Peshwa or their other ally, the Nizam.
However most of the Maratha Sardars, including the close associates of Baji Rao II, were totally opposed to the treaty, which they saw as total surrender to the British. Yashwant Rao Holkar took control of Pune, and appointed Amrut Rao as the Peshwa.
Amrut Rao was supported by all the Maratha chieftains and rulers, except the Gaekwads of Baroda, who had already accepted British protection. However by August 14,1803 Amrut Rao stepped down under British pressure.
He in turn would get an annual pension of Rs 7 lakh and a jagir in Banda district. Baji Rao II was more or less a nominal Peshwa, with all the power in the hands of the British
Yashwant Holkar met with Raghoji Bhonsle and Daulat Rao Scindia on June 4, 1803 at Bodwad to forge a common front against the British. However Scindia once again played a double game, informing Baji Rao II, that they would not have to worry about Holkar’s demands,
Coming to know about this, a dejected Holkar quit the alliance. In the meantime Raghoji Bhonsle II having lost at Laswari on December, 1803 signed the Treaty of Deogaon with the British, that gave them full control over the provinces in the East that the Marathas held.
Scindia in the meanwhile after facing a complete rout at the Battle of Assaye, ceded the entire Ganga-Jamuna Doab area, parts of Bundelkhand, Gujarat to the British by the Treaty of Surji-Anjangaon.
Yashwant Rao was now effectively isolated, with the Peshwa, Scindia, Gaekwad and Raghoji Bhonsle all surrendering to the British. He however refused to surrender, and began to reach out to different rulers to wage a common war against the British.
However with most of them already having signed treaties with the British, his appeal fell on deaf ears. Though he was effectively isolated, Yashwant Rao Holkar refused to surrender.
When the agents of General Perron visited him,he pointed to his spear and horse, indicating that he carried the kingdom on his horse’s saddle, while the spear showed it was still formidable.
My country and property are upon the saddle of my horse, and please God, to whatever side the reins of the horses of my brave warriors shall be turned, the whole of the country in that direction shall come into my possession.- Yashwant Rao Holkar.
And followed it up defeating the British army under Colonel Fawcett at Konch near Jalaun. The British sent a larger force agains him under Colonel Manson, whom he routed once again near Kota on July 8, 1804.
Delhi was attacked on October 8, 1804 to free the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II from British captivity. However with the arrival of General Lake, he could not succeed in his mission and had to retreat.
The British however were now wary of his strength and Lord Wellesley wrote to Lake saying that if Holkar was not defeated at the earliest, he would unite the rest of the kings against the British .
Holkar proceeded to Deeg, defeating army of Major Frazer, where the Jat king of Bharatpur, Ranjit Singh welcomed him on November 16, 1804. On December 13, 1804 Lord Lake, attacked Deeg but was routed by the combined alliance of Holkar and the Jats.
Lake once again laid siege to Bharatpur on January 3, 1805 with a much larger force. Lasting for 3 months, the British were repelled by Holkar and Ranjit Singh once again. With their failure to defeat Holkar in a direct battle, the British began to use the tactics of division.
Amir Khan Pindari and Bhawani Shankar Khatrij were bought over to the British side offering them the jagir of Tonk , Rajasthan and a huge Mahal in Delhi respectively. And above all Ranjit Singh went ahead and signed a peace treaty in April 17, 1805 when they nearly won the war.
Holkar in the meantime kept up his efforts to forge a common front against the British, however this time it was Daulat Rao Scindia, who would play the spoiler, allying with the British, unlike his predecessor Mahadji Scindia.
When the Marwar ruler, Maharaja Man Singh, sent an army in support of Holkar, it was Scindia who interrupted and prevented them from advancing, a clear indication of his collaboration with the British.
While the rulers of Jaipur, Nagpur, Satara assured Holkar of their support, none of them actively assisted him, effectively isolating him. The British however still saw Holkar as the major threat, as he was the only Indian ruler, whom they could never defeat
With Lord Lake, expressing his utter helplessness in countering Holkar, Wellesley was recalled, and Lord Cornwallis was appointed as the new Governor General in 1805, who wrote to Lake to return back all the territory of Holkar and sign a peace treaty with him.
holkar however was adamant in refusing to make peace, and with the sudden death of cornwallis, george barlow was appointed as the governor general, who successfully weaned away scindia taking advantage of his rivalry with holkar.
Holkar’s attempts to forge an alliance with the Sikh rulers of Jind, Kapurthala, did not succced, and he attempted to reach out to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. However with the British getting wind of this, they pressurized Ranjit Singh to drop the idea, through his uncle.
With no support from any of the Indian rulers, Holkar was now fully isolated and became the last to sign the treaty with the British on December 24, 1805 at a place called Rapur Ghat on the Beas River.
However even then the British being fully aware of his might, approached him with an unconditional peace treaty, unlike that of the Subsidiary Alliance treaties they had with other princely states.
As per the treaty, all his territories would be returned back to Yashwant Rao Holkar, and his dominion over Jaipur, Udaipur, Kota and some other Rajput states, recognized. Holkar was a victor even in peace, returning back to Indore in triumph.
Yashwant Rao Holkar’s letter to Vyakoji Bhonsle of Nagpur, where he expresses his pain over the betrayal, and the lonely fight he had to put up.
He made one final attempt to drive the British out from India, and made his base in Bhanpura( now located in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh), building a factory to make cannons there.
Working around the clock, he got around 200 cannons manufactured, and gathered a 1 lakh strong army which would attack Kolkata. However the stress, and the deaths of his nephews Khanderao Holkar, Kashirao Holkar got to him, and on October 28, 1811 he passed away at just 35 yrs.
Yashwant Rao Holkar led the first ever freedom struggle in India, built up a modern army on a professional basis. However he was let down by selfish rulers, who could never see beyond their own interests, else the history of India would have been different. #Naman
Yashwant Rao Holkar is one of the forgotten heroes, who never got due mention. Even though he waged a lonely war against the British, and was one of the few Indian rulers who never lost to them. And thanks for following this long thread of mine patiently.
Credit – @sadaashree
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