The Fourth Peshwa: Madhavrao Bhat, a fighter till the last should be made into

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 14 March 2020

The fourth Peshwa, Madhavrao Bhat, not only pulled the empire out of its quagmire but restored it to its former glory.

The stage is set, for battle of succession, courtly intrigues, conspiracy theories, all under the crimson orange flag, flying high on the Dilli Darwaza. If you assume that we are referring to the two dynasty battles that are engaged in a battle of supremacy in the heartland of India, and one that will have repercussions on the power equation in Delhi, then you are a little off the mark.

But, yes, one family name (Shinde/Scindia), from the current times, is also present in this book – The Fourth Peshwa — The Life and Times of Madhavrao Bhat, albeit fleetingly. In fact, if you are a film buff and have watched Bajirao Mastani and Panipat , then you get to know what happens to the Maratha empire in the aftermath of the Third Battle of Panipat, the scars of which still rankle, in this book. The fourth Peshwa, Madhavrao, not only pulled the empire out of its quagmire, but restored it to its former glory. Madhavrao, who came to power after his father’s, Nanasaheb Peshwa’s demise (this came soon after the loss of Marathas to Ahmed Shah Abdali at Panipat and the deaths of his kith and kin). 

Madhavrao was barely 16 when he ascended the gadi, and died a decade later, at the age of 27, his body racked by tuberculosis. His spirit however remained strong and he ensured that the Maratha empire got back control of Delhi, after which he breathed his last.

Marathi writer Ranjit Desai, who has written the original tale in Marathi, leads us through the young Peshwa’s life, his efforts to keep his errant uncle, Raghoba dada (Raghunathrao) or Dadasaheb in check, outwitting the Nizam and Hyder Ali in South, and working with the sardars of Maratha empire – Holkar, Shinde – and Nagpurkar Bhonsles. All of this has been depicted effectively. 

We are acquainted with the dramatis personae in the Peshwa’s darbar — Sakharam bapu, Trymbak mama, Gangoba tatya and Nana Phadanvis. They are engaged in a battle of chess and brawn, ensuring that the strained relations between the uncle and nephew are never smoothened out. Through almost half of the book, Madhavrao’s story comes across as a ‘has-been’, someone who could have achieved a lot, but is always pulled back because of the family politics. But his determination and ruthlessness, logical reasoning and vision come across sharply towards the end. And you are left thinking that had Madhavrao lived a few years longer, the story of the empire would have taken a different turn.

Name: The Fourth Peshwa – The Life and Times of Madhavrao Bhat
Author: Ranjit Desai
Translated by: Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare 
Publisher: Eka, Westland
Pages: 324
Price: Rs 499

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