Udayavni Special

Nana Phadnavis: The Maratha Chanakya who defeated British with his intelligence and diplomacy

Team Udayavani, Jul 11, 2020, 4:05 PM IST

Nana Phadnavis was born as Balaji Janardan Bhanu on February 12, 1742 at Satara, Maratha Empire

He was called as the “Maratha Machiavelli” by the Europeans. His family had good relations with the family of the first Maratha Peshwa Balaji Vishwanatha Bhat as Phadnavis’s grandfather had saved the Peshwa from an assassination plot by the Mughals.

The Peshwa treated him like family and extended to him the same facilities of education and diplomatic training as his sons, Vishwasrao, Madhavrao, and Narayanrao. He continued to be the Phadnavis, or the finance minister, for the Peshwas

In 1761, Nana Phadnavis, one of the 12 conspirators (12 Bhai) was present in the Third Battle of Panipat. He escaped to Pune from the battle and rose to great heights. He became a leading person directing the affairs of the Maratha Confederacy, although he was never a soldier himself

Nana Phadnavis played an important role in holding the Maratha Confederacy together in the midst of internal dissension and the growing power of the British East India Company.

The First Anglo-Maratha war ended in 1782 and for the next two decades there was no important war between the British and the Marathas.

Nana Phadnavis never cared for positions or titles, for him the interests of the Maratha confederacy were supreme. Phadnavis was a visionary who knew the real enemies of the Marathas were the English and French traders. He set up one of the strongest intelligence departments and spy network ever. It was such an efficient network, that any event in any corner of the empire would reach him within hours in his study room.

The Britishers too feared Phadnavis as he was the only one in the Maratha empire who could read their motivations so well. They tried several tricks to remove Phadnavis and appoint some one more pliable in his place but were unsuccessful.

It is said that after the death of Madhavrao Peshwa in 1772, his brother Narayanrao became Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. Narayan Rao was the fifth Peshwa or ruler of the Maratha Empire but he was murdered by his palace guards in August 1773. Narayanrao’s widow, Gangabai, gave birth to a posthumous son, who was legal heir to the throne. The newborn infant was named ‘Sawai’ Madhavrao. Twelve Maratha chiefs (BaraBhai) led by Nana directed an effort to name the infant as the new Peshwa and rule under him as regents.

Also, BaraBhai opposed  Raghunathrao and forestalled Narayanrao’s posthumous son Madhav Rao Narayan as Peshwa in 1774.

Later, Raghunath Rao tried to take Poona, with the help of the British and Phadnavis responded by forging an alliance with the Nizam and the Bhonsles of Satara against them.

In another desperate attempt, they forged another treaty at  Poona in 1777, with an objective of  removing Phadnavis.  However Nana counter attacked the British forces and defeated them in 1779 at Poona.

But Nana knew that British did not give importance to the  treaties so he formed an alliance with the Nizam, Hyder Ali, the Nawab of Arcot and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam against the British.  Fearing the end of British  rule, Governor Warren Hastings, applied his tactics of divide and rule, and signed a treaty with Mahadaji Shinde.

But, the British tactics failed here too because of Nana’s diplomacy and he was able to save the Maratha dynasty once again and   it regained its power.

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