Ill-equipped and ill-disciplined troops
That was when I bowled my googly. I asked, “How about a tantrum throwing wife?”
This reason threw him completely out of kilter.
“Eh! What’s that again?”
He absolutely refused to believe that a tantrum throwing Begum could be a possible reason for losing a significant battle.
However this was precisely what happened to the Nizam of Hyderabad. He lost the Battle of Khardla to the Marathas because his Begum threw a tantrum and demanded that……… but hey, I am getting ahead of the story.
Before I plunge in and “reveal” all about the Begum’s tantrum let me give you a, not so brief, historical background to the battle.
The Marathas, under Peshwa Baji Rao I, routed the forces of the Nizam of Hyderabad in the Palkhed campaign of 1728. Following this victory the Peshwa levied Chauth (1/4th of the land revenue collected) and Sardeshmukhi for the very first time on Hyderabad.
The amount to be paid was hotly contested and continued to be so even up to the 1790s. By this time Nizam Ali Khan was on the throne of Hyderabad and the Maratha Machiavelli, Nana Phadnavis, the real power in Poona.
Nizam Ali Khan tried, unsuccessfully, to sneak out of the commitment entered into by his father Nizam ul Mulk. Of course, the amount that needed to be paid could have been negotiated but there existed such bitter personal animosity between Azim ul Umra, the Nizam’s minister and Nana Phadnavis that such an option was just not on.
Azim ul Umra tried getting the British to help him in battle, but the British Resident under strict instructions from Sir John Shore, the Governor General, declined to do so. Shore wanted to preserve the fledgling British Empire and not antagonize the Marathas who were a more powerful force than the Nizam was.
The Nizam, in spite of this setback went ahead with his decision to go to war.
Preparations for the War:
The lead up to the war was obviously characterized by intense military preparations. As any good military strategist will tell you chief among military preparations is always the attempt to bribe members of the opposing court. The Nizam was rumoured to have spent a colossal amount of Rs. One Crore (Maybe about Rs. 4000 crore in today’s currency) in the hope of getting the Scindia to desert the Marathas. Nana Phadnavis in turn spent a more modest Rs. 7 Lakh bribing members of the Nizam’s court.
Once these preliminary preparations were completed the two sides hit the road.
On the Road:In early 1794, after additional preparations that involved nautch girls who sang about the Nizam’s victory and Azim ul Ummra thundering that he would send Nana to Benaras in a loin cloth, the Nizam with his darbar moved to Bidar (Bidar was the Hyderabadi fortress closest to the Maratha frontier) and began to put together a large army.
Finally in December 1794, the Nizam’s army set off from Bidar. It lumbered along the Manjira River towards Poona with the Nizam insisting, all the while, that he was not planning to attack the Marathas but was merely out on a holiday with family and friends.
Given the composition of the touring party it almost seemed true. For apart from the army there was also a huge caravan of covered elephants that had the Nizam’s harem. I am sure they were meant to bolster the morale, among other things, of the Nizam and his men. The harem also had a dedicated regiment of female infantry brought along to protect it from harm.
After meandering along the road for three months the Nizam’s forces reached a ridge called Moori Ghat on the 14th of March. On the morning of 15 March, 1795 the Nizam gave orders for attack. And the army swooped down from Moori Ghat on the Marathas who were assembled at the bottom of the hill.
The Nizam’s French trained artillery and even his Zuffur Plutun (Woman Battalion) succeeded in reaching their planned spot about 6 kilometers from the slopes of the Ghat. Once they reached the position they dug in for the night and prepared for the battle on the morrow. Smug in the belief that victory would be theirs.
The Begum & her threat:
However the silly stiffs did not reckon with the boss’ wife.
Occasional cannonade by the Marathas during the night scared the wits out of the Nizam’s begums. Especially Bakshi Begum who was the Nizam’s senior wife. Obviously the good Begum was not expecting all this noise and confusion during what she felt was just another Nawabi outing. Bakshi Begum then ran around in circles beating her breasts wondering what to do. It was then that inspiration struck.
She simply went up to the Nizam and threatened to unveil herself in public if the women of the zenana were not shifted to the “safety” of the Khardla fort which lay at the foot of the Moori Ghat. (Now in the Muslim society of that period this threat was equivalent to a President’s wife threatening to strip on live Television.) Unnerved by this threat and being the good husband that he was, the Nizam agreed to take all of his women to the fort.
Movement of this nature at the time that it took place (11.00 pm) obviously created some amount of confusion. During this confusion a small band of Maratha soldiers, who were out looking for water, bumped into a Hyderabadi picket and a short exchange of fire in pitch dark conditions, was enough to throw the Hyderabadi troops into complete and utter confusion. They rushed as quickly as they could into the fort.
Once inside the fort there was wild cheering and general happiness among the Begums that this complicated military procedure (of retreating to a fort from a position of strength) was accomplished.
Once the celebrations subsided someone noticed a SLIGHT flaw in the maneuver they felt was a super success: the Hyderabadis had left behind their guns, ammunitions, food supplies, pack animals, horses etc. And they were all holed up in a small fort, totally at the mercy of the Marathas.
In the morning the Marathas found that the Hyderabadis had not only left their strategic advantage but also left behind quite a lot of gifts for them. The Marathas obviously took complete advantage of the situation. By 10.00 in the morning they had brought about 400 guns, 2000 camels and 15 heavy canons onto the ridge. By 11.00 am they had completely surrounded the fort and started to blast away. It was all over bar the shouting.
The Nizam was forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty on April 17.
Wonder what the Begum had to say about that.