The life of Yashwant Rao Holkar was one of unceasing struggle and peril, endured with the abounding high spirits for which he was renowned. The illegitimate son of a bondwoman, he experienced the murder of one brother by Sindhia and the public execution of another by the Peshwa. He took lightly even the loss of an eye by the bursting of a matchlock; jesting at the belief that a one-eyed man is wicked, he exclaimed that he had been bad enough before but would now surely be the guru or high priest of roguery. He was generous as well as witty, and his wildness was pardoned as part of the eccentricity of genius. He was of superior education as well as superior mental abilities, a skilled accountant and literate in Persian as well as Marathi.
No member of his race ever possessed the gift of guerilla warfare in such higher measures as did Yashwant Rao Holkar. His resources were always slight, but his energy and hopefulness boundless. When for the war that now followed he announced to his troopers that they must gather their own rewards and these conditions were accepted with enthusiasm. His reputation was such that, even when himself a fugitive from Scindia's army, he had been continually strengthened by desertions from his pursuer. His personal courage was of the kind which soldiers most esteem, that of such leaders as Ney and Lannes, and he never lost his personal ascendancy until he lost his reason.
The struggling and deceived life of Yashwant Rao Holkar restrained him to trust on anybody. In the interim, support for Yashwant Rao Holkar was growing. Vitthojirao Holkar, Fatthesinh Mane, Aamir Khan, Bhawani Shankar Bakshi, Zunzhar Naik, Govardhan Naik, Rana Bhau Sinha, Balaji Kamlakar, Abhay Sinha, Bharmal Dada, Parashar Dada, Govind Pant Ganu, Harmat Sinha, Shamrao Mahadik, Jiwaji Yashwant, Harnath Chela, Vazir Hussain, Shahmat Khan, Gaffur Khan, and Fateh Khan had joined the army of Yashwant Rao Holkar. Yashwant Rao Holkar was requested by the King of Dhar, Anandrao Pawar to help in curbing the rebellion of one of his ministers, Ranganath and Holkar helped Anandrao Pawar. Yashwant Rao Holkar defeated the army of Shevelier Duddres and captured Maheshwar in December, 1798. Later in January, 1799, Yashwant Rao Holkar was crowned King, as per Hindu Vedic rites and in May, 1799, he captured Ujjain. He started campaigning towards the north to expand his empire in that region. Balaji Kunjir and Bapurao Ghokale were sent by Baji Rao II to arrest Vitthojirao Holkar, and finally in April 1801, Vitthojirao was arrested. He was taken to Pune and was sentenced to death. His wife and son Harirao were imprisoned. During this critical juncture, some important people related to Maratha Confederacy warned the Peshwa not to take such a step which can lead to the collapse of the Maratha Confederacy. The Peshwa ignored it. After knowing this, Yashwant Rao Holkar prepared his mind to take revenge and in May 1802, he marched towards Pune. This gave rise to the battle of Poone. After the defeat of Peshwa he fled from Pune. Then afterwards conquering Poona made Yashwant Rao Holkar to take the charge of the administration in his hands and made some constructive steps to rebuild the Maratha Empire.
To keep the British at bay, Yashwant Rao Holkar played a great role in the Indian history. He stood with all his force and courage to stand against the British. Accompanied by Raghuji Bhonsale and Daulat Rao Scindia, Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar on 4 June1803, decided to fight against the British force after their meeting at Bodwad. After a conspiracy against Yashwant Rao Holkar, he decided not to be a part of the Maratha Confederacy.
To curb the power of British, Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar wrote letters to different kings and welcomed them to get united and fight against the British power. But all his plans and appeal went in vein as all of the kings had already signed treaties with the British. Then Yashwant Rao Holkar decided to fight against the British on his own. He defeated the British army, led by Colonel Fawcett, at Kunch, in Budhlekand. After the defeat the British considered it as a matter of great insult and they resolved to take revenge on Yashwant Rao Holkar at any cost.
Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar defeated the army of Colonel Manson and Leukan at Mukundare and Kota on 8 July in 1804. Bapuji Scindia surrendered before Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar. During this period, Yashwant Rao Holkar defeated the British at different battles and on 8 October, 1804, he attacked Delhi to free Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, who was imprisoned by the British and attacked the army of Colonel Actorloni and Berne. This battle lasted for a week, but Yashwant Rao Holkar could not succeed due to the fact that Colonel Actorloni was supported by Lord Lake. Yashwant Rao Holkar won the title of "Maharajadhiraj Raj Rajeshwar Alija Bahadur" as a token of admiration by Mughal Emperor Shah Alam for his bravery.
Indore and Ujjain were captured by Colonel Marey and Wallace on 8 July in1804. Wellesley marched against Holkar from Pune, along with the army of Bajirao Peshwa on 22 August, 1804. After learning that the British had captured some of his territory, Yashwant Rao Holkar decided to stay in Mathura and work out a strategy to regain his territory. The growing power and bravery of Yashwant Rao Holkar became a matter of concern to the British and they feared the united attack against the British of the rest of the Kings if Yashwant Rao Holkar was not defeated.
The battle of Bharatpur was one of the most important events in the history of Indian revolution as this battle made the British understand their fading time in India. On 13 December 1804, Lord Lake attacked Deeg and the army of Holkar and Jat resisted successfully and reached the Bharatpur Durg. Along with General Manson, Colonel Marey, Colonel Don, Colonel Berne, Major General Jones, General Smith, Colonel Jetland, Setan, and others, Lord Lake attacked Bharatpur on 3 January 1805 and this was lasted for three months in Bharatpur. This war was compared with the Mahabharata war praising the bravery and enthusiasm of Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar.
After a meeting between Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar, Daulatrao Scindia, Satara Chattrapati, and Chatarsinh at Sabalgad, they decided to destroy the British power from the root. Holkar tried all the means to unite the kings against the British. But the British, worried about the continuous failure against Holkars, stated that all disputes with Holkar be resolved without any war. Their fear of being driven out of India led them to call back Lord Wellesley and appoint Lord Cornwallis as the Governor General of India. As soon as he came to India, he wrote to Lord Lake on 19 September in1805 and stated to return all the territories of Yashwant Rao Holkar and was also ready to make peace with Holkar though Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar refused to sign any treaty with the British. After the sudden death of Lord Cornwallis, George Barlow was appointed as Governor General and immediately after coming in power he tried to divide Holkar and Scindia. A treaty was signed on 23 November, 1805 with British and Daulat Rao Scindia and this left Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar alone to stand against the British.
To make his strike on the British a strong one, Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar sought help from Raja Bhag Singh of Jindh, Raja Fathesinh Ahuwalia of Patiyala, and other Sikh rulers. But they were reluctant to provide any kind of help to Holkar against the British and his last option to seek help was to Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Punjab) of Lahore but he also refused to stand against the British. Being concerned about the plans of Holkar the British tried to curb all his plans by provoking the kings to sign treaties with the British.
Afraid of the power and enthusiasm of Yashwant Rao Holkar, the British planned to make peace with Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar at any price as their wasting time can lead the success of the plans of Holkar and create difficulty in ruling India. Finally Yashwant Rao Holkar signed a treaty with the British, on 24 December 1805 at a place called Rajghat (then in Punjab, now in Delhi). The treaty was called The Treaty of Rajghat, London policy of withdrawal. Yashwant Rao Holkar was known to be the only king in India whom the British approached to sign a peace treaty. Being admired as a sovereign king the British returned all his territory, and accepted his dominion over Jaipur, Udaipur, Kota, Bundi and also affirmed not to interfere in the matters of Holkars. The Victorious king reached Indore and started ruling his kingdom.
Though Yashwant Rao Holkar again tried to unite the Maratha Confederacy and appealed to Daulatrao Scindia but Scindia gave the information about this letter to British resident Marsor. Holkars and Scindias agreed on eleven defensive and offensive strategies on 14 November, 1807. Finally Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar decided to fight with the British alone and drive them out of India. To give his plan a success he decided to stay in Bhanpura to form a large army and manufacture cannons. With all his energies and military techniques, he was successful in keeping the British out of his state and finally started to fulfill his aim to drive the British out of India. Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar started the first freedom struggle in 1803; he was a gifted military leader.
Finally the Battle of Bharatpur proved the ultimate success and efficiency of Maharaja Yashwant Rao Holkar and this battle gave him the epithet of the "Napoleon of India."
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