The Man Who Defeated the Marathas

The political intrigues of Devendra Fadnavis

01 October, 2019

THE HISTORICAL TUG OF WAR for power between Marathas and Brahmins has influenced Maharashtra’s politics since the time of the Maratha empire.

Founded by the Maratha warrior-king Shivaji Bhonsle I, who assumed the title of Chhatrapati, the kingdom reached its peak in the 1750s, when it spanned approximately two and a half million square kilometres—from Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu to present-day Peshawar in Pakistan in the west, and Bengal in the east.

The rapid expansion of the empire in the mid-eighteenth century happened during what is known as the Peshwa era. A few decades after the death of Shivaji, the Peshwas—Brahmin executives of the Maratha Chhatrapati—became more powerful than the Chhatrapati himself. While the Maratha Chhatrapati was reduced to a titular head, the Brahmin Peshwa held the highest administrative office. To keep the kingdom together, the Peshwas granted semi-autonomy to Maratha chieftains such as the Pawars of Dhar, the Scindias of Gwalior and the Bhosales of Nagpur, and the empire became a confederacy. But to this day, the disempowerment of Maratha rulers by Brahmin ministers rankles for the Maratha community.

Perhaps the most striking Brahmin politician from this time was Nana Phadnavis, who rose from the post of a clerk to that of a minister in the Peshwa administration. (“Phadnavis” was a title given to keepers of the Peshwas’ accounts.)

Anosh Malekar is an award-winning journalist based in Pune, who prefers traveling in rural India and writing about people living on the margins of society. He has worked with publications such as The Week and the Indian Express.