With the decline of the Mughal administration in India, the Nizams of Bengal built up their rule in Odisha. On the otherhand, the Marathas became powerful and wanted to assert their power all over the country. The Bhonsles of Nagpur under Raghuji gave a new guidance to the Marathas over Odisha thereby directly bringing a rift with Alivardi Khan, the Nawab of Bengal. In the long run, the Marathas became successful in establishing their sway over Odisha. However, their rule in this land from 1751 A.D. to 1803 A.D. made people of Odisha dissatisfied.
Maratha occupation of Odisha
The causes of the Maratha invasion of Odisha were not too far to seek. Raghuji Bhonsle of Nagpur failed to dominate over Sahu due to the superior strength of Baji Rao and contemplated plunder in the direction of north-east of his dominion. His desire was strengthened when Mir Habib, being expelled by Nawab Alivardi Khan of Odisha, stepped towards Nagpur and extended his help to Raghuji thereby encouraging him to invade Odisha. At last, the willingness of his Prime Minister Bhaskar Pandit prompted him to launch an attack on Odisha.
Capture of Barabati fort
By that time, Odisha was under the control of Alivardi Khan, the Nawab of Bengal. Bhaskar Pandit, with the help oi Mir Habib, crossed Baramula Pass and entered into Odisha with a grand Maratha army. The galloping march of the Maratha cavalry stuck terror in the minds of Nawab’s army. Within no time, on 19 April 1742, Barabati fort fell in the clutch of the Marathas. Mir Habib, through Midnapur, marched to Burdwan and then to Murshidabad to settle the score withAlivardi. Though Murshidabad was saved from the plunder of the Marathas by the payment of a huge amount of money to Bhaskar Pandit by Alivardi Khan, the fate had reserved certain misfortunes for it in near future.
Reoccupation of Cuttack by Alivardi Khan
With the return of Bhaskar Pandit, Alivardi Khan appealed to the shadowy Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah to render him possible help for meeting the Maratha menace. The emperor intimated the plights of Alivardi to the Nawab of Oudh and Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao of Poona who helped Alivardi to recapture Cuttack by defeating the Maratha contingents when Bhaskar Pandit had left for Nagpur via Chilika with the huge booty which he had obtained from plunder.
When Alivardi came back to Murshidabad, Raghuji Bhonsle fell upon Odisha like a meteor and proceeded towards Bengal to realise Chauth from Alivardi after plundering Cuttack. At this juncture, Alivardi was forced to form an alliance with Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao by paying him twenty-two lakhs of rupees to save him from the clutch of Raghuji which compelled Raghuji to retreat his steps towards Nagpur. However, a treaty between the Bhonsles and the Peshwas again brought back the Maratha troops to Odisha under the leadership of Bhaskar Pandit who was invited by Alivardi to a meeting at Mankora with his twenty-two generals and all of them were treacherously killed with their leader. This made the Marathas fearful who returned back to Nagpur immediately.
Recapture of Cuttack by the Marathas
This treacherous deed of Alivardi Khan made Raghuji furious who led his vigorous campaign against Odisha. On 12 May, 1745, the fort of Barabati fell in the hands of Raghuji. Of course, Raghuji was defeated at the hands of Alivardi. While retreating towards Nagpur, he instructed Mir Habib to bring the possession of Odisha under the Maratha control. As a loyal servant, Mir Habib proceeded towards Bengal with his troops and occupied Midnapur. Alivardi appointed Sayyid Ahmad Khan as the Governor of Odisha who defeated the Marathas at Midnapur. At this critical juncture Januji, the son of Raghuji came to the aid of Mir Habib. The rebellious Afghan chiefs supported Januji. Alivardi could not recover Midnapur from the Marathas. In March 1749, Alivardi took the final decision to oust the Marathas from Odisha. Being unopposed by Mir Habib, Alivardi proceeded upto Cuttack and captured it. He then appointed Shaikh AbdulSubhan as the Governor of Odisha. Only after one week of his departure, Mir Habib came out from the hidings and reoccupied Cuttack.
The peace treaty of 1751
This shocking news made Alivardi more fragile. By that time, Alivardi was old, weak and feeble. Taking a grand army of 40,000 soldiers, Mir Habib proceeded towards Bengal. Alivardi gathered his army to oust the Marathas from Bengal. The Marathas resorted to the guerilla warfare. In order to teach them a lesson, Alivardi established a permanent military outpost at Midnapur under the command of Ali Quli Khan. He sent his grandson Siraj-ud- Daullah to deal with the Marathas and he chased them as far as Balasore. The Marathas left Alivardi in a cross-road of puzzle. When Alivardi was at Midnapur, the Marathas attacked upon Murshidabad. When Alivardi marched towards Burdwan, the Marathas fell upon Midnapur. Owing to the old age, Alivardi needed respite from warfare. Mirjafar and Mirza Saleh negotiated from the side of the Nawab and Mir Habib respectively and at last, peace was concluded in 1751. The terms of the treaty were as such: Mir Habib was to be regarded as a servant of Alivardi Khan (the Naib Nizam) to rule over Odisha on his behalf. He would pay the surplus revenue of the province as arrears to Raghuji’s troops. Twelve lakhs of rupees should annually be paid to Raghuji on condition that “the Marathas would not set their foot within the dominions of Alivardi.” River Sonamukhi (Suvarnarekha) which runs near Balasore was to form the demarcating line between the boundaries of Odisha and Bengal. The treaty between Mir Habib and Alivardi was highly politically motivated. Highlighting its importance, prof. B.C. Ray writes:
“The treaty was a triangular compromise amongest three sets of forces in the name of Raghuji, Mir Habib and Alivardi, Raghuji for money, Mir Habib for honour and revenge, and Alivardi for rest without being unmindful for retaining his nominal overlordship over Odisha.”
The treaty, as it appears, established the authority of the Marathas over Odisha. Alivardi, though appeared as the overlord of Odisha, he was not so in actual practice. He remained under the clutch of the Marathas who, with the gradual march of time, established their authority over Odisha independent of the Nawabs of Bengal.