What Limited The Greatness Of Bajirao Peshwa?

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Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery — the British war hero who defeated Field Marshal Erwin Rommel at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942 — was a keen student of military history. He observed that Bajirao was possibly the finest cavalry general ever produced by India.

In his career spanning 20 years as a general, he fought over 41 battles and is reputed to have never lost even a single one! He is 1 of the 3 generals in world history who never lost a battle, and is often compared with Napoleon Bonaparte by many great historians. 

In fact, the history of Bajirao challenges the notion that the British seized control of India from the Mughals and not the Marathas, the ‘real’ rulers of most of India in the 18th century.

But, this great general died on April 28, 1740, at the ripe age of 39 of a sudden fever, possibly heat stroke, when he was en route to Delhi with 100,000 troops to take on Nadir Shah. 

Well, we at Growtist do not believe that this guy died due to heat stroke.  Our view is that there was a conspiracy to kill him. We believe in this theory because we are connecting the 2 dots below:

  • Bajirao challenged powerful and orthodox brahmins of his time. He made them his enemies by: marrying a muslim (Mastani), eating meat, wanting his son (from Mastani) to be baptized as per hindu rituals, etc.
  • Since, he was quite an accomplished general, his enemies feared him a lot

The above dots lead us to believe somewhat that brahmins of his region and his enemies cooked up the plan to get rid of the guy. Else, what are the odds of such a death? And why did the illness only affect him and not others around him?

But, there is another analogical dot that strengthens our belief in the above conspiracy theory:

  • A similar theory has been posited to explain the untimely death of Alexander the great too

In fact, Oliver Stone’s 2004 movie Alexander, presents a historically informed theory about who killed Alexander and why. 

In its epilogue Alexander’s senior general Ptolemy (played by Anthony Hopkins), looking back over decades at his commander’s death, declares: ‘The truth is, we did kill him. By silence, we consented … Because we couldn’t go on.’ Ptolemy then instructs the alarmed scribe recording his words to destroy what he has just written and start again. ‘You shall write: He died of disease, and in weakened condition.’

In fact, there is some evidence that Alexander’s senior commanders were not willing to follow him anymore. In India in 325 BC, at the eastern edge of the Indus river system, Alexander’s army staged a sit-down strike, when ordered to march eastward towards the Ganges. Even the highest ranking officers took part in the mutiny. Stone considered this episode a forerunner of the later murder conspiracy, since Alexander was again planning vast new campaigns at the time of his death.  

Key Question

So, if we agree with the theory that Bajirao was killed by a conspiracy hatched by his own people, how can we reconcile Bajirao’s greatness (as a warrior/general)  with his foibles (that alienated the brahmins in his region)?


Bajirao’s owes both his greatness and his foibles to his faculty of judgment. 

It was the independence of his judgment made him such a successful general. If you watch the movie as well as the TV serial (currently running), and you will get a glimpse of his originality and independent thinking in matters of warfare. This article mentions several such instances as well. 

It was the immaturity* of his judgment that led to a conspiracy that caused his untimely death. His immaturity lay in creating unnecessary trouble for himself by ruffling the feathers of the powerful religious leaders. Those who have a mission try to minimize such distractions. 

Akbar is a case in point here. He possessed independent judgment too. But he also possessed maturity. This was the reason he was able to break free from the orbit of his predecessors and rule over various rajput kings for about 50 years!

* I believe that the essence of immaturity is: a lack of situational awareness

The ‘independence’ of Bajirao’s  judgment made him such a successful general. Yet, the ‘immaturity’ of his judgment led to a conspiracy that caused his untimely death.