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Moving on from Sikhs who are natives of Punjab to other players and their non-alignment with cause which Marathas stood for.
The Rajputs: Rajputs were all spent after Aurangzeb's 27 years of deccan conquest. Rajputs provided the fodder in form of soldiers to fuel the war machine of Aurangzeb. The Rajput kings typically allied with those who controlled Delhi. The behaviour of Marathas in Rajputana whilst was hurting to the pockets of Rajput kings, they were not in position to influence the policy of Marathas. They were physically far away from Punjab and lacked the political-will and necessary man-power and unity to spillover into Gangetic plains for any agenda whatsoever. The constant infighting and bickering which Mughals, Marathas and later British took advantage of, led to undoing of Rajputs.
With Rajputs gone from the list, Surajmal Jat and Shuja-ud-daula of Lucknow remain.
The Problem is choice !!!
Jats were organized force with a leader whom Marathas could do business with. The fourth option was shuja who was wealthy, powerful and friend of Marathas. Marathas counted on Shuja to help them in Panipat. shuja's mother was extremely amicable on personal terms with Peshwa. Peshwa asked him either to support Marathas OR if not possible, at least stay neutral in this feud.
When Marathas started "thinking" about Punjab in 1755, these question were considered. These are basic factors which any emperor will think about, afterall army walks on stomach. Whether allies are powerful or not is not enough. The other criteria is whether they are useful OR not. Jat was powerful but not useful for Maratha policies. Shuja was powerful and useful.
For conquest of Punjab and northwest, Gangetic valley has to supply the material. Who was controlling GV in 1755? Najib, Shuja and Aliwardykhan.. Alivardi was already paying chauth to marathas, but he is too far off in east (not to mention peshwa-bhonsla complication). Najib was the real problem, this was identified by Peshwa and Shinde. Furthermore, Najib was Sunni-pathan, Mughals were enemies of Pathan but were Sunni. Shuja of Awadh was Shia. Najib was inimical to Shuja (shia-sunni angle) and hence Peshwa was friendly to Shuja.
Shuja did not fight because his forces were stationed in front of Holkar along with Najib on Extreme left flank of Abdali. He had Holkar in front of him. And for many reasons (some not so pleasant), Holkar wasn't very keen on fighting with Najib and viceversa. Shinde had to attack najib diagonally while Holkar did not move.
From Peshwa's point of view, Shuja and Surajmal were two options to make "alliance". Of two, Shuja was better placed financially, whereas Jats militarily. The troops were never problem for Marathas, they controlled virtually entire India and could raise an army from recruitment anywhere. The problem for them was feeding the army. Even Surajmal was not rich enough to feed army of 400.000 men and million animals for half-year. Shuja had that power..
Furthermore, Shuja, like Peshwa was in favour of preserving Mughal emperor nominally. Jats were in favour of abolishing mughal dynasty. This was not in conformance with Maratha policy of national consolidation. Hence the logical option left in front of them was "Shuja". Hence Nanasaheb Peshwa was amicably realted to seat of Lucknow.
Suspicion Rises... What a Tangled web of interests we weave...
Seat of Lucknow got suspicious of Marathas because Marathas did not punish Sunni Najib. Marathas did not punish Najib because Holkar did not want that to happen. Holkar was known to pull the horse of Raghoba by reins when Raghoba was keen on destroying Najib.
Holkar did not want Najib to be destroyed was because he had lost his son (husband of ahiliyabai) in war and was heir-less and Holkar was not completely sure of intentions of Peshwa faction and more importantly Shinde faction. He needed sometime to be sure of Shindes. He had no heir while Shindes had Dattaji, Jankoji, Mahadaji Shinde (sons of Ranoji Shinde, his co-disciple of guru Bajirao-1 peshwa) who were alive. So he needed an enemy of Shinde faction to linger long enough to be sure of Shindes and Peshwa.. This was purpose of Najib in Malharrao's mind..
The tangled web of interests caused a huge jigsaw puzzle which unraveled on that fateful day of 14th January 1761.