A common misunderstanding regarding Amir Khan (d.1834) of Tonk, Rajasthan, was the assumption that he was a Pindari. This is not correct because he was the leader of a trained army while the Pindaris, on the other hand, accompanied the Marhatta army as scouts. Later on, they formed gangs to rob people. Amir Khan, whenever he engaged in a war, fought with the strategic planning of an experienced general.

As an independent leader he made deals and signed peace treaties with rulers of petty states. He had complete authority over his soldiers and they were hired and dismissed as he pleased. When he offered his services to any ruler he joined on his own terms and his soldiers followed him obediently.

As leader of his army, the crucial problem for him was to pay his soldiers regularly. As he had no regular income, the payment was sometimes delayed. In case of non-payment, soldiers adopted dharna (sit-in) and besieged Amir Khan's house or tent, holding him captive till he paid at least a part of their dues. Sometimes more ruthless methods were adopted to force payment. Once he was thrown off a roof and was seriously injured. At another time, rebel soldiers put a turban around his neck and tried to strangulate him. Another method which was used to pressurise Khan was to force him to sit on a hot cannon and hold him there until he promised to pay the soldiers.

Khan tolerated the misbehaviour of his soldiers and treated them like his children. As soon as he got money he immediately paid them. One of the reasons behind his success was that he kept his soldiers on even during the bad periods the army faced from time to time. Soldiers relied on his promise and remained loyal to him.

Khan's character fully reflected the values of his time. On the one hand, as a result of the political and social decadence, there was no respect for moral values and norms. Mercenaries were hired to kill for payment; they plundered and tortured common people mercilessly. On the other hand, they honoured their word and remained loyal to their friends. For example, when Khan became a friend of Holkar, he stayed loyal to him in spite of all political vicissitudes and supported him whenever he was in trouble; even after his death, he cooperated with his successors. Similarly, he never betrayed his friend Zalim Singh, the ruler of Kotah.

He needed regular income to pay his soldiers and the best source was to go on a plunder rampage, however, if the wealthy people or the ruler requested him to spare their city he abandoned the siege and left the city in peace. Once, during his adventures, he demanded the Nawab of Swat to pay him some money. In response, the begum of the nawab sent him some jewellery, asharfis and one and a half lakh rupees with a message that, being a Muslim he should give them some concession. On receiving this, he returned all the wealth and asked her to pay only 100 rupees; the same thing happened in the case of Kasur. When he besieged the city with the intention to plunder it, the citizens appealed to him on the basis of being his co-religionists. On receiving this message he left the city without taking anything.

In another incident, when he reached Jaipur to loot the city, Jagat Singh, the Raja was not in the city. His sister sent her dupatta with a message that there was nobody to protect her in the city, therefore Khan should treat her like his sister. He left the city undisturbed. From then on, every year, the rani of Jaipur used to send a rakhi to the nawab of Tonk

Holkar fully understood Khan's nature and character and often exploited him by using tricks. Once both of them plundered the city of Pune and amassed a hoard of precious jewellery and rich treasurers of Peshwa, the Marhatta chief. According to their contract it should have been divided equally between them. However, Holkar put the entire war booty on one side and a sword on the other and asked Khan to choose either one. He took the sword and left the rest to Holkar.

Eventually Khan realised that nearly all Marhatta leaders had been defeated, one by one, by the East India Company and his scope as an independent military adventurer was becoming severely constrained. It appeared to be the end of one career and the beginning of another. Throughout his life, he had engaged in war and plunder; now he wanted a peaceful life. Therefore, in 1817, he signed a peace treaty with the Company. He was awarded the nawabship of Tonk in Rajasthan. After becoming the nawab, he built palaces, gardens and a fort. He died in 1834 and left a state which survived till 1947.

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