Read this article to learn about the administrative system of the Peshwas.
The office of the Peshwa may be seen in the administrative Council during the days of Dadaji Kondadev. When Shivaji became his own master in 1647 he instituted the system of Ashtapradhan.
It was not a Cabinet as we understand it today, but a Council of eight ministers who merely acted as Shivaji’s secretaries.
Peshwas was a Persian title the sanskrit meaning of which is Mukhya Pradhan i.e. the Prime Minister. It was from the time of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath that the office became hereditary as his son Baji Rao I succeeded him to the post. Shahu’s ratification of the succession of Baji Rao despite opposition of many of the high officials accelerated she process of the hereditary succession to the office.
The old nobility represented by the Angrias, Bhonsles and Gaikwad did not regard the Peshwas as their superior but as their equal. The new nobility represented by the Scindias, Holkars and Rastias etc. created by the Peshwa, however, regarded him as their master. Peshwa’s pre-eminence set an example before the Angrias and the Bhonsles to copy, thus in place of former cohesion, the Maratha empire as Dr. Sen observes became a loose confederacy like the Holy Roman Empire of ambitious feudal chiefs.
The administration was a three-tier system with a central government at Poona, provincial government and the district administration. The central secretariat called the Huzur Dajtar was the nerve centre of the country’s administration. All accounts were rendered of the revenue and expenditure of the districts and villages by district officers and village officers respectively. Alienation of public revenue through Saranjam, Inam or otherwise, collection of customs, pay of troops, expenses of civil, military and religious establishments were all recorded in daily registers. Nana Fadnavis was responsible for various’ commendable improvements in the Huzur Daftar.
Provinces under the Peshwas were of various sizes and larger ones were under provincial governors called Sarsubahdars. The provinces were termed Subahs, Sarkars, or Prants. Next to the Sarsubahdar was the Mamlatdar whose duties were of diverse nature, namely looking after agriculture, industry, civil and criminal justice, police, local militia, revenue assessment of the districts and villages.
The Mamlatdar and Kamvisdar were Peshwa’s representatives in the districts. Deshmukhs and Despandes were district officers who were in charge of accounts and were to observe the activities of the Mamlatdars and Kamvisdars. It was a system of checks and balances.
The villages were the lowest units of administration and were self-contained and autonomous. Patel was the chief village officer and was responsible for the dispatch of the revenue collections as per stipulation, to the centre. Kulkarni was the village record keeper
In towns and cities the chief officer was the Kotwal who had a variety of duties such as adjudicating in disputes, maintenance of peace and order, regulation of prices, settling disputes about houses, roads etc. and sending of monthly accounts to the Government. He was the head of the city police and also functioned as the Police Magistrate.
There was a hierarchy of the judicial officers. At the top of the judicial administration was the Peshwa, below him was the Sar-subahdar. Next in rank was the Mamlatdar and in the villages the Patel. In the ultimate resort appeal could be preferred to the Raja Chhatrapati.
Land revenue was the main source of income. The Peshwas gave up the system of sharing the produce of the agricultural land as was prevalent under Shivaji and followed the system of tax-farming. Land was settled against a stiputated amount to be paid annually to the government. Waste land if brought under cultivation half of the land would be given as Inam i.e. reward.
The revenue was settled with reference to the yielding capacity of the land although under Baji Rao II land was farmed out to the highest bidder. Other sources of revenue were chauth and sardeshmukhi. Customs, excise, sale of forest produce also constituted important source of income. Goldsmiths were allowed to mint coins on payment of royalty to the government and obtaining licence for the purpose. Captain J. Grant Duff estimated the Maratha revenue at the close of the eighteenth century at six crores.
The Maratha military system was modelled on the Mughal military system in its essential features. It widely varied from the ancient Hindu military system. Greatest emphasis was laid on the cavalry as did the Mughal system. The mode of army recruitment, payment of salaries, making provisions for the families of the soldiers etc. showed a strong resemblance with the Mughal military system. Needless to say that Mughal expansion in the Deccan had its direct influence on the Maratha military system.
In recruiting his soldiers while Shivaji confined his choice to the people of Maharastra, the Peshwas recruited their soldiers from all over India and from all races. Arabs, Abyssinians, Rajputs, Rohillas or Ruhelas, Sikhs etc. were there in the army of the Peshwas.
The Peshwas also gave up the system of payment from the treasury to the soldiers and copied the Mughal system of granting jagirs to them and thereby making the army a feudal army. Maharashtra being a hilly country, the cavalry was naturally the main strength of the Maratha army. Every jagirdar had to bring a stipulated number of horsemen for a general muster every year.
The horsemen were divided into three classes by Balaji Baji Rao on the quality of the horses. Horses of the value of Rs. 400 and above were put into first class, those of the value of Rs. 200 and above but below Rs. 400 were placed in the second class and those below Rs. 200 but not below Rs. 100 were placed in the third class. Horses of the lowest grade, that is, of the value below Rs. 100 were not accepted in the muster. The Peshwas followed an expedient of checks and balances in order to neutralize the military power of the feudal lords by giving them jagirs in the same area so that mutual jealousy might keep them in check.
The Maratha infantry was recruited mostly from the Rajputs, Rohillas, Sikhs, Arabs and the Sindhis since the Marathas were less willing to serve in the infantry, their choice being the cavalry. Compared to the Maratha soldiers the foreigners, that is the Arabs, Rohillas, Sikhs, Sindhis etc. were paid a higher salary.
The Maratha artillery was manned mostly by the Portuguese and the Indian Christians. Later on English were also recruited in the Maratha artillery. The Maratha navy was built mainly for the purpose of checking piracy, collecting duties from the incoming and outgoing ships and guarding the Maratha ports.
Dr. Sen calls the Maratha constitution as a curious combination of democracy and feudal aristocracy. It is difficult to describe it either as monarchy, aristocracy or democracy. W. H. Tone calls it a military republic. He also remarks that the Maratha empire was not based on confidence of the people and the national patriotism which was the aim of Shivaji was later forsaken and jealousy and selfishness tore the empire into pieces. Edwardes remarks that the Maratha army was more calculated to destroy than to create an empire. All these shortcomings had sealed the fate of the Marathas and they failed to place themselves in the position of the successor to the Mughal empire. The opportunity was taken by the English East India Company.