Read this article to learn about the causes of decline and downfall of the Marathas.
Decline of The Maratha Power:
Before final decline of the Maratha Power had set in there arose among the Marathas capable leaders like Ahalya Bai, Nana Fadna-vis, Mahadji Scindia etc. who gave a fresh lease of life to the Maratha Confederacy and ably resisted the English influence and expansion.
Holker of Indore:
The Treaty of Salbai (1782) which had ended the First Anglo-Maratha War left the Maratha Confederacy weak and mutual jealousy and distrust as well as selfish intrigues made .it weaker still. But fortunately some capable administrators arose among the Maratha leaders of whom Ahalya Bai of Indore was one.
Sir John Malcolm whose knowledge about the Marathas was based on personal investigations called the internal administration of her domains as wonderful. His remarks about Ahalya Bai are worth quoting. “In the most sober view that can be taken of her character, she certainly appears, within her limited sphere, to have been one of the purest and most exemplary unless that ever existed.”
After the death of Ahalya Bai (1795) the government of Indore passed into the hands of Tukoji Holkar who, although a good soldier, was an incapable administrator, devoid of political acumen. His rule lasted only for two years and on his death in 1797, the affairs in Indore fell into terrible chaos.
Yasovant Rao Holkar, son of Tukoji, had faced crop of internal troubles from the time of his accession. To add to this, there arose a great internecine conflict within the Maratha Confederacy. The Maratha interests in general naturally suffered terribly because of this and the Marathas could not take advantage of the policy of non-intervention pursued by the English at that time.
On the death of Nana Fadnavis, Yasovant Rao-Holkar and Daulat Rao Scindia were locked in a deadly struggle for the Peshwaship. Ultimately Peshwa Baji Rao II and Daulat Rao Scindia were signally defeated at the hands of Yasovant Rao. Yasovant Rao placed Vinayak Rao, a descendant of Raghoba, as puppet Peshwa and kept all powers of the Peshwa in his own hands.
It was in such circumstances Baji Rao II by the Treaty of Bassein (1802) practically sold the independence of Peshwaship to the British and got himself reinstated as Peshwa with British help. Other Maratha Chiefs, however, looked upon the Treaty of Bassein as a national disgrace and both Scindia and Bhonsle, joined hands to take revenge on the British. Holkar, however, did not join this combination and was not even conscious of national peril. In the Second Anglo-Maratha War Scindia and Bhonsle were defeated and were compelled to surrender parts of their territories to the British and enter into Subsidiary Alliance with them.
Holkar now realized his mistake in not joining hands with the Scindia and Bhonsle and unilaterally entered into war with the British and defeated the British General Monson in the battle of Mukun- dara Pass. The King of Bharatpur joined hands with Holkar at this stage. General Lake attacked Bharatpur but failed to take it. Yet the King of Bharatpur lost courage and signed a treaty with the British.
In the meantime Holkar got defeated at the hands of the British in his attempt to invest Delhi. He also sustained defeat at the hands of General Lake. At this point of time Lord Wellesley was ordered to return to England and this saved Holkar from being forced to accept Subsidiary Alliance. Holkar, however, entered into a friendly alliance With the British in 1800.
The Peshwa of Poona: Nana Fadnavis:
Nana Fadnavis had defeated Raghunath Rao (Raghoba) and placed Madhab Rao Narayan as Peshwa. Under Madhab Rao Narayan his minister Nana Fadnavis was the real power behind the throne. During the period from the end of the eighteenth century till the fall of the Marathas, Nana Fadnavis was the most far-sighted, wise, and talented leader among the Marathas. His abilities were highly praised even by the European writers.
Nana Fadnavis did not make his mark only by defeating Raghoba and protecting the rights of Madhab Rao Narayan, the rightful heir to the Peshwaship but did much for restoration of the Peshwa’s power and dominions. To this end he entered into a friendly alliance with the Nizam and sought to recover the Maratha territories occupied by Tipu Sultan of Mysore on the Southern bank of the river Narmada.
Tipu, finding defence against the Maratha-Nizam combine unavailing surrendered Badami, Kittur, and Nargund to the Marathas and paid a heavy indemnity of 45 lacs of rupees in 1787. Soon afterwards there began a conflict between Tipu and the Marathas. A joint front was offered against Tipu by the Marathas, Nizam and the British—a Triple Alliance in order to put down Tipu Sultan.
In fact, it was an alliance of convenience and of a temporary nature, for there was no real friendship between the Marathas and the Nizam or the British. This alliance was followed soon by Maratha invasion of Sizam’s territories. The British although pledged to come to the help of the Nizam did not move. In the battle of Kharda, therefore, the Nizam had to fight single-handed against the Marathas but was signally defeated (1795).
Success in the battle of Kharda meant addition to the power, prestige and territories of Peshwa and Nana Fadnavis was held in high esteem by the Marathas and his position in the Maratha Confederacy was now very high. Peshwa Madhab Rao Narayan finding that he had no chance to play the real Peshwa, committed suicide cut of frustration.
The result was that Baji Rao II become Peshwa. There was no love lost between the Nana Fadnavis and Baji Rao and the former was not willing to see Baji Rao II as Peshwa. Soon trouble started among the Marathas centering round the personal enmity between Baji Rao II and Nana Fadnavis. Maratha unity was now lost, taking advantages of which Nizam took possession of all places he had lost as a result of the battle of Kharda. In 1800 died Nana Fadnavis which gave Baji II to follow his ruinous policy. After Nana Fadnavis, there was not a single Maratha leader capable of holding the Maratha Confederacy together.
Nana Fadnavis in his far-sightedness saw the need for enlisting French friendship and support in order to strengthen the Maratha Power against the British. To this end he had granted various commercial facilities to Chavalier de Lublin. Nana Fadnavis’s far-sightedness, patriotism, and above all his eagerness to keep the Marathas united forced the admiration of the contemporary British Officers and European historians. Malcolm, Grant Duff, etc. highy praised Nana Fadnavis’s character and abilities. So long as Nana Fadnavis was alive Poona, that is the; seat of the Peshwa, rejected the idea of any alliance with the British. His diplomatic skill and his total control of every branch of administration received praise of the British historians who compared him with Machiavelli.
Some modern historians have found fault with Nana Fadnavis for not trying to spread the Maratha power in north India during his time but even if this may be regarded as a shortcoming in his policy the fact remains that he was an administrator with qualities of a statesman, a person who set his country and Maratha unity above everything, and his contributions to the Maratha history deserve respectful remembrance.
Scindia of Gwalior: Mahadji Scindia:
Ranaji Scindia was the founder of the dynasty of the Scindias. He was a trusted follower of Peshwa Baji Rao I. But the most capable and far-sighted ruler of the line was Mahadji Scindia. He was by far the most important among the leaders of the Marathas during the last part of the eighteenth century.
Mahadji Scindia took part in the third battle of Panipath (1761) and got one of his legs badly damaged in the war which made him lame. In the fast recovery of power and prestige of the Marathas after their defeat at the battle of Panipath, the contribution of Mahadji Scindia was the greatest. In 1777 Mahadji Scindia escorted Emperior Shah Alam from Kara and Allahabad to Delhi and set him on the imperial throne there and made him a puppet in his own hands.
The increase of Maratha power and prestige in this way naturally led to a fear psychosis among the English. Madhaji defeated at the hands of the English now came to realise the need’ for friendly relationship with them. Mahadji Scindia also harboured ambition to become the leader of the Maratha Confederacy. He also, therefore, felt that a friendly relationship with the English would help him to fulfil that ambition. He agreed to work as a go-between in getting the hostilities between the Maratha Confederacy and the English setded. It was through his efforts that the Treaty of Salbai between the Marathas and the English was signed.
Mahadji Scindia was loyal to the Peshwa and became his deputy. He also got himself appointed the Vakil-ul-Mulk, i.e., the personali representative of the Peshwa in the Court of Shah Alam. Besides all this, he became the general of the army of Shah Alam and occupied Delhi and Agra for maintenance of the army under him. Mahadji Scindia also recognised the need for training up his own army after the European fashion and to this end he appointed De Boigne, a military expert from Savoy to train up his army.
Mahadji Scindia engaged in war with the Rajput Princes and although he did not succeed against the combined forces of the Rajputs, yet he succeeded in spreading his influence in parts of Raj putana. He was for a time dislodged from his position.at Delhi by Gulam Kader—a Rohilla Chief, but he recovered his position soon after. Mahadji Scindia was a far-sighted Statesman and he recognised the need for allying himself with Tipu against the English. He opened negotiations fit this regard with the Peshwa, Tipu, etc. But before a common front against the English could be organized Mahadji Scindia had died and with his death the Marathas lost the most remarkable personality, the greatest statesman, and man of unparalled abilities among them. Mahadji was succeeded by Daulat Rao Scindia.
Gaikawad of Baroda & Bhonsle of Nagpur:
From the Gaikawads of Baroda or from the Bhonsles of Nagpur no talent comparable to Mahadji Scindia had arisen. These two houses had to accept the Subsidiary Alliance with the British. In the Gaikawad of Baroda accepted the Subsidiary Alliance with the English and he did never thought of making him independent of the British by throwing off this alliance. Bhonsle, however, joined the third Battle of Panipath and was defeated. He had to surrender a large portion of his territories to the British. In this way by the early nineteenth century the Maratha Power completely declined.
Causes of the Downfall of the Marathas:
The only Indian Power that possessed the strength and ability to step into the imperial shoes of the Mughals after the latter’s fall was the Marathas. But the Marathas could not take advantage of the situation as a result that the fullest opportunity was taken by the English. Gradually the Marathas were pushed into the background of the political scene in India.
Upto the middle of the eighteenth century the Maratha Power in India was in the ascendant. But from after the Third Battle of Panipath decline set in in the Maratha Power. Although the Maratha Power saw a temporary revival yet it was from the defeat at the Third Battle of Panipath (1761) that the decline and fall of the Marathas have to be traced. The Third Maratha War had not only destroyed the solidarity of the Maratha Confederacy but denigrated the position and prestige of the Peshwa. True, that the Maratha Power recovered within a short time and acquiring sufficient strength, took part in the political field in northern India, yet this revival of power and strength did riot last long. The result was that the Marathas not only failed to build up an empire but also became incapable of defending themselves.
The failure of the Marathas to fill in the vacuum left by the downfall of the Mughals and to build up an empire in India was due to various reasons:
(1) In-the first place it has to be mentioned that the Maratha Power was built up on the personality and abilities of Shivaji. The revival after the Third Battle of Panipath was also due to the personality and talent of Madhab Rao. But there was no well thought out policy or plan in building up the Maratha Power and it was due to this that whenever there was dearth of men of strong personality and talent, the structure of the Maratha Empire began to crumble down.
National unity, uniform and liberal policy, idea of universal welfare, and above all, any policy to turn up succeeding generations of rulers were absent among the Marathas. Naturally this lack of solidarity on the basis of certain basic principles of imperial organisation made them weak and the Marathas could not withstand the onslaught of the English. Sir Jadunath rightly points out that “The Maratha unity was artificial and fortuitous, and therefore uncertain”. It was this basic weakness that stood against the Maratha Power and it did neither acquire real strength nor permanence.
(2) In the second place, Maharashtra is a hilly country, naturally agriculture, trade or industry did not develop there to support the country economically. The Marathas had, therefore, to depend on Chauth, Sardesmukhi and similar other cesses and imposts and depend on the uncertain income derived from these sources. What we understand by national economy or by economic structure of a state was lacking in the Maratha State.
(3) Shivaji had done away with the Jagir system but the system was revived after his death. The system itself was against the interests of the State itself, for the Jagirdars were all interested in their own well-being seldom thinking about the State. To add to this was their mutual rivalry and hostility which made unity of the Marathas difficult and gradually ate into the unity that was built up due to the personality and ability of individual Maratha leaders.
(4) After the death of Madhab Rao the Marathas were caught in the meshes of mutual hostilities and machinations; the result was that the Marathas could not put up that unity, sense of purpose, strength and patriotism which were necessary to meet the English.
(5) The Marathas could not produce leaders like Shivaji, Madhab Rao, Mahadji Scindia, Nana Fadnavis when they had to face a determined enemy like the British. The main weakness of a political system that depends entirely on personal abilities and talent that whenever there is any failure in getting such personalities the state crumbles down. Such was the fate of the Marathas.
The Marathas did not produce any leader to take advantage of the English Policy of non-intervention. They suffered not only in political power but also in economic power, the result whereof was greater disharmony and weakness in the Maratha Confederacy.
(6) The aim of setting up Hindu-Pad-Padshahi was given up and Muslim soldiers were drafted into the Maratha army. The result was that the Hindu national unity and ideal thus were lost. Introduction of mercenaries in the Maratha army led to the loss of the sense of service and sacrifice that held the Maratha army together earlier.
(7) Maratha administration was thoroughly autocratic. It was not based on habitual allegiance of the people. Under Shivaji or Baji Rao, the character and personality of the ruler determined the efficiency and popularity of the rule. But under weaker leaders there was lack of ability to rouse the people to a sense of unity and patriotism which Shivaji or Baji Rao succeeded in doing. With progress of time and growing weakness of administration, only occupation of others’ territories and realisation of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi became the only aim of the Government.
(8) From the early part of the nineteenth century the Marathas gave up their traditional system of guerilla warfare. This was a grave mistake for by guerilla warfare tactics the Marathas had struck terror in the Mughal army, but by giving it up they only paved the path of their defeat.
(9) Lastly, it must be pointed out that the Marathas also failed because their anti-dated and out-mode arms and ammunitions were no match for the more scientific and up-to-date arms and ammunitions of the British forces. It naturally resulted in the defeat of the Marathas and their inability to defend themselves against the English.
The above diverse causes were responsible for the failure of the Marathas to build an empire on the ashes of the Mughal Empire and left the opportunity to the English Trading Company to step into the shoes of the Mughals.