With the decline of the Mughal power in India, the possibility of filling that void by the Marathas arose in the eighteenth century. Although the Maratha power was defeated by Abdali in the Third Battle of Panipat, the Marathas re-established their dominance in northern and southern India by healing the wounds of Panipat. But this second establishment did not last long. There was no seed of stability and unity in the Maratha Empire. According to Sir J. N. Sarkar, he blamed the decline of Maratha power on the social and economic backwardness of the Marathas and the lack of constructive and public welfare activities in the Maratha Empire. Some English historians blame the weakness of the Maratha military for its downfall. In fact, there are many reasons for the decline of Maratha power. Different historians have just tried to review the matter from different angles.
Nature of the Maratha State
The Maratha state was never stable. An English historian called their state as ‘Robber’s state’. After the death of Shivaji (1680), various Maratha chiefs carved their independent kingdom. During the Peshwaship of Baji Rao I (1720-1740) they were loosely attached with the Peshwa, but after the debacle of Panipat (January 14, 1761) they became enemies of each other and plundered each other’s territory.
The success of any kingdom depended heavily on its resources. The regular civil war had ruined Maratha’s agriculture, trade and industry. Plunder was their main source of income. The Maratha chiefs were always found in debt. They failed to evolve a stable economic policy. War and plunder became most sought after job for Maratha Youths, but most of the time their chiefs struggled to pay them. The soldier always shifted their loyalty. Many of them joined Company’s army, where they were getting atleast regular salary.
Most of the Maratha chiefs, with few exceptions, were not capable to lead the Marathas. Rulers like Daulat Rao Sindhia were lovers of luxury. Besides, Maratha rulers were jealous of each other and always conspired against each other. It helped the Company’s cause.
Inferior Military Organisation
The Marathas failed to adopt modern technique of warfare. Except Mahadji Sindhia, no Maratha chief gave importance to artillery. He too was dependent on French. The Poone Government set up an artillery department, but it hardly functioned effectively. The Maratha also gave up their traditional method of guerilla warfare which had baffled the Mughals. Besides, there was no motivation for the mercenary soldiers of the Marathas; a loss of a battle only meant a temporary loss of employment to them.
Superior English Diplomacy and Espionage
Before any war, the British always made some allies and isolated the enemy. This was the policy which most of the European nations in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century adopted but the English succeeded the most. In the Second Anglo-Maratha War, they were allies of Peshwa and Gaekwad and in Third Anglo Maratha War they made Sindhia their ally.
The Company’s Espionage System
The Company’s espionage system had no match in Asia. They carefully recorded each and every movement of their enemies, their strengths, weaknesses, military methods etc. The entire diplomacy of East India Company was based on the ‘inputs’ provided by their spies. The Marathas, on the other hand, were completely ignorant about the activities of the Company. The English learned Marathi and other India languages, but the Marathas failed to learn English. They had no knowledge about England, English people, their factories, their arms and their strategy. Wars were fought in the battlefield but strategies were made on the table which required ‘inputs’.