Whatever happened before the battle regarding the bad diplomacy carried out by Sadashiv Rao Bhau(or was it bad? He wanted Shuja on his side and not Surajmal, Holkar destroyed Raghunatha Rao’s mission and is itching for an equal level of independence in command, Rajputs are always like that and the biggest mistakes he did was not to mollify the Sikhs and Rajputs) and even if we are told the below facts as the reason for the defeat of Marathas –
1. Afghan use of camel mounted swivel guns played a major role in defeating the Marathas. But the fact is that Marathas used them in Japiur and there is no way for these guns to play a major role. It is also possible that Marathas also had some.
2. Holkar’s actions on the field – he neither took overall command nor he fought responsibly.
3. Field commanders stayed in the centre of battle. The deaths of Shinde, Viswas Rao and Bhau ensured that the army simply melted away.
4. Two things which we regularly forget is Abdali’s Afghan right and centre are destroyed almost completely. If not for Holkar and reserves, Abdali would have lost the war that day. The other thing is Abdali was such confident of defeat that he ordered his family back to Qandahar. This means the Marathas were neither starving nor forced into the battle but had every chance of beating the Afghans for good. With those many civilians with them, the fact that they did not attempt a breakout to Delhi which they were always capable of (even the starving skeletons of Maratha army who ate their horses to satiate their hunger was able to destroy the Afghans such effectively that they never came back to India) where they can be more fed simply means Marathas were confident of victory till the last minute. Did the death of Viswas Rao change the picture? Also, due to the insolence of Gardi, did Bhau plan for his destruction?
5. Rohilla hordes with homemade guns were far better in field as compared to the best European drilled unit in India – the Gardis. This simply means even by the time of Panipat, if the Europeans faced a disciplined Indian army, they would have been pulverized for good. They neither had heavy weapons(their field cannons were nothing but grapeshot before Mughal Guns) nor had numbers nor superiority in field arms. And with the defeat of Marathas mainly due to internal divisions, lack of field discipline and politics(if not for the desertion of Daulat Rao Shinde’s French officers at time of need), there is no way to know if the Europeans gained any superiority in arms quality in India before pacifying it.
Lets take an alternate view of history
1. The Maratha square, guarded by the Gardis, breaks through the Afghan lines with minimum losses. All of Abdali’s attacks fail and the Afghan right is completely destroyed. Shah Wali Khan comes with the forces to support the left but is defeated. In this brutal attack, the Afghans lose 15000 soldiers of which 12000 are Rohillas and all Afghan cohesion to the right of Shuja is non-existent.
2. Barkhudar Khan is captured and executed while Shah Wali Khan is seriously injured. Since the Marathas were in a mood not to fight a pitched battle, but are constantly advancing, they are not interested in taking prisoners and Abdali was forced to realign his lines. Two options exist for him now. He can reform the lines or he can retreat. If he retreats, the Marathas will break ranks and destroy his retreating army. He decides to abandon the right and concentrate all his forces, including the reserves into a compact form and to retreat to Sirhind.
3. But, he sees a part of Huzurat and the whole Shinde contingent, 12000 in number, under the command of Antaji Mankeshwar breaks from the square and attacks the left. The shock of the attack results in serious mauling of Afghans but the lines hold. Maratha losses are 4000 and Afghan losses around 3000 but Shuja and Shah Pasand Khan are killed in the ferocity of the attack. Antaji retreats back and another wave under Yeswant Rao Powar and Tukoji Shinde with fresh troops falls on the Afghan lines. This time, the destruction is absolute. Leaderless and without cohesion, Afghan left breaks. Afghan losses are 7000 as against 1000 Maratha soldiers.
4. The field position is that Maratha square is not broken, losses are no more than 5000 and Afghan army is broken everywhere. Only where Abdali is standing is a semblance of stability. Information has come that of the front line commanders, only Najib-ud-Daulah, Ahmed Khan Bangash, Nasir Khan and Abdali are still on the field. Bhau decides it’s time for the kill. He asks Gardi to train his guns on where Abdali is standing. Abdali sees the futility of the battle and leaves the field. Niasir Khan follows with his Baloch contingent which now counted only 1200. Bhau decides not to pursue the Afghans fully knowing that Sikhs will take care of him, but sends a flying column of 2000 to apprise the Sikhs of Abdali’s travails.
5. Najib is left stranded on the field. His kingdom lies on the east while Abdali’s is on the left. He is trapped with his army near Muzaffarnagar and is captured after a pitched battle. Holkar tries to intervene again in Najib’s favour. But Najib is killed and Bhau understanding the problems with Holkar, gets him assassinated.
6. Govind Pant Bundele and Surajmal join the Maratha camp with information that Peshwa’s advance with an equally strong army to the North. Bhau sends a message that he still holds 80000 soldiers(30000 Jat) with him and with a reserve force of 10000 Marathas under Govind Pant, who is asked to move back to Etawah and 7000 under Naroshankar. Holding Najib ud Daulah’s lands means that there is no problem with supplies. He asks Peshwa to turn back to the Deccan and annex the territories of the Nizam. The Peshwa doesn’t know that Bhau has got a completely different agenda on his mind.
7. The attack on Najibabad carried him to the borders of Awadh. He decides to shelve his plans of moving to Delhi to go for the kill and Awadh is taken. With the situation in disarray due to the death of the king and best commanders, Lucknow falls without a major fight. Due to deference for Shuja’s mother, the family is not executed, but is sent to Satara on Jankoji Shinde’s insistence. Surajmal is made the governor of Awadh and he is happy to relinquish his control over Agra area. After pacification, he is asked to march towards Rajputana to maintain order.
8. There are no Mughal forces to hold Allahabad and Ali Gauhar, the Mughal crown prince is captured.
9. Bhau’s mission had two objectives – destroy the Afghan menace and annex Bengal. The British want Mir Qasim to fight their war, but he is not interested. The British neither have the might nor technology to stop the Marathas. Compounding the problems, a second Maratha force under Janoji Bhonsle is marches towards Orissa. Mir Qasim wants the kingdom but not the British. The British, as usual, try to corrupt the Maratha Commanders and even Bhau but donot succeed. Yeswant Rao Powar was reasonably sure that atleast a part of Holkar lands will be given to him, there is no need for him to defect. Shinde is just a boy. With Shinde on the field, Tujoki Shinde and Mahadji Shinde will not rebel. With Viswas Rao alive and on the field, Bhau and Shamsher Bahadur are not to rebel. Antaji is not a governor. Damaji was badly beaten by the Peshwa once and he is not going to take another chance. The British field force under John Calliud is killed to the last man. Before Mir Qasim tries to consolidate the command, Maratha armies under Bhau and Janoji Bhonsle meet at Burdwan and take Murshidabad. Bhau makes Shamsher Bahadur the governor of all lands east of Awadh and North of Mayurbhanj. He is given a standing army of 50000, 20000 drawn from Bhau’s forces and 30000 from Janoji’s forces. Janoji Bhonsle is given Orissa with his lands extending till Nagpur.
10. In the meanwhile, Hyderabad, Cuddappah, Kurnool, Bednur are taken. Carnatic is taken with the help of Tanjore Marathas, and with Tanjore governing Carnatic terriroris south of Northern Pennar.
11. The situation on the moment is that all India east of Rajputana and Punjab, and all south except Malabar states, Kolhapur, Goa and Mysore are in Maratha control. Damaji is governing Gujarat and is given a free hand to expand into Sind and Baluchistan, whose ruler Nasir Khan escaped Panipat with Abdali, the Peshwa holding the Maratha, Holkar and Nizam lands and the lands around Delhi, Bhonsle, the central India and Orissa, Shamsher Bahadur holding Bengal and Surajmal placed in Awadh. India of Aurangzeb is not complete, but is completely pacified. The only point of concern is Bhopal, which if Powar takes, will be granted to him. And along with it, a share of Holkar’s lands.
12. Bhau in Delhi. He summons a public gathering and gets Ali Gauhar executed in public, declaring Viswas Rao as the next emperor of India. Both the Chatrapati and the Peshwa are stumped. While Peshwa is happy, the Chatrapati has lost his pre-eminence. With a Hindu ruler on the helm, the Rajput states grudgingly acknowledge. To alleviate the matters, the Chatrapati is asked to adopt Viswas Rao while his own line is given a Jagirdari in Satara with the hereditary governorship of Bijapur lands. Punjab will be given in perpetuity to Sikhs as a feudatory. With Muslims pressing from the other side, they are more than happy to accept the position.
13. Heriditary governorships are then removed. The Shinde, Antaji, the Gaekwad, the Bhonsle, the Powars and Surajmal are made the frontline governors and their descendants rotated. Military and civil administration is separated. The only hereditary lands are Carnatic, Bengal and Pune and Satara. While Pune and Bengal are shuffled between descendants of Shamsher Bahadur and Bhau(as representatives of the crown), Carnatic and Satara are shuffled between the descendants of Shivaji.
India is complete now and there is only mopping up left out. It’s not going to be easy to conquer a united India, under a central government on par with the world standards(atleast Ottoman) and will revert back to the days of India of Akbar or Shah Jahan – sufficiently isolated and sufficiently interactive.