Friday, December 27, 2019

Guest Post: Maratha Supremacy of India Assured

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

14 January, 1761 - Reinforcement Arrive at Battle of Panipat

"Death strikes where his shadow falls" ~ Ahmad Shah Abdali (father) described by veteran Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt who played the Afghan founding father and hero in the film Panipat

The timely arrival of reinforcements commanded by Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao tipped the balance in an epic battle fought between the Maratha Empire versus Afghan forces and their Muslim allies from the North Indian kingdoms. The invaders were chased all the way back to Kabul, ending the dream of Pashtun leader Ahmad Shah Durrani to found a modern state of Afghanistan. Ironically, the invasion of Northern India by the Durrani Empire was triggered by the angry reaction to the Marathas driving his son Tamir Shah Abdali out of Kashmir.

Panipat was more a crisis of leadership than an ultimate military showdown. Having emerged as the successor to the Mughals, the Maratha were a truly formidable force, comprising fierce soldiery and modern long-range, French-made artillery. However, the combination of bickering of internal politics and their weak, fractured leadership during the current Peshwa's rule had brought into question their claim of hegemony over the whole of Hindustan. Their hard-fought victory answered all of these questions, and they were now the undisputed masters of India with their influence spreading beyond the sub-continent. It consolidated the Maratha power through the authority of the Peshwa over the other Maratha chieftain. Internal enemies were severely punished. In simple terms, the Marathas had finally succeeded in replacing the Mughals as the strong central power in India. Even more significant in the long run of history was the re-installation of a Hindu ruler after nearly six hundred years.

The foreign invasion had come at the worst possible time. With the rising threat from European powers, it was rather fortunate that the Maratha had established their control of all the smaller powers in India. This was because the Empire would soon face a protracted series of Anglo-Maratha Wars as the British East India Company sought to expand out of Bengal, their foothold in India. As events were to transpire, the Marathas would prevail and Anglo influence would be restricted to the cities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. The result was that British India was a constrained strip of land just like Portugese India. Imperial interest from Britain would now move on to fresh pickings in China and Japan.

Thankfully, the new growth of stronger Maratha leadership that followed filled a critical gap. This had been woefully missing ever since the death of the Peshwa's late father, Balajirao. A big part of this resurgence was Sadashiv Rao Bhau, the victorious commander at Panipat. Under Peshwa Vishwasrao, he would ensure that the reinvigorated Maratha rule from Pune would be based upon the sound principles of honesty,ethical and fair way of governing a country captured in Swaraj. This ideology had been developed by Chatrapati Shivaji and would serve Hindustan well over the coming centuries and long after the dissolution of the British and Portuguese Empires.

Author's Note from Wikipedia

In reality, Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao arrived too late due to the extended celebration of his second marriage.

Panipat was the last major battle between South Asian-headed military powers until the creation of Pakistan and India in 1947. The outcome weakened both sides inadvertently accelerating the paramountcy of the British East India Company.


After its humbling defeat at Buxar thanks to aid from the Dutch to the Bengal Army, the East India Company returned the favor to its old rival by edging into its sphere of influence in Indonesia. While able to tap into the valuable sandalwood trade, the islands proved as troublesome to the British as they did for the Dutch. Colonial wars weakened interest from both mother-nations thanks to small returns on expensive conflict. Maintaining spheres of influence on largely jungle territory was largely a matter for cartographers while the real money settled on a few plantations. Britain's national attention turned to more important dealings, such as satiating the demands for expansion by colonists in North America. After much political struggle to find a balance between self-rule and control by London, Massachusetts was the first colony to be granted dominion status in 1787 with Virginia and South Carolina to follow.

The East India Company's greatest goal was control of the trade with China. The amount of money to be made was immense, yet it proved largely one-sided. Confucian ideals prevented many Chinese from being interested in foreign goods. The similar Shinto beliefs in Japan had prompted the Company to give up attempts to trade there a century before. Trade ships from Europe had to bring a great deal of coinage in largely empty holds. Upon their return, they would make handsome profits selling Chinese porcelain, spices, textiles, and especially tea. It was an outrage to traditionally minded mercantilists, but the promise of high returns prompted a staggering growth of banking in London and other Company ports. The trade deficit did prompt some captains to attempt to smuggle opium, which had been declared illegal by the Chinese emperor several times through the 18th century. Scandal at discovery bruised Chinese opinions of the British, ending the attempts in fears that the Dutch would be granted a monopoly.

Struggling to find goods to trade in China, the East India Company surged into the Pacific following Captain Cook's explorations. Furs proved to be the best commodity, which led to a rapid settlement of the western coast of North America along with British ports established in Hawaii as well as colonies in Australia and New Zealand. Over-hunting led to a decline in the fur trade as the nineteenth century continued, just as British manufactures proved to be a new option. Mass-produced goods came at such a low price that Chinese buyers could not refuse them. Even Japan reopened as a market with several shoguns welcoming improved British designs on the old guns they had received from the Dutch and Portuguese. Fueled by intercontinental banking, the East India Company began establishing steam-driven factories to produce goods on the site of raw materials, industrializing all through its holdings. The need to communicate readily prompted the Company to invest in undersea telegraph lines and ultimately worldwide radio.

To this day, the re-branded EICo serves as one of the major players in international trade with focuses on banking, telecommunications, and international economic relations.

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