Why were the Marathas unable to defeat the British for control of India?

It is often said that the British Empire took over India from the Mughal Empire, but in fact, by the time of the early 1700s, the dominant power on the subcontinent was not the Mughals but the Maratha Empire, founded by Shivaji in 1674. The Marathas would grow to rule large portions of India, even reaching a point where they sieged Delhi and marched into the Mughal capital in 1757, decades before the British became a significant threat.

Yet, after three Anglo-Maratha Wars, the smaller British forces were able to emerge victorious. Why were the Marathas unable to defeat the forces of the East India Company, given that
technological differences did not seem to be so big? How were the British able to beat the subcontinent’s dominant power?

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  1. There were a few reasons behind the failure of the Marathas. Politically, the command structure of the Marathas was fractured, disunited and held together on the assumption of continued loyalty. A Maratha king was only as powerful as the loyalty of his vassals. Towards the end of the Maratha kingdom, these vassals often overshadowed the power of the king.

    Adding to that, the Marathas were not effective at administrating/consolidating their vast empire, nor were they effective in diplomacy. On the contrary, their constant raiding on conquests contributed to internal and external enmity towards them. These issues in governance could be attributed both to a lack of competant leadership, specifically in it’s last few years, and an absence in strategic foresight.

    The Marathas further failed to build a sustainable economy, let alone an effective agricultural system to feed their population.

    Throw in the fact that the British Empire has maintained a consistent network of spies across India, their leveraging of local alliances with the Maratha reliance on outdated military strategems (gurriella warfare) that were ineffective in the plains of northern India and their ineffecient production of low-quality arms, and one can see how the Marathas failed to hold their own against the British.

    Edit: Forgot to add that despite the Marathas adopting European tactics, they failed to apply them appropriately and when needed. They also lacked effective commanders who adapted their tactics and strategies.

  2. Large portions of the southeast were still controlled by minor kingdoms who hated the Marathas. The British used these forces as proxy warriors against the Marathas. Offering them guns, money and protection to help fight them. The Mughals then took advantage of this and retook all the land previously lost to Marathas from the northwest. Eventually destabilizing the empire and causing it’s collapse. The Marathas also had to fight the Portuguese and the French during this time as well as these minor kingdoms and their own internal civil wars. By the 3rd Marathas war the empire was on the decline, the technological differences were so large the British were winning battles where they were outnumbered by the Marathas 10-1 suffering a few casualties while killing thousands

  3. British intelligence was extensive, they were also monitoring the Sikh confederacies in Punjab. I have the primary sources but will publish them when I finally get to writing a paper on them. The Sikhs were lucky enough to sign a Treaty with the British. The Marathas did request assistance from Punjab, but the Sikhs did not oblige.

  4. any good books on how the british conquered india from the point of view of the british. As conquest being a positive outcome. i fee that perspective would be rlly fascinating

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