Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jadunath Sarkar on military developments in India

war elephant from KotaWar-elephant and cavalry from the Rajput Kingdom of Kotah

Decrying the chest-thumping and vain boasts of various communities in their military skill and relative importance in history, Jadunath Sarkar wrote cut-and-dried accounts of the military developments in India. In the medieval era, and upto the 18th century, Sarkar says that the dominant military formations were the Mughal and Rajput cavalry.

Jadunath Sarkar writes, "The tumultuous rush of a horde of Rajput desperadoes or a regular charge by the heavy armour-clad Mughal cavalry, used to sweep away every obstacle from before them."

However by the 18th century, these two were a thing of the past, their military value gone except in very rare and accidental combinations of favourable circumstances. Sarkar writes, "Sindhia's general De Boigne by his two victories in 1790....had proved beyond doubt that the bravest Rajput cavalry was powerless before quick-firing guns and disciplined musketeers."

On the Marathas and Sikhs who rose to power at this time, Jadunath Sarkar writes:

"The chief characteristics of the Maratha cavalry were that they moved in large bodies, and they could cover long distances very quickly, being unencumbered with artillery, baggage, munitions, and even food supplies, as they and their ponies lived on the country.

When forced into a battle in the open, their plan was to ride down the enemy by a tumultuous charge, enveloping him from all sides at once....but against artillery and walled posts held by trained musketeers, the Deccani cavalry was powerless."

"The strength of the Sikh army, before it was Europeanized by Ranjit Singh, lay in its predominance of cavalry and preference for offensive tactics. A body of their cavalry was known to make marches of forty or fifty miles, and to continue the exertion many successive days. They also carried a matchlock, a sabre, and a spear.

The food of the Sikhs was of the coarsest kind; their dress is extremely scanty: a pair of long blue drawers, and a kind of chequered plaid."

On the drawbacks of the Sikhs, Jadunath Sarkar writes, "The Sikh sardars when not engaged in war or raids, spent all their energy and resources in ceaseless mutual hostility. Even their misls were not patriachally ruled clans, but merely confederacies. Outside their own possessions, the Sikhs used to go forth for collecting blackmail (rakhi) from every village."

The result of the raiding by Maratha and Sikh cavalry bands added to The Great Anarchy across most parts of India.

Rise of infantry formations

"In the wars of Aurangzeb's heirs artillery, gradualy coming under command of Europeans, was the decisive factor. Then musketry made a rapid advance. Nadir Shah's success showed the irresistible power of mobile musketry.

Even swift-rushing infantry, called barqandazes, firing their pieces and acting in concert, had proved victorious over superior bodies of extremely light cavalry armed with the old sword and lance."

This fact gave importance to the following communities in recruitment for infantry formations: Ruhelas, Berads, Jats, Purbias, Bundelas, and Telingas. However under their own rulers, the drawback for each of these, Sarkar writes was the lack of officers with, "intelligence and power of coordination, which modern warfare requires."

And even the Sikhs, who had by this time converted into good infantry, and the Gorkhas and Dogras, suffered in this aspect. Jadunath Sarkar writes, "The officers were the weakest elements in the Sikh army, so that in their struggle with the British, the Khalsa proved an army of lions led by asses."