In one of my previous posts, I have done analysis of the Battle of Sinhgad using game theory. Several readers mentioned they would like to read about Shivaji’s slaying of Afzal Khan analyzed in a similar way. Let me take a shot.
I don’t think game theory can be applied there as game theory deals more with choices made by people in critical moment. There was no critical moment as such in Afzal Khan episode.
And that precisely proves Shivaji’s genius.
If the battle of Sinhgad was example of tactical brilliance of a military commander, the Afzal khan slaying and the following battle of Pratapgad was a strategic masterpiece by a visionary leader.
In cricket terms, the battle of Sinhgad is like a match between some team X and team India, where team India seems to be winning, but Sachin Tendulkar is out and suddenly tides turn. But the vice captain, say, Yuvraj Singh, notices a weakness of the bowling side, which he consistently exploits, building small partnerships and evantually turns the tide and brings victory.
The Afzal Khan’s slaying by Shivaji is like a match between team Y and team South Africa, where right from the beginning, South African fielding and bowling is carefully planned for each batsman of team Y. Tight fielding allows only one run instead of two, and two in place of four. Impossible catches are converted to difficult catches, difficult catches to easy ones. The team Y gets knocked out in 70 runs and their bowlers are put under heavy pressure. Then opening batsmen of South Africa just keep the scorecard moving and easily cruise their team to 10 wickets victory. Team Y never has a chance.
History books, movies and novels have romantically emphasized the heroics that happened in the Khan-Shivaji meeting at the base of Pratapgad. However the real success is due to the everyday small victories achieved by Shivaji over a long period of time, small victories so boring in detail that no poet bothered to sing about it.
Let’s try to study the boring things that made Shivaji such an interesting leader.
When Khan landed in Deccan, he could not make a lot of friends. Because Shivaji’s generals Kanhoji Jedhe and Baji Pasalkar worked tirelessly with Jahagirdars and Watandars in the area. Using diplomacy, they made sure people did not switch sides. Khan never gained a strong foothold in the Southern Konkan and Sahyadri mountains. Make friends, win allies , build network is lesson 101 for any venture. Period.
To begin the second point, I have a question for you. Think of three or four kings other than Shivaji. Now tell me the names of their intelligence chiefs. Most probably you are shaking your head now.
Now tell me the name of Shivaji’s intelligence chief. Pretty much all of you will shout “Bahirji Naik”.
Why you know the name of only Shivaji’s intelligence chief? Because in Shivaji’s reign, the intelligence gathering was formal. The chief of intelligence was raised to the rank of Sardar and was given due importance.
Shivaji put in place a formal and extensive intelligence network which was headed by Bahirji. These spies disguised as Sadhus, street musicians, barbers worked in the dark as Shivaji’s eyes and ears. Piece by piece, word by word the information was gathered, passed on and analyzed.
In case of Afzal khan, Maratha generals knew how many soldiers Khan had, how many cannons, how much money, how much ammunition he was bringing. They knew when Khan began his journey. They knew who met Khan. They knew what messages Khan sent to headquarters. They were able to predict his next move. This allowed Shivaji to adapt, to be proactive, to focus his power where it mattered. This strong intelligence pretty much wiped out the numbers advantage Khan had in terms of soldiers, guns and ammunition.
Importance of strong intelligence cannot be overemphasized.
Thirdly, look at the details of Pratapgad and other battles very carefully and you will find something interesting. When Afzal khan was killed, Shivaji rushed on the fort again and fired cannon shots. Remember Baji Prabhu’s battle of Ghod Khind? Baji prabhu let go of the battle when he heard cannon shots. When the battle of Sinhgad ended, the first thing the soldiers did was to light a haystack in fire, which was visible to Shivaji on Shivneri fort.
There seems to be a consistent pattern here. Clear and consistent communication protocols. Seemingly small thing. But it makes a big difference.
When the Maratha army heard the cannon shots fired from Pratap gad, they knew what the signal meant. They knew the outcome of Shivaji- Afzal khan encounter before of Afzal Khan’s army found it out. They had a headstart in executing their action plan.
When Baji prabhu was holding the Horse Pass (Ghod Khind), his mission was clear. Till you hear cannon shots, do whatever it takes to protect the pass. The moment you hear shots, abandon the pass, disperse the soldiers, do not waste a single minute or a single soldier from that point on. No guesswork there. No confusions. No misunderstandings.
No matter what organization , project or relationship you are dealing with. If everybody is on the same page, and if there are no open ends to communication loops, number of mistakes will drastically reduce.
Fourth point, remember letters written by Shivaji to the guards on ammunition warehouse? He gave them clear instruction that the lamps in the warehouse should be guarded manually 24/7 to avoid chances of rats knocking them out causing explosion. This is no different than some actions of General Eisenhower, who several times insisted on making sure clean water is available to soldiers. Why? He was scared that soldiers will fall ill if they drink dirty water.
Shivaji’s had given strict instructions to keep fort doors closed at night, which forced to Hira , the milk vendor woman, to climb down the cliff when she got stranded inside. Shivaji had given orders to people not to ride horse to the Takmak-tok (a cliff called Takmak) on Raigad.
Things like this reduce accidents, reduce nasty surprises, reduce uncertainty in planning. Over a long period of time, you save a lot of soldiers and weapons if you reduce accidents. A soldier saved is a soldier gained. Also such caring attitude builds a sense of confidence in soldiers that their lives are being appreciated and will not be wasted.
Fifth point, choosing the point of escalation.
When Afzal khan entered Maharashtra, first he roamed around on Deccan plateau. He destroyed temples in an attempt to incite Shivaji. Shivaji did not escalate the matters. Khan committed atrocities. Shivaji chose not to respond. Khan attacked and conquered several forts. Shivaji kept quiet. Khan attacked Pune. Shivaji just sucked up that insult.
If there is a man who has killed your brother in the past (Khan had killed Shivaji’s brother Shambhu raje) and who comes back and one by one destroys the things you love and revere, won’t you respond in revenge? You will right? That’s why you are not Shivaji.
In spite of several people urging Shivaji to come out and save “Hindu Dharma”, Shivaji did not take any of Khan’s baits. He waited patiently for the right time. Then he sent several signals to Afzal khan indicating he was scared and is thinking about surrender. He chose the time, he chose the place where they would meet. He got Khan on home pitch of Maratha army. Shivaji did not enter Khan’s trap. He got Khan in his trap. And that point he committed the first act of violence and attack.
The planning that went into executing this escalation was impressive. When Shivaji met Khan, they met at the bottom of Pratapgad, where the geography, which consisted of hills and forests, made Khan’s cannons and elephants almost useless. The roads were few and difficult to travel fast. The Maratha’s had cut several trees partially such that on a moments notice, the trees could be pushed to break and the roads could be blocked.
Shivaji met Khan where Khan’s army was almost ineffective. He requested Khan to leave all but one bodyguards away, thus further reducing Khan’s dominating position. He came covered in armor from head to toe, taking no chances. He carefully chose his weapon. He carefully chose his bodyguard to counter Khan’s bodyguard. He left nothing to chance.
The Maratha generals were instructed to carry out battles in a specific way. They were instructed to carry out more surgical strikes rather than destructive strikes. They were instructed to first take out the generals and commanders in a quick strike to create chaos, then capture the wealth , ammunition and horses. That’s why most of the Khan’s generals were killed pretty much immediately after Khan was killed.
There was a firm plan B in place. Shivaji had left clear instructions with his mother and close insiders about what to do in case of his death. Mother Jijabai was to rule under the name of Shivaji’s son Sambhaji.
Every detail was planned carefully. Every possibility considered and every corner covered.
Same shrewdness was shown by Shivaji when he chose to attack Shahiste-Khan and when he dealt with rebel Chandrarao More from Jawali.
So, there seems to be five part strategy of Shivaji’s military adventures.
1. Build a strong network of allies.
2. Use Formal Intelligence gathering.
3. Clearly defined communication protocols to reduce misunderstandings and confusions at the last minute. (In war, every minute is the last minute.)
4. Set of rules and guidelines to keep the forces ready, safe and alert.
5. Well planned escalations rather than hot headed counter attacks.
By conceiving such brilliant strategies, Shivaji prevailed against forces much larger than him and became a legend. When he became a legend, people sang about his heroics and forgot about the strategies.
World likes a shining knight, riding a white horse, who rescues a princess, a lot more than it likes a king who carefully planned and created a safe world where the princess would not be kidnapped at all.
Filed under: History, India, Indian History, Politics, Shivaji, Strategy, Warfare Tagged: | adil shah, afzal khan, bahirji, battle, east, History, India, intelligence, maratha, Mathematics, military, network, panipat, peshwa, Politics, pratap gad, raigad, safety, sambhaji, shambhu raje, Shivaji, sinhgad, Strategy, tanaji, vijapur