Decline of Mughals (Lecture -2)
Bahadur Shah I
On Aurangzeb’s death, his three sons fought among themselves for the throne. The 65-year old Bahadur Shah emerged victorious. He was learned, dignified, and deserving.
Bahadur Shah followed a policy of compromise and conciliation, and there was evidence of the reversal of some of the narrow-minded policies and measures adopted by Aurangzeb.
He adopted a more tolerant attitude towards the Hindu chiefs and rajas.
There was no destruction of temples in Bahadur Shah’s reign.
In the beginning, he made an attempt to gain greater control over the regional states through the conciliation; however, dissensions developed among the regional kingdoms (including Rajput, Marathas, etc.); resultantly, they fought among themselves as well as against Mughal Emperor.
Bahadur Shah had tried to conciliate the rebellious Sikhs by making peace with Guru Gobind Singh and giving him a high mansab (rank). But after the death of the Guru, the Sikhs once again raised the banner of revolt in Punjab under the leadership of Banda Bahadur.
Bahadur Shah conciliated Chatarsal (the Bundela chief, who remained a loyal feudatory) and the Jat chief Churaman, who joined him in the campaign against Banda Bahadur.
In spite of hard efforts of Bahadur Shah, there was further deterioration in the field of administration in Bahadur Shah’s reign. The position of state finances worsened as a result of his reckless grants and promotions.
During Bahadur Shah’s reign, the remnants of the Royal treasure, amounting to some total 13 crores of rupees in 1707, were exhausted.
He might have revived the Imperial fortunes, but unfortunately, his death in 1712 plunged the Empire once again into civil war.
After Bahadur Shah’s death, a new element entered Mughal politics i.e. the succeeding wars of succession.
While previously the contest for the power had been between royal princes only, and the nobles had hardly any interference to the throne; now ambitious nobles became direct contenders for the power and used princes as mere pawns to capture the seats of authority.
In the civil war, one of Bahadur Shah’s weak sons, Jahandar Shah, won because he was supported by Zulfiqar Khan, the most powerful noble of the time.
Jahandar Shah was a weak and degenerate prince who was wholly devoted to pleasure. He lacked good manners, dignity, and decency.
During Jahandar Shah’s reign, the administration was virtually in the hands of the extremely capable and energetic Zulfiqar Khan, who was his wazir.
Zulfiqar Khan believed that it was necessary to establish friendly relations with the Rajput rajas and the Maratha Sardars and to conciliate the Hindu chieftains necessary to strengthen his own position at the Court and to save the Empire. Therefore, he swiftly reversed the policies of Aurangzeb and abolished the hated jzyah (tax).
Jai Singh of Amber was given the title of Mira Raja Saint and appointed Governor of Malwa; Ajit Singh of Marwar was awarded the tide of Maharaja and appointed Governor of Gujarat.
Zulfiqar Khan made an attempt to secure the finances of the Empire by checking the reckless growth of jagirs and offices. He also tried to compel the (nobles) to maintain their official quota of troops.
An evil tendency encouraged by him was that of ‘ijara’ or revenue-farming. Instead of collecting land revenue at a fixed rate as under Todar Mal’s land revenue settlement, the Government began to contract with revenue farmers and middlemen to pay the Government a fixed amount of money while they were left free to collect whatever they could from the peasant. This encouraged the oppression of the peasant.
Many jealous nobles secretly worked against Zulfiqar Khan. Worse still, the Emperor did not give him his trust and cooperation in full measure. The Emperor’s ears were poisoned against Zulfiqar Khan by unscrupulous favorites. He was told that his wazir was becoming too powerful and ambitious and might even overthrow the Emperor himself.
The cowardly Emperor could not dismiss the powerful wajir (Zulfiqar Khan), but he began to intrigue against him secretly.
Jahandar shahs reign came to an end in January 1713, when he was defeated at Agra by Saiyid brothers Abdullah khan & Hussain ali khan.
Farrukh Siyar owed his victory to the Sayyid brothers, Abdullah Khan and Husain Ali Khan Baraha, who were therefore given the offices of wazir and nur bakshi respectively
The Sayyid brothers soon acquired dominant control over the affairs of the state and Farrukh Siyar lacked the capacity to rule.
In spite of his weaknesses, Farrukh Siyar was not willing to give the Sayyid brothers a free hand but wanted to exercise personal authority.
There was a prolonged struggle for power between the Emperor Farrukh Siyar and his wazir and mir bakshi.
Year after year the ungrateful Emperor intrigued to overthrow the two brothers, but he failed repeatedly. In the end of 1719, the Sayyid brothers deposed Farrukh Siyar and killed him.
In Farrukh Siyar place, they raised to the throne in quick succession two young princes’ namely Rafi-ul Darjat and Rafi ud-Daulah (cousins of Farrukh Siyar), but they died soon.
The Sayyid brothers now made Muhammad Shah the Emperor of India.
The three successors of Farrukh Siyar were mere puppets in the hands of the Saiyids Even their personal liberty to meet people and to move around was restricted.
The Sayyid brothers made a rigorous effort to control rebellions and to save the Empire from administrative disintegration. They failed in these tasks mainly because they were faced with constant political rivalry, quarrels, and conspiracies at the court.
The everlasting friction in the ruling circles disorganized and even paralyzed administration at all levels and spread lawlessness and disorder everywhere.
The financial position of the state deteriorated rapidly as zamindars and rebellious elements refused to pay land revenue, officials misappropriated state revenues, and central income declined because of the spread of revenue farming.
The salaries of officials and soldiers could not be paid regularly and soldiers became undisciplined and even mutinous.
Many nobles were jealous of the ‘growing power’ of the Sayyid brothers.
The deposition and murder of Farrukh Siyar frightened many of them: if the Emperor could be killed, what safety was there for mere nobles?
Moreover, the murder of the Emperor created a wave of public revulsion against the two brothers. They were looked down upon as traitors.
Many of the nobles of Aurangzeb’s reign also disliked the Sayyid alliance with the Rajput and the Maratha chiefs and their liberal policy towards the Hindus.
Many nobles declared that the Sayyids were following anti-Mughal and antiIslamic policies.
The anti- Sayyid nobles were supported by Emperor Muhammad Shah who wanted to free himself from the control of the two brothers.
In 1720, Haidar Khan killed Hussain Ali khan on 9 October 1720, the younger of the two brothers. Abdullah Khan tried to fight, back but was defeated near Agra.
Thus ended the domination of the Mughal Empire by the Sayyid brothers (they were known in Indian history as ‘king makers’).
Muhammad Shah’s long reign of nearly 30 years (1719-1748) was the last chance of saving the Empire. But Muhammad Shah was not the man of the moment. He was weak-minded and frivolous and over-fond of a life of ease and luxury.
Muhammad Shah neglected the affairs of state. Instead of giving full support to knowledgeable wazirs such as Nizam-ul-Mulk, he fell under the evil influence of corrupt and worthless flatterers and intrigued against his own ministers. He even shared in the bribes taken by his favorite courtiers.
Nizum-ul-Mulk decided to leave the Emperor and his Empire to their fate and to strike out on his own.
He relinquished his office in October 1724 and marched south to find the state of Hyderabad in the Deccan. “His departure was symbolic of the flight of loyalty and virtue from the Empire.”
After the withdrawal of Nizam-ul-Mulk, many other zamindars, rajas, and nawabs of many states raised the banner of rebellion and independence.
For example, Bengal, Hyderabad, Avadh, Punjab, and Maratha.