Read this article to learn about the causes for decline and fall of Aurangzeb’s Mughal Empire.
It was March 4, 1707, a Jumma Day, in the fiftieth year of his reign when he was eighty-nine, Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir breathed his last after finishing his usual morning prayer.
It was a fateful day in Mughal history, for it marked the end of an era and the beginning of another in which the Mughal Empire tottered to its fall. Decadence had long set in during the reign of Aurangzeb and towards the end of his reign he had presages of something evil that was to come. His lonely unloved life and its pathos became evident in his letters to his sons when the end was approaching.
History is respecter of no person and its verdict is that what Akbar had built up Aurangzeb undermined and the ultimate ruin was a matter of time. Unusually brave “clement, just and benevolent Aurangzeb’s all actions were tainted by suspicion and religious intolerance”. In the political sphere his lifelong endeavour to govern India strongly ended in anarchy and disruption.
Aurangzeb’s long absence from the capital had given rein to disorder in the north, the Jats had risen near about Agra, the Rajputs were in open rebellion, the Sikhs challenged the Mughal authority in Multan, the Marathas in the Deccan were pillaging towns, ravaging fields and villages.
The Bundelas and the Satnamis were no exceptions. For all this, Aurangzeb had to thank himself. He had virtues as well vices but nothing influenced his career more than religious bigotry and intolerance. He failed to realize that no power that had not acquired the confidence of, the Hindus could expect to last in India. Naturally, what Akbar had gained and what Jahangir or Shah Jahan despite personal vices and failings had retained, he lost, namely, the affection of the Hindus.
It is customary to regard Aurangzeb’s overthrowing of the Moslem states of Bijapur and Golkonda mainly because he wanted a triumph over the Sunnis as a cardinal error, for he had thereby removed a strong barrier against the rise of the Marathas. But Sir Jadunath is doubtful whether the contrary would have contained the Marathas.
In any case, Aurangzeb’s Deccan policy of prolonged warfare had left the treasury depleted and the pick and flower of the Mughal army decimated. Aurangzeb, therefore, by and large was responsible for bringing the Mughal empire on the greased incline of fall and the ruin was round the corner.
The Mughal Empire at the death of Aurangzeb comprised twenty-one Subahs, of which fourteen were in the north, six in the Deccan and one in Kabul (now Afghanistan). The sceptre of such a vast empire was the bow of Ulysses and particularly when the rot had already been too deep, it required a Hercules to wield it.
But the successors of Aurangzeb were all imbecile, and incapable of rule. Aurangzeb’s government was too personal to admit of any talent to grow. His suspicious nature led to his usurpation of all powers reducing the high officials to mere clerks. He utterly lacked the quickening touch of trusting love of his officials as well as of his sons.
There was no training to any of his successors to hold the reins of the empire together. The cardinal defect of centralized despotism is that it depends on the personality and the personal efficiency of the ruler and once there is lack of these qualities in the ruler the administration crumbles. Such was the case with the Mughal Empire after the death of Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb had premonitions of blood-shed among his surviving sons and his dying instruction to his sons was to divide the empire peacefully among them-selves. But no sooner Aurangzeb had closed his eyes than a civil war started between Mohammad Muazzem, Muhammad Azam and Kam Baksh, the three surviving sons of Aurangzeb.
War of succession became the rule among the heirs of every dead emperor in which every party depended for help on one or the other leading noble of the Court, the inevitable result of which was that winner in the struggle became a cat’s paw in the hands of the noble or nobles on whose support he depended.
This led to progressive erosion of the authority of the Emperor and the hands of the wily lords invariably arose above head of the ruler. Besides, almost all the Mughal Emperors who succeeded to the throne after Aurangzeb did so at pretty old age leaving little dash or enthusiasm in them, and in 1803 ‘when Lord Lake entered Delhi’ he was shown a miserable blind old imbecile sitting under a tattered canopy. It was Shah ‘Alam, King of the World but captive of the Marathas, a wretched travesty of the Emperor of India’. The last of the line of the roi faineant was Bahadur Shah II who was deported to Rangoon by the English in 1858.
The next cause of the decline and eventual fall of the Mughal empire was the degeneration of the nobility. The race of capable men like Bairam Khan and Munim Khan, Muzaffar Khan and Abdur Rahim Khan, Iti-mad-ud-daulah and Mahabat Khan, Asaf Khan and Sa’adulla Khan was extinct. Foreign Muslims who acquired nobility in the Mughal Court had now given themselves up-to luxury, debauchery, sloth and inaction, made the Mughal Court a centre of machination, jobbery and corruption.
Advantage of the situation was naturally taken by the most cunning among them who became king-makers and ambitious contenders for power pushing the emperor into the background. Zulfikar Khan, a leader of the Irani party, the Sayyid brothers, and the leaders like Nizam-ul-Mulk, Muhammad Amin Khan leaders of the Turani faction wielded power which was not used for the benefit of the nation but for self-aggrandizement.
The moral degeneration of the Emperors and the nobility had a snow-balling effect and it brought the Mughal army which had already become weak due to the decimation of its pick and flower in the Deccan wars of Aurangzeb, under its sinister influence. The Mughal army, the main instrument of government under the Mughal despotism, lost its discipline and degenerated into a rabble. About their fighting quality Bernier remarked that they were a herd of animals who fled at the first shock.
The Mughal artillery was equally incapable and were no match for the Maratha guerillas. The major defect of the Mughal army was that it was composed of mercenaries mostly from Central Asia who came to India to serve any one who could pay for their services. Not bound by any sense of patriotism these mercenaries naturally looked more for their own safety in the battlefield and certainty of payment. The support of the Rajput auxiliaries having been lost to the Empire due to Aurangzeb’s policy, the Mughal army lost its edge. Under the later Mughals they were clamouring for payment of their arrear salaries.
From the sixteenth century the Mughal finances were becoming progressively weak. Shah Jahan’s magnificence had cost the state confers millions of rupees for unproductive expenditures. The drift was not arrested during the reign of Aurangzeb. On the contrary he depleted the royal treasury by his prolonged war in the Deccan. While the royal treasury showed visible signs of bankruptcy Aurangzeb did not restrict expenditure on military accounts and his army bill was roughly double that of Shah Jahan.
The situation worsened under the later Mughals and while one after another of the outlying provinces asserted its independence and ceased to pay any revenue to the centre, wars of succession and lavish expenditure at the Court depleted the royal treasury to the extent that soldiers’ pay was in arrears.
The Emperor was compelled to liquidate arrears by grant of jagirs out of crown land, a device which ultimately failed because the jagirs granted and land available did not correspond. Sir Jadunath rightly observes that the Muslim state in India always lacked a sound economic basis.
Administrative inefficiency was no less a cause of the down fall of the Mughal empire than any other. The Mughal state was a police state and confined its activities to the maintenance of internal order and external defence as well as territorial expansion and collection of revenue. The rule was not based on the habitual allegiance of the people except under the rule of Akbar.
The Mughals, therefore, remained foreigners in India alien both in race and religion. What Akbar by his statesmanship and broadmindedness had gained his successors lost and under the later Mughals when the administration had become weak, the Rajputs, Marathas and other Hindu communities got their long awaited opportunities. Further, a weak centre under the weak successors of Aurangzeb brought the centrifugal forces into operation and the provinces began to fall off from the empire.
When hostile cliques at the court under the later Mughals had sapped the vitality of administration there was no chance of any united effort to ward off the danger of any external invasion. It was at this state of affairs that Nadir Shah invaded India (1739), threw the whole province of Punjab into confusion, easily captured Kabul and Lahore, vanquished the Emperor of Delhi and entered triumphantly the Imperial capital of Delhi with the emperor who was at his mercy.
His soldiers carried on depredations on the lives and properties of the people of Delhi and carried away immense booty of gold, silver and jewels, elephants and horses as well as the peacock throne of Emperor Shah Jahan. “The carpet-knights of his (emperor’s) court, whose conduct during Nadir’s invasion forms a tale of disgraceful inefficiency amounting to imbecility, did nothing to oppose him”.
Nadir Shah’s invasion had administered a blow which made the tottering empire to reel to its fall. The successive invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali (Durrani), Nadir Shah’s successor, deprived the Empire of its frontier provinces of Punjab, Kashmir, Sind, etc. The Empire had sunk into such ignominy and imbecility that in 1761 the battle of Panipat Ahmad Shah Abdali fought against the India of the Marathas not of the Mughals.
The intellectual bankruptcy of the Mughal nobility as well as of the middle class had paralyzed their mind for selfless activity. Lack of education and training in statecraft left the country without the necessary leadership and no genius was produced who could ‘teach the country a new philosophy of life or to kindle aspirations after a new heaven on earth. They all drifted and dozed in admiration of the wisdom of their ancestors and shook their heads at the growing degeneration of the moderns’.
The advent of the English at a time when the Mughal Empire was on its last legs offered them easy opportunity to profit from the confused times. With superior arms and unflinching determination the English began meddling in the Indian politics and soon transformed their trading company into a political power and did the same to the Mughals what the Mughals themselves had done to the Pathans in the sixteenth century.
Lack of Mughal navy to deal with a sea power as the English were, made the takeover of the Indian political power by the English an easy task. As Sir Jadunath observes “The English conquest of the Mughal Empire is only a part of the inevitable domination of all Africa and Asia by the European nations—which is only another way of saying that the progressive races are supplanting the conservative ones, just as enterprising families are constantly replacing sleepy self-satisfied ones in the leadership of our society.”
Thus weaknesses both inherent and external were to bring the once mighty empire to an ignominious fall.