The Mughal Empire had started disintegrating in the life time of Aurangzeb himself. Aurangzeb attempted to make India Darul Islam, that is, a place for the people believing in the Islamic faith. His policy gave a severe jolt to the policy of Akbar to build India as Sulah-i-Kul, that is, a place of religious toleration.
It was that policy which fitted into the compromising nature of the Indian society. His policy brought the Rajput chiefs into the imperial fold and gave their blood in building Mughal Empire in India. No sooner this policy was reversed by Aurangzeb than the Rajput’s went into opposition. Builders became the destroyer of Mughal Empire.
The Marathas, the Bundelas, the Jats, and Sikhs and others followed the pursuit. Even divided, their opposition weakened the central authority and inflamed the ambitions of the Mughal nobility to carve out their independent kingdoms. Thus, the Mughal Empire was being eaten away by the forces of disintegration on all sides with redoubled vigour on the morrow of the eighteenth century.
Aurangzeb was succeeded by Bahadur Shah I and ruled India from 1707 to 1712. Complacency was writ large on all his actions. Therefore, he is famous as “Shah Bekhabar”. It was in his times that the Sikhs dealt a severe blow to the “rule of the Mughals in the Punjab” and a way was paved for its conquest by them. This did not bring any senses to the Mughal rulers and nobility.
After Bahadur Shah’s death, the dynasty again suffered the war for succession. In that war, Jahandar Shah, “an utterly degenerate representative of the House of Timur, Babur and Akbar” occupied the throne in 1712.
“Frivolous, profligate cruel and cowardly, servilely devoted to a favourite lady Lal Kunwar whose relatives he promoted wholesale to high honours, to the disgust of the old nobles and the able and experienced servants of the state, he soon became odious and despicable.”
His character gave “a fine time for minstrels and singers and all the tribes of dancers and actors .” It was his rule which helped emergence of the Sayyid brothers famous as kingmakers. The treasury—backbone of the government—was squandered away. He was to be the first victim of his ministers in the whole history of the Mughal dynasty. The Sayyid brothers placed Farrukhsiyar (1713-1719) on throne.
He was no better than his predecessors, and also stupid. He indulged in conspiracy against his own supporters viz. Sayyid brothers. Hussain Ali, one of the Sayyid brothers, dragged him down the throne ‘bareheaded and bare-footed, and subjected him every moment to blows and vilest abuse’. He was poisoned to death.
All this was sufficient to liquidate the prestige of a royal house. After a short rule of Sayyid brothers through a puppet Mughal ruler, Rafi-ud-Daula also known as Shah Jahan II, the Sayyid brothers were done away with by next Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Shah (1719-1748).
“The thirty years of Muhammad Shah, Louis XV of the Empire, from vigorous youth to paralytic old age, are a story of the ruin of the empire. During this period, the provinces of Oudh, Bengal, Hyderabad and the Carnatic became almost separate independent Muslim states. In 1739, when the Persian adventurer, Nadir Shah, sacked the Imperial capital, the Mughal Government as a political institution was a mere pretense”.
His successor Shah Alam could not even enter the capital and lived for a long time with his wazir in Oudh. It was he who granted dewanni to the British and became a de facto pensioner of the Company Government in India.
Thus, after the death of Aurangzeb, though the Mughal Emperor was still, de jure sovereign both of the north and south, a facade which was maintained by the East India Company also for a long time, but his power had declined so rapidly, that he was no better than a mere figurehead. All the succeeding Mughal Emperors were at the mercy of one powerful nobleman or the other and danced according to their tunes.
In Rajputana, it was Ajit Singh who was recognized as the lawful ruler of Jodhpur by the Mughal Emperor immediately after the death of Aurangzeb. His course of action was imitated by other Rajput rulers and rang the death-knell of Mughal rule over the whole of Marwar.
Though they would occasionally show reverence for the Emperor and even offered presents to him and his wazir but only to secure a convenient and fabourable firman or a jagir. Badan Singh and later his adopted son, Surajmal, followed the Rajputs and raised a powerful separate kingdom of Jats in “Braj”. The Sikhs became the de facto ruler of the Punjab.
The Marathas were the most successful in throwing the yoke of Mughal rule and created the illusion of an alternative to the Mughal Emperor. Shivaji had successfully, founded a Maratha kingdom even in the life time of Aurangzeb. At the time of his death in 1680, Shivaji ruled independently over Marathavada, Konkan and a large part of the Carnatic.
The entire western sea-coast from the centre of the line joining Surat and Daman to Karwar and Akola was subject to his authority. A few pockets in that region were held by Sidis of Janjira and the Portuguese. Besides, Shivaji held almost an area thrice of his kingdom as semi-subjugated chauth-paying territories.
He was succeeded by Shambhaji who ruled from 1680 to 1689. Though he was imprisoned in 1689 by Aurangzeb, the Marathas remained the master of their nation.
After the death of Aurangzeb, they defeated the Nizam-ul-Mulk, the Subahdar of the Deccan and the Wazir of the Mughal Emperor in February 1738. His defeat plainly demonstrated the superior military strength of the Marathas.
The Marathas had not only accumulated the strength, but also they had become the leader of the Hindus. It was then the genuine feeling that the King of the Marathas would be succeeding the Mughal Emperor. But this illusion was shattered by their humiliating defeat at the hands of Ahmad Shah Abdali in the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761.
Their defeat dealt a severest blow to the Maratha prestige as well as their unity. The Maratha unity was impaired by the ambitions and rivalries of the ruling Maratha families of Scindia, Holkar, Gaikwar and Bhonsle. Their disunity facilitated the task of the British to win that struggle for power which was going on in India after the death of Aurangzeb.
Struggle for Power:
The Marathas tried to replace the Mughals. All the vassal chiefs and provincial governors of the Mughals also became de facto rulers and their independence was tempered with not by the authority of the Mughal Emperor but by the awe of one noble to the other. Their intense infighting helped in shattering the Mughal government in India.
Almost forty- five years before the sovereignty over India passed into the hands of the British, the Indian polity had disintegrated. Then, India consisted of several “kingdoms” of varying size, in each of the ‘ kingdom”, its king was supreme. Each of them had, however, been under constant pressure from “nobles” from within and without who aspired to be their own masters. This ensured a fierce struggle for power in India.