The Mughal Empire until 1707: Consolidation, Expansion and Diplomacy!
It is their success in the second battle of Panipat in the year 1556 that provided secure space for the Mughals in India. Since 1556 to 1707, the Mughals, “the professional kings” strictly followed the dictum of the earlier Hindu and Muslim rulers of the past that “a monarch should ever be intent on conquest, otherwise his enemies rise in arms against him”.
Babur founded the Mughal Empire in India in AD 1526 after his success in the first battle of Panipat. But after the sudden demise of Babur in 1530 and in between before the accession of Akbar in AD 1556, the Mughals had to struck hard to retain their hold in India and in their effort they failed against the determined Afghans and the Rajputs.
By the time Akbar ascended the throne in 1556 to claim his right; the Mughals were at their lowest ebb of prestige.
The core philosophy of Akbar and his successors up to Aurangzeb was to expand the power of the Mughals over the entire subcontinent and to deepen their administrative control over the rural and urban subjects by a wise and liberal policy of integration. As John Fleet Richards observes, the dynamism of the Mughals was at its core military and the Mughal Empire was a war state. What J.F. Richards holds appears to be true.
Yet the Mughals not only expanded their territorial extent by wars and conquests, they also devised administrative measures to consolidate themselves as rulers by winning the loyalty of their subjects. In the following pages, let us treat the twinpolicies of expansion and consolidation followed by Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb till 1707 along with diplomatic tactics adopted by them.
Akbar’s reign started shakily in 1556. Akbar’s reign comes to a close by 1605. He had to regain his paternal kingdom after defeating the Sur successors of Shershah and their general, Hemu in the second battle of Panipat. During the regency of Bairam Khan, Ajmer, Malwa and Garhkatanga were added to the territory of the Mughals. Later on, Akbar brought the major part of Rajasthan under his control along with Gujarat (1584), Kabul (1585), Kashmir (1586-87), Sindh (1591), Bengal (1592) and Kandahar (1595) were annexed to the Mughal territory. Like his predecessor Sultans of Delhi, after establishing his sway over North India, Akbar turned his attention towards the Deccan and demanded them to accept his suzerainty.
As the response was negative, Akbar despatched Abdul Rahim and prince Murad to attack Ahmadnagar in 1595. Chand Bibi, the regent offered stiff opposition and peace was concluded after acquiring Berar. By 1600, Akbar proceeded in person and occupied Burhanpur and sent his armies to annex Ahmadnagar. In 1601, the Mughals occupied the fort of Asirgarh and carved out three Subas of Ahmadnagar, Berar and Khandesh. Thus, within a period of five decades from 1556 to 1605, Akbar built a vast multi-regional empire by his repeated conquests and victories and provided a stable and secure administrative apparatus and structure catering to the needs and demands of his subjects.
A.L. Srivastava rightly states, “Akbar invariably followed the policy of giving an organized administration to his conquered territories. As soon as a principality or a province was reduced to submission, he took steps to establish therein complete order and peace, and to appoint civil officers to carry out a revenue settlement which was based on the principles of measurement and classification of land. Religious toleration was extended to the newly conquered areas, social, religious as well as administrative reforms were introduced and the interests of the people were taken care of Akbar, unlike his predecessors paved the way for the establishment of a common nationality in the land”.
By following a wise policy of liberal attitude towards all communities and by providing peace and order through his policy initiatives, he cemented the bond of relationship between people of different religions and cultures of India. It is no exaggeration to suggest that under his benign paternal outlook, not only the entire land mass stretching from the frontiers of Persia to Assam and Burma and from the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas to the Godavari river has grown into a coherent state ruled by one system of administration throughout India giving equal scope and place of honour to both the Hindus and the Muslims and for more than a century enjoyed cultural and artistic renaissance.
Satish Chandra observes that along with political integration, importantly the cultural and emotional integration of the people within this vast empire had taken place at the same time. As a result of his reformistic zeal and liberal policy towards non-Muslims, the state became essentially secular, liberal and enlightened in social sphere and a harbinger of cultural integration.
Prince Salim, the eldest living son of Akbar ascended the Mughal throne with the title of Jehangir in 1605 against his own son prince Khusru, who was supported by a section of the nobility. Jahangir was not a great general and organizer like his father Akbar but continued his father’s policies to the best of his ability having the long range interests of the Mughal Empire in his heart. Jahangir consolidated the administrative system, which was built by Akbar.
He also maintained friendly alliance with the Rajputs and took measures to broaden the political base of the empire by seeking alliance with the powerful section of the Afghans and the Marathas. J.F. Richards is of the view that under Jehangir too, the Mughal Empire continued to be a war state attuned to aggressive conquests and territorial expansion. The important achievement of Jehangir was the settlement of the dispute with the Sisodia ruler of Mewar.
Immediately after his accession in 1605, he took up the issue with all seriousness. By 1615, Jehangir completed the task begun by Akbar and further strengthened the alliance with the Rajputs. Jehangir conquered the fort of Kangra through the efforts of his son Prince Khurram and also conquered the district of Kistwar in 1620. Jahangir had to face the opposition of Malik Amber, the Peshwa of Ahmadnagar who defeated Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan and recaptured Ahmadnagar in 1610. In spite of his best efforts, Jehangir could not reconquer Ahmadnagar till his death in 1627 and it was left to Shahjahan to totally capture Ahmadnagar after the death of Malik Amber.
Along with Ahmadnagar, Kandahar could not be conquered by Jahangir during his reign. The dark patches of his reign are his failures to recapture Ahmadnagar, Kandahar and continuous unsuccessful wars with Ahoms for a number of years and execution of Guru Arjun Singh, which laid the seeds of religious discontentment of the Sikhs and his passion for Nurjahan, which made prince Khurram and Mahabat Khan Rebel against him.
The purple patch was his positive role in establishing relations with the neighbouring Asian powers Iran, the Uzbeks and the Ottoman Turks and opening of gates of India to foreigners by giving trade concessions and making the Mughal court a centre of cultural activity.
We may conclude that his contribution for the expansion and consolidation of the empire was not very positive but at the same time not negative to the extent of causing harm to the prosperity and stability of the Mughal Empire. Prince Khurram, with the title of Shahjahan ascended the Mughal throne in 1628 after a bloody war of succession and ruled for three decades, i.e., up to 1658. By the time of his accession, Shahjahan was the master of vast territories with unmatched military power and massive wealth. Shahjahan proved himself to be a pastmaster in military campaigning, diplomatic negotiation, and political manoeuvring.
Under his direction, the empire continued its expansion. J.F. Richards observes, even the previously remote refuge areas felt the imprint of the imperial power. Shahjahan’s efforts on the north-western border and north-east ended in thorough failure. We come to know from the account of Abdul Hamid Lahori that by 1647, the Mughal domain stretched from Sind in the far north-west to Sylhet on the Brahmaputra, and from the newly conquered Balkh to the southern boundary of the Deccan provinces – 22 provinces contained 4,350 paraganas and the annual revenue of the empire was 8,800 million dams which was definitely higher than that of Jahangir.
Shahjahan celebrated his success by constructing a new city of Shahjahanabad in Delhi and constructing the Taj Mahal and the Peacock throne. His regime witnessed a return to an earlier Islamic political culture deviating from the liberal policy, of his father and grandfather, his policy anticipating the future under his successor, Aurangzeb.
Though the Mughal Empire appears to be invincible and wealthy on a scale unknown to the earlier Delhi Sultans, undoubtedly, the empire was moving towards its greatest political crisis. The greatest political crisis that seriously affected the fortunes of the empire was the polarization of liberal and conservative forces led by Dara Shukov and Aurangzeb and differences of opinion regarding major policy matters of the Deccan conquest and the Mughal’s relations with Bijapur and Golkonda. By the time Shahjahan seriously fell ill, there started a bloody civil war between the brothers and finally Aurangzeb, the third son of Shahjahan ascended the Mughal throne as the champion of the conservative ideology of reviving the Islamic state in 1658 and ruled for more than a half century till 1707.
Aurangzeb spent most of his time in the campaigns of Rajasthan and the Deccan. Aurangzeb’s reign witnessed intense struggle with the Deccan and it is a fact of history that Aurangzeb spent the last twenty years in Deccan fighting against the Deccan kingdoms. These efforts yielded results and by 1687, the Deccan Shia states of Bijapur and Golkonda were annexed to the Mughal Empire.
The major success of Aurangzeb in the north-east was annexation of Assam. This was followed by the capture of Chatgam in 1664 but by 1680, the Ahoms of Assam captured Kamarup and the Mughal control disappeared from Assam. Akbar initiated the policy of friendly relationship with the autonomous chieftains that spread over the whole of India with the objective of consolidating his empire and the same policy was continued by his successors. These chieftains had control over the core regions of the Subas of Delhi, Agra, Awadh, Aurangabad and the peripheral areas also. These chieftains belonged to the Rajput communities and also to all castes and communities including the Muslims.
These chieftains possessed sufficiently extensive army and hundreds of acres of land yielding good amounts of revenue. Realizing the need to control them and to reduce his enemies, Akbar made 61 of them as Manasabs who were continued by his successors. Some were made Subedars, Diwans and Bakshis. They appear to pay tribute to the sovereign which was known as Peshkash. It was paid in either cash or kind.
As a result of the Mughals’ policy, both the chieftains and the Mughals became beneficiaries. While the Mughals obtained their support along with armies for new conquests and help in administering a large empire, the chieftains retained their territories with a right to administer them. By entering into matrimonial relations with certain chieftains also, the Mughals strengthened their hold over the territories as well as such chieftains. Thus, Akbar and his successors by following a wise policy of conciliation and conquest brought large areas in the east, west, north and south under the effective sway of the Mughal Empire.
It was not the entire South, but only Deccan that came under the Mughals.The conquest was followed by consolidation through measures of effective control of a unified administrative system. By the time of Aurangzeb, new areas of Golkonda and Bijapur of Deccan and the north-east were added to the empire. The cracks in the edifice of the Mughal structure became visible in the lifetime of the last great Mughal, Aurangzeb himself.