XIX. A Century of Political Decline: 1707-1803

*The Struggle for Succession* == *External Threats* == *Disintegration of the Empire* == *Cultural Life* == *Shah Muhammad's Successors* == *Rise of British Power* == *Causes of the Mughal Decline*

        [[254]] CULTURAL and artistic achievements did not come to an end with Aurangzeb's death in 1707, and for a century and more, the Mughals dominated the cultural life of North India. In political life, one visible sign of the enduring power of the empire was the eagerness of every usurper of territory to gain recognition from Delhi. Another was that until 1835, the East India Company, which had become the effective successor to Mughal power, still minted coins in the emperor's name. In general, however, the eighteenth century saw a progressive decline in Mughal political control.

The Struggle for Succession

        After Aurangzeb's death, the usual war of succession followed, with his eldest surviving son, Muazzam, the subedar of Kabul, who was the first to reach Agra, being successful. He ascended the throne as Bahadur Shah. A mild and forbearing man, he tackled the problems confronting him with tolerable competence. Rebellious chieftains in Rajputana troubled him but were overcome without much difficulty. His longest campaign was against Banda, a leader of the Sikhs. Govind Singh, the last Sikh guru, after years of bitter fighting against Aurangzeb, had entered into friendly relations with Bahadur Shah, accepting the position of mansabdar in the Mughal army. His assassination in 1708 ended this period of amity. Govind Singh's successor as temporal leader of the Sikhs was Banda, who returned to the Punjab declaring he was Guru Govind Singh miraculously brought back to life. In response to his call for disciples, many zealous Sikhs assembled and marched in arms to Sonepat, some twenty-five miles north of Delhi. There the faujdar, who was utterly unprepared, was routed. This success emboldened Banda. Accompanied by forty thousand [[255]] men he set out to establish his power in the north. The town of Sadhaura, near Ambala, was captured, and the Muslim inhabitants were cruelly treated. He then moved against Sirhind, whose governor, Wazir Khan, was held responsible for the execution of Govind Singh's children. Banda's army pillaged the city for four days, and the whole Muslim population was slaughtered.

        The situation became so serious that Bahadur Shah himself moved against Banda, and on December 4, 1710, he forced the evacuation of Sadhaura. The Sikhs then moved to the strong fort of Lohgarh, where Banda had issued coins in his own name. Bahadur Shah captured Lohgarh, but Banda escaped. Sirhind was reoccupied in January, 1711, and Banda took shelter in the hills.

        After a halt at Sirhind, Bahadur Shah moved to Lahore. His stay here was marked by the one major controversy of his reign. Soon after his accession to the throne, he had given orders that the title wasi should be used after the name of Hazrat Ali in the Friday prayers. This usage, indicating that Ali was the testamentary successor to the Prophet, and considered by the Sunnis to be a Shia innovation, was bitterly resented. During his stay in Lahore Bahadur Shah tried to persuade the local ulama to accept the change, but without success. He then ordered his chief of artillery to have the new form of prayer recited from the pulpit of the Badshahi Masjid on April 22, 1711. When he found that a vast crowd, ready for violent resistance, had gathered in the streets of Lahore, he gave way and in the end the old form in use in the days of Aurangzeb was recited. Seven leading ulama of Lahore were sent, however, to the state prison in the Gwalior fort. The episode indicates the limitations imposed on the emperor by the ulama, but the punishment given the leaders shows that resistance, even if successful, could be dangerous.

        Bahadur Shah died on February 27, 1712. His favorite son, Azim-ush-Shan, expected to succeed him, but a powerful general, Zulfiqar Khan, the son of Aurangzeb's wazir, Azad Khan, formed an alliance with Azim's three brothers against him. They agreed to partition the empire among them, with Zulfiqar Khan as their common minister. In the battle that followed Azim was drowned in the Ravi, and Zulfiqar threw aside the two youngest princes in favor of the worthless Jahandar [[256]] Shah. Zulfiqar became the all-powerful minister, and the emperor, infatuated with his concubine Lal Kunwar and relieved by Zulfiqar from all responsibilities of the state, spent his time in frivolous amusements.

        Disaster was not long in coming. Muhammad Farrukhsiyar, the second son of Azim-ush-Shan, and deputy governor of Bengal, had not reconciled himself to Jahandar Shah's enthronement; and when he heard of his father's death, he proclaimed himself emperor at Patna in April, 1712. He interested the two powerful Sayyid brothers, Husain Ali and Hasan Ali, in his fortunes; and having collected an army, the allies moved towards the capital. They defeated Jahandar Shah at Samugarh on January 6, 1713. Jahandar Shah fled from the battlefield, hidden in the howda of Lal Kunwar. Entering Delhi surreptitiously at night, he sought help from Zulfiqar and Asad Khan. Realizing that Jahandar was of no more use, Zulfiqar and Asad Khan tried to gain favor with the new power by imprisoning him. Jahandar was murdered in prison, but Zulfiqar also was put to death two days later.

        Farrukhsiyar's reign (1713–1719) saw a general deterioration in the power of the central government, but in one area its authority was strongly asserted. Bahadur Shah had not succeeded in overcoming the menace of the resurgent power of the Sikhs. Early in his reign, Farrukhsiyar appointed Abdus Samad Khan as governor of Lahore with instructions to destroy Banda, who had taken refuge in the hills and used them as a base for raids on the countryside. Abdus Samad finally penned him up in the fort of Gurdaspur. Banda's followers offered fanatical resistance, but all their attempts to escape failed, and the garrison was forced to surrender unconditionally on December 17, 1715, after an eight-month siege. Banda was taken to Delhi and put to death. Stern vengeance was wreaked on his followers, but the peace of the area was ensured for a generation or more.

        Farrukhsiyar owed his throne to the Sayyid brothers, and he rewarded them with the highest offices in the realm. He soon found their power galling, but a number of ineffectual attempts to get rid of them only worsened his position. Husain Ali left Delhi in 1715, as viceroy of the Deccan, but before leaving he warned the emperor that [[257]] if ever his brother was harassed at Delhi he would promptly return to the capital. Matters came to a head in 1718 when Hasan Ali, believing he was in danger, asked his brother to come to Delhi. A peculiarly sinister feature of Husain Ali's return was that he was accompanied by eleven thousand Maratha troops as well as by his own army. Maratha support had been bought for a heavy price—among other concessions, they were promised one-fourth of the revenue from the Deccan. The emperor was imprisoned and blinded in February, 1719; two months later he was strangled to death. Two of the puppets placed on the throne by the king-making Sayyids died within a year, but a third, Raushan Akhtar, a grandson of Bahadur Shah, who became emperor in 1719 as Muhammad Shah, reigned for thirty years. In its duration, his reign recalls that of his great predecessors, but possibly even they could not have prevented the decline that was now obvious in the imperial power.

        The power of the Sayyids was broken early in the reign of the new emperor when two of the opposing factions at the court, the Irani nobles and the Turani, formed an alliance against them. Both brothers were killed in 1720, one by an assassin and the other in battle. For a short time the wizarat was held by Muhammad Amin Khan, one of the Turani nobles who had helped overthrow the Sayyids, but after his death in 1721, an important new figure appeared on the Delhi scene.

        This was Chin Qilich Khan, another of the Turani nobles who had been an enemy of the Sayyids. He is best known in history by his title, Nizam-ul-Mulk. An able administrator and soldier who had been governor of the Deccan provinces, Nizam-ul-Mulk was made wazir of the empire in 1722. His experience in the office illustrates the increasing weakness of the administration and the reason it could not meet the challenges of the time. His advice to the gay young sovereign to reform the court was not followed, and his attempts to bring about changes in the administration were met by obstruction and indifference. He was especially anxious to stop the farming of imperial revenues, a practice that was diverting much of the resources that should have come into the central treasury; to reimpose the jizya; and to eradicate bribery. This call to return to the austerity of the [[258]] court of Aurangzeb had little chance of being heeded in Delhi in the eighteenth century, and Nizam-ul-Mulk left Delhi late in 1723 for Hyderabad. There he established the power which he was able to transmit to his descendants as the largest of the Indian states.

        After Nizam-ul-Mulk's departure from Delhi the Marathas became an increasingly grave menace to the empire. By 1732 they had partially occupied Gujarat, had partitioned Bundelkhand, and had temporarily overrun Mewar in Rajputana. Muhammad Shah moved against them in 1733, but the imperial army never went beyond Faridabad, sixteen miles south of Delhi. The Marathas continued to advance; and although they suffered defeats, in 1737 under one of their greatest leaders, Baji Rao I (r. 1720–1740), they reached Delhi itself. They looted the suburbs but when they heard that the whole Mughal army was approaching the capital, they retired southwards./1/

        It was the Maratha danger that led to the recall of Nizam-ul-Mulk to Delhi in 1737. He was received by the wazir outside the capital with great honor, and during the winter months was engaged in a series of negotiations and skirmishes with Baji Rao and his troops. In return for concessions in Central India, the Marathas withdrew from the north, but Nizam-ul-Mulk had scarcely returned to Delhi when a new danger, invasion from the northwest by Nadir Shah, was threatening the empire.

External Threats

        In Persia, the ruling Safavid king had been driven out by an Afghan soldier, whose father had freed Qandahar—long an object of dispute between the Mughals and the Safavids—from the Persians. He conquered Herat and Khurasan, and in 1722 occupied Isfahan, the capital. It seemed likely that Persia would disappear as a state, since the Russians were also interested in expanding into the area, but a remarkable soldier named Nadir Quli, acting in the name of the Safavid dynasty, drove out both the Afghans and the Russians. In 1736 he ascended the throne as Nadir Shah, and wishing to regain Qandahar from the Afghans, appealed to the Mughal emperor, Muhammad [[259]] Shah, for assistance. He was particularly anxious to have the emperor close the border of the Mughal province of Kabul so that fugitives from Qandahar could not escape him.

        Delhi sent favorable replies, but nothing tangible was done to prevent the Afghans crossing into Kabul, and Nadir Shah sent another envoy to Muhammad Shah for an explanation. When the envoy could not get an audience with Muhammad Shah, Nadir Shah began to make preparations to enter Mughal territory. After defeating the Afghans at Qandahar, he moved toward Ghazni and Kabul, which he captured in June, 1738. From there he continued to Peshawar and Lahore, which he occupied in 1739 after minor local resistance. From Lahore he addressed a letter to Muhammad Shah complaining of gross discourtesy, adding that he was coming to Delhi to punish the royal counsellors who were responsible for the insult. Muhammad Shah with a large force marched to stop the invader at Karnal, but the Indian army (to which Rajput chiefs had refused to send any contingents) was outmaneuvered. In a skirmish between the Irani scouts and the fresh troops which were being brought to join the main Indian army, Burhan-ul-Mulk, the subedar of Oudh, was captured, and Khan-i-Dauran, the commander-in-chief, was fatally wounded. Although the main body of the Indian army had not been involved in action, the battle of Karnal was over, with disastrous results for the Mughal empire.

        The catastrophe begun on the battlefield was completed by treachery and poor statesmanship. Burhan-ul-Mulk, who had been taken to the Persian camp, persuaded Nadir to leave Muhammad Shah on the throne of Delhi and to retire from India on payment of an indemnity of twenty million rupees. Burhan-ul-Mulk hoped, however, to be made commander-in-chief in place of Khan-i-Dauran, but Muhammad Shah conferred the office on Nizam-ul-Mulk. Burhan-ul-Mulk was so furious that he now advised Nadir Shah not to be contented with twenty millions, but to move on Delhi. The Persian king decided to leave the question of indemnity open until he reached the capital.

        Further suffering was brought about by the rashness of the citizens of Delhi. Nadir Shah's troops were quartered in different parts of the [[260]] city, when a rumor spread that the Persian king had been assassinated. This led to a massacre of nearly nine hundred Persian soldiers, who were moving about unarmed. Nadir took vengeance by ordering a general massacre of the citizens of Delhi. This continued for a whole day, resulting in the slaughter of nearly thirty thousand persons. The massacre stopped by evening, but the looting continued. In addition to the seizure of Shah Jahan's wonderful Peacock Throne and a large stock of jewelry from the imperial treasury, levies were imposed on nobles, and the wealthy citizens were plundered.

        On May 16 Nadir Shah retired from Delhi, laden with a greater booty than any previous conqueror had ever taken. He left Muhammad Shah on the throne of Delhi, but annexed all territory west of the Indus, including the province of Kabul. He later stipulated that a sum of twenty lakhs out of the revenue of four districts of Gujarat, Sialkot, Pasrur, and Aurangabad (in the Punjab) which had hitherto been reserved for meeting the administrative cost of the province of Kabul should be paid into the Persian treasury.

        Nadir's defeat of the Indian army and massacre and plunder of the capital destroyed the prestige of the Mughal government and ruined it financially. This emboldened the Sikhs and the Marathas, and even the provincial governors became defiant. Addressing Muhammad Shah in a letter from Kabul, Nadir Shah had stated that he had occupied his northwestern territory "purely out of zeal for Islam," so that in case "the wretches of the Deccan" again moved towards Hindustan, he might "send an army of victorious Qizilbashes to drive them to the abyss of Hell."/2/ He had, in fact, given a death wound to the Mughal empire.

        Nadir's invasion of India was a stunning blow, but after a period of helpless stupor, Muhammad Shah tried to reorganize his government. According to contemporary accounts, "the emperor and the nobles turned to the management of state affairs and gave up all sorts of uncanonical practices," but this phase was short-lived. Nadir Shah, by his attempts to influence Muhammad Shah against Nizam-ul-Mulk and to buttress the influence of the Irani faction, had further [[261]] aggravated the internal conflicts at the court which had contributed to Mughal weakness. Muhammad Shah's reign did not, however, close without at least one victory. In March, 1748, the Mughal army defeated Ahmad Shah Abdali, who had succeeded to the eastern territories of Nadir Shah's empire, near Sirhind. This was the last victory the Mughals were to win against a foreign invader.

Disintegration of the Empire

        Muhammad Shah died in 1748, a few weeks after this last victory. His long reign had seen a growing paralysis in imperial power, of which the most visible symptom was the establishment of hereditary viceroyalties in the major provinces of the empire. The pattern was one that had been seen before in India history: as the central power weakened, either as a cause or a result the outlying provinces assumed independent status. These states were the administrative units of the Mughal empire, but they were also the traditional "nuclear" regions of Indian history, defined by geography, language, and past traditions.

        The provincial governors long continued to demonstrate the symbolic function of the Mughal emperor by their desire to gain his recognition for their rule, but from the time of Muhammad Shah they sought such recognition after, not before, their seizure of power. In the Punjab, largely because of the intervention of external forces from the northwest, independent kingdoms were not formed in the middle of the eighteenth century, but elsewhere the process of the disintegration of central authority was complete. In the Deccan, Oudh, Bengal, and to some extent Rohilkhand, large principalities over which the central government of Delhi had only nominal authority came into existence. By depriving the empire of financial resources, even though they continued to send an annual tribute to Delhi, and by reducing the possibility of united action, these kingdoms lessened the chances of the empire's survival when attacks came from without.

        The most important of the new principalities was Hyderabad, made up of six subas of the Deccan, which at this time had a revenue of sixteen crores of rupees, compared with seventeen crores from the other twelve provinces of the Mughal empire. As already noted, the [[262]] founder of the state was Nizam-ul-Mulk, who had been made viceroy of the Deccan by Farrukhsiyar in 1714, and wazir of the empire by Muhammad Shah in 1722. On his return to the Deccan in 1724, he began to build up a strong state, although still offering assistance to the emperor. At his death in 1748, he passed on a well-administered state that continued to be a center of Muslim culture in the Deccan for two centuries.

        In Bengal, power passed into the hands of two remarkable men, Murshid Quli Khan and Alivardi Khan. Under these able administrators Bengal was among the most peaceful and prosperous areas of India, and paid an annual tribute of ten million rupees to the Delhi court.

        In the Punjab, the Sikhs used Nadir Shah's invasion in 1739 as an opportunity to attack Mughal authority; but the able governor, Zakariya Khan, crushed them. After his death in 1745 the province passed out of effective Mughal control.

        Sind does not figure greatly in Mughal history, and authority had always tended to reside in the hands of local chiefs. The most important of these belonged to the Kalhara family, descendants of the disciples of a sixteenth-century spiritual leader. Through the course of the next hundred years they built up great land holdings, and by the beginning of the eighteenth century were recognized as governors of a large area of Upper Sind. Muhammad Shah completed the process in 1736 by conferring on the chief of the Kalharas a title that acknowledged his control of the whole province of Sind.

Cultural Life

        Against this picture of a disintegrating empire must be set the undoubted fact that Muhammad Shah's reign was a time of very considerable cultural activity. Urdu, which had gained admission in the literary and cultural circles of the metropolis only a few years before the beginning of Muhammad Shah's reign, was a fully developed literary language at its end. A new school of music grew up around the Mughal court, and the names of Sadarang and his brother occupy a high place in the evolution of khiyal, which was to supersede all [[263]] other varieties of Hindustani music. Indian dancing, freed from the atmosphere of the temple, became an art ministering to human pleasure. A new style of painting, closely related to the rise of Urdu literature, brought fresh vigor to the tradition of pictorial art./3/ Indian astronomy also reached a new level of excellence in this period, as indicated by the magnificent astronomical instruments at Delhi and Ujjain. The creator of these works, Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur, was Muhammad Shah's governor in Malwa from 1728 to 1734.

        Most significant of all the cultural activities of Muhammad Shah's reign was the beginning of the work of Shah Waliullah (1703–1762), the greatest Islamic scholar India ever produced. That the political disintegration of Islamic power in the eighteenth century was not accompanied by a religious collapse was largely due to his work; and more than anyone else, he is responsible for the religious regeneration of Indian Islam.

        Shah Waliullah received his training from his father, who as a theologian, Sufi, and philosopher combined in his own person these three main strands of Indian Islam. He was in his teens when he started teaching in his father's madrasah. He continued this for twelve years, after which he left for Arabia for higher studies and for performing the Hajj. He was in Arabia for nearly fourteen months, pursuing his studies under famous teachers at Mecca and Medina.

        During his stay at Mecca, Shah Waliullah saw a vision in which the Holy Prophet informed him that he would be instrumental in the organization of a section of the Muslim community. Friends urged him to stay in Hijaz, and not to return to the unsettled conditions of India, but he was convinced that his mission was to work there. He returned to Delhi in 1732, and began what was to be his life's work. He had been a teacher before he went to Arabia, and while he resumed his occupation, he no longer followed the traditional methods of instruction. He trained pupils in different branches of Islamic knowledge, then entrusted them with the teaching of the students, while he devoted himself to writing. Before his death in 1762, he had completed practically a library of standard works in all branches of [[264]] "Islamic sciences" of the type particularly suited to the Indian conditions.

        Shah Waliullah's most important single work was his translation of the Quran into simple Persian, the literary language of Muslim India. Translations had been attempted earlier, but they either were incidental to a voluminous commentary, or did not gain wide acceptance. After some opposition Shah Waliullah's translation became popular, either because of the translator's eminence in religious circles, or because his translation was connected with a broad-based movement aimed at bringing the knowledge of the Quran within the reach of the average, literate Indian Muslim. Shah Waliullah's action, which involved not only scholarship, but also imagination and great moral courage, smoothed the way for others. Within sixty years his two sons prepared their Urdu translations—one completely literal and following the Arabic sentence-structure, and the other idiomatic and in accordance with Urdu usage. Not only did his sons follow his example, but in course of time, so did scores of others; and it is because of his initiative that, outside the Arabic-speaking countries, Muslims in India and Pakistan have taken the lead in the study and propagation of the Quran.

        Not less important was his balanced understanding and fair-minded approach to different religious questions. In his day Indian Islam was rent by controversies and conflicts between the Shia and the Sunni, the Sufi and the Mullah, the Hanafi and the Wahhabi, the Mujaddidi and the Wahdat-al-Wajudi, and the Mu'tazali and the Asha'ari. To Shah Waliullah, adl (justice, equity) was the prime virtue and the basis of civilized existence, and he studied the writings of all schools of thought, trying to understand the attitudes of each of them. He then wrote authoritative volumes expounding what was just and acceptable to different points of view. In this way, by working out a system of thought on which all but the extremists could agree, he helped to provide a spiritual basis for national cohesion and harmony./4/

        Shah Waliullah's success was also due to his able and devoted [[265]] successors. One of his grandsons was the great reformer Shah Ismail Shahid. Three of his sons were leading scholars and writers, including Shah Abdul Aziz, who dominated Delhi religious life for nearly fifty years. The brothers taught and trained a large body of men who carried the message of Shah Waliullah to all parts of India. Their students and successors organized jihad against persecution of Islam by the Sikhs in the northwest, brought about a revival of Islam in Bengal, and were held in equal veneration by Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan, the leader of the Aligarh movement, and Maulana Muhammad Qasim, the founder of the Deoband seminary.

        While Islam is not organized along national lines, owing to historic, racial, linguistic, and geographic factors, a variety of schools and viewpoints have gained prominence in different Muslim countries. In Iran, for example, the Shia form of Islam is the national religion, while in the desert of Najd, Wahhabi puritanism is dominant. Similarly, different countries have adopted, according to their peculiar developments, different schools of law—the Shafii, the Hanbali, the Maliki, and the Hanafi. If the beliefs, the legal traditions, and the religious tendencies of modern Muslim India and Pakistan were to be examined from this point of view, it would be seen that the foundation of the religious structure which is dominant there was laid by Shah Waliullah.

Shah Muhammad's Successors

        Looking at Shah Muhammad's reign, the author of the late eighteenth-century history, Siyar-ul-Mutakhkhirin, declared: "In his reign the people passed their lives in ease, and the empire outwardly retained its dignity and prestige. The foundations of the Delhi monarchy were really rotten, but Muhammad Shah by his cleverness kept them standing. He may be called the last of the rulers of Babur's line, as after him the kingship had nothing but the name left to it."/5/ The records of the last fifty years of the century suggest no reason for challenging this melancholy verdict. After Muhammad Shah's death, [[266]] Prince Ahmad Shah (r.1748–1754), the hero of the battle of Sirhind, ascended the throne, and although he was a well-meaning and active young man, he could effect no improvement in government affairs. His appointment of Safdar Jang as wazir was especially unfortunate. An opportunist whose measures helped to destroy the Mughal empire, Safdar Jang seems to have been motivated by two aims. One was to humiliate any relatives of his predecessors in the wizarat; the other was to drive out all Afghans from positions of authority.

        Safdar's policy brought him in conflict with the principal Turani families, but his initial difficulties came from the royal favorites headed by the chief eunuch, Javed Khan, and the emperor's mother. Safdar Jang had Javed Khan assassinated in August, 1752, but then the emperor started favoring Ghazi-ud-din, a grandson of Nizam-ul-Mulk, and a clever but completely unscrupulous youth of eighteen. Safdar Jang lost the support of the emperor, and in May, 1753, though still the wazir of the realm, rebelled against his master. Ghazi-ud-din organized the opposition to Safdar Jang, and with his usual lack of scruples, whipped up Shia-Sunni and Afghan-Irani differences to gain supporters. Safdar was defeated and forgiven; but realizing that the best field for the satisfaction of his ambitions was away from the capital, withdrew to Oudh. Ghazi-ud-din was now all-powerful at the capital. This was dramatically attested when the emperor, who had soon become estranged from him, sought to have him removed from the court. With the help of the Maratha chiefs, Ghazi-ud-din made himself wazir and in June, 1754, deposed the emperor.

        The man placed on the throne in 1754 as Alamgir II was a son of Jahandar Shah. A man of good intentions, his adoption of Aurangzeb's title was an indication of his desire to follow in his great predecessor's footsteps, but the situation in the empire was beyond his control. The Marathas, who had grown more powerful because of their collaboration with Ghazi-ud-din, now dominated the whole of northern India. In 1758 they occupied Lahore and drove out Taimur Shah, the son and viceroy of the Afghan ruler, Ahmad Shah Abdali. This was the high-water mark of the Maratha expansion. "Their frontier extended on the north to the Indus and the Himalaya, and in [[267]] the south nearly to the extremity of the peninsula; all the territory within those limits which was not their own, paid tribute." The whole of this great power was wielded by one hand, that of the Peshwa, who talked of placing Bishvas Rao on the Mughal throne./6/

        Maratha dreams, however, received a shattering blow. The expulsion of Taimur Shah provoked the wrath of Ahmad Shah Abdali, who was joined in the war against the Marathas by the principal Muslim nobles of North India. The main battle was fought at Panipat on June 14, 1761. This was the most desperate of the three historic battles of Panipat (the first fought by Babur in 1526, and the second by Humayun in 1556), and its results were of great significance for Indian history. The Marathas were completely defeated, and while their chiefs retained power in Central India, the centralizing power of the Peshwa was destroyed. Panipat meant that whoever succeeded the Mughals on the throne of Delhi, it would not be the Marathas. Ahmad Shah Abdali's own design of building up an Afghan empire in India was frustrated by the impetuosity of his soldiers, who hated the heat of the plains and clamored for an immediate return to Kabul with their plunder. Since they had been away from their homes for a long time and were on the verge of mutiny, Ahmad Shah had to abandon his dreams and return to his own country.

        Ghazi-ud-din had put Alamgir II to death in 1759, replacing him with a puppet, but after the battle of Panipat, Ahmad Shah nominated a son of Alamgir II as emperor, with the title of Shah Alam (1761–1803). In the struggles that followed, Ghazi-ud-din lost power and fled from the capital. The administration of the shrunken empire—by now reduced to little more than the area around Delhi—was in the hands of Najib-ud-daula. It was he who had organized the Muslim confederacy that defeated the Marathas at Panipat, and he remained loyal throughout his life to the Mughal emperor. This was all the more remarkable since Shah Alam was absent from Delhi almost continuously until 1772. Najib's main task was to maintain order in the Mughal domain around Delhi. After the battle of Panipat the Marathas were quiescent for some time, but the Jats and the [[268]] Sikhs began to threaten the integrity of the remaining imperial territories. Najib defeated the Jats and killed their leader, Suraj Mal, but he was less successful with the Sikhs. They were kept from creating too much trouble, however, by an internal split between two groups.

Rise of British Power

        Meanwhile, far-reaching developments had taken place outside the capital. Alivardi Khan, the able governor of Bengal, died on April 10, 1756, and was succeeded by his grandson, Mirza Muhammad, better known as Siraj-ud-daula. The disruptive forces which had been kept under check by Alivardi got out of hand and overwhelmed the government. Alivardi's commander-in-chief, Mir Jafar, to whom his half-sister was married, started plotting against Siraj-ud-daula, and for a short time was removed from the command. Another reason for weakness was the existence of the East India Company, which had established at Calcutta not only a commercial, but a political center. A third was the attitude of the Hindu zamindars, bankers, and officials who, always influential in Bengal, had grown very powerful since the days of Murshid Quli Khan.

        Alivardi Khan made no distinction between the Hindus and the Muslims. He had gained his position with the support of the Hindu notables, and they shared the government with him. This had not reconciled them to a Muslim ruler; or perhaps they recognized that a new power might soon overthrow his rule, and they wanted to be on the winning side. In any case, as an official of the East India Company had written two years before Alivardi's death: "[Hindu] rajas and inhabitants were disaffected to the Moor government and secretly wished for a change and opportunity of throwing off their tyrannical yoke."/7/ These three forces sealed the fate of Siraj-ud-daula. The familiar story of British activities need not be told here, but the role of the treacherous Mir Jafar, generally held responsible for the fate of Siraj, was comparatively a minor one. More significant was the alliance of the Hindu merchants with the East India Company. This [[269]] new alignment, as much as any single factor, must be taken into account in explaining the end of Muslim rule in Bengal.

        The battle fought at Plassey, a few miles outside Murshidabad, has been called by a modern British writer "the most miserable skirmish ever to be called a decisive battle."/8/ An army of which the commander-in-chief had been won over and took no part in the battle, can hardly offer spirited contests. Siraj-ud-daula's Hindu paymaster, Mir Madan, however, was loyal to the nawab, and fell in action. Clive's spirited leadership and British organization, coupled with the help they received from the powerful local elements, resulted in the rout and flight of Siraj-ud-daula. On June 28, 1757, Clive installed Mir Jafar on the masnad of Murshidabad and four days later Siraj-ud-daula was executed.

        The legal position in Bengal had not changed with the British victory at Plassey, for the nawab was still in charge of the administration. But the officials of the East India Company expected him to do their bidding, and a clash was inevitable if a nawab sought to impose policies counter to British interests. The clash came when Nawab Mir Qasim, who had succeeded the incompetent Mir Jafar, tried to collect internal revenue from the English traders. According to an agreement, only the East India Company itself was to be free from the tax; in practice, every company servant traded on his own account and refused to pay any duty. In desperation, since his revenues were disappearing, Mir Qasim abolished all internal duties, thus removing the English advantage over the Indian traders. The British refused to accept this, and Mir Qasim left Bengal to organize an attack on the British.

        Support of a half-hearted kind came from Emperor Shah Alam and Shuja-ud-daula, the wazir of Oudh, who had followed the general pattern of the time by establishing himself as a semi-independent ruler. The Mughal and the British forces met at Buxar in October, 1764, and while the British suffered fairly heavy losses, they won a clear victory. The results of the battle of Buxar were more far-reaching than those of Plassey. Even before the battle the British had attempted to facilitate the military task by diplomatic means, and the newly [[270]] crowned Shah Alam was only a fugitive from Delhi, but the East India Company had gained a victory against what appeared to be the combined army of the emperor and the rulers of Bengal and Oudh. It gave greater prestige to British arms than had the earlier victory over a provincial government. It also altered Shuja-ud-daula's course of action. Henceforth dependence on the British became a cardinal point of his policy, and Oudh was, for all practical purposes, drawn into the orbit of the British influence. Most important of all, Emperor Shah Alam was forced to give the East India Company the diwani, or civil government, of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa in return for the districts of Allahabad and Kora and an annual payment of two and a half million rupees. This provided the legal basis for British rule in Bengal.

        Emperor Shah Alam remained in Allahabad for some years after the battle of Buxar, but he returned to Delhi in 1772, after the death of his wazir, Najib-ud-daula, who had been the actual ruler of the city for a decade. Motivated either by his own greed for money, or under the influence of the Marathas, who were supporting him for their own ends, Shah Alam attacked Zabita Khan, the powerful son of Najib-ud-daula, who was the leader of the Rohilla Afghans who had established themselves to the east of Delhi. In one punitive expedition against the family stronghold of Ghausgarh, Zabita Khan's relatives were treated with great cruelty. According to tradition, his son, Ghulam Qadir, was castrated and made to serve as page in the palace at Delhi, but a few years later, Ghulam Qadir was able to exact a terrible revenge.

        Affairs in the capital were following a tortuous course, with the nobles intriguing against each other for the spoils of the decaying empire. One able administrator, Najaf Khan, succeeded for a time in organizing a small effective army to maintain order, but he eventually succumbed to the debilitating atmosphere.

        Without any able or loyal followers, the emperor took a momentous step. In 1785 he invited the great Maratha chieftain Mahadaji Sindhia of Gwalior to take charge of the Delhi administration. Appointed commander-in-chief and supreme regent (wakil-i-mutliq) of the empire, Sindhia tried to get the cooperation of Ghulam Qadir in [[271]]

*INDIA IN 1780*

[[272]] dealing with the Sikhs, but Ghulam Qadir, waiting for a chance to repay the humiliation he and his family had suffered at the hands of Shah Alam, had no desire to strengthen the emperor's rule.

        His opportunity came in 1787, when Sindhia was defeated by the Rajputs. Ghulam Qadir entered Delhi in September, 1787, and forced the emperor to appoint him mir bakhshi or paymaster, and regent. He was driven out of Delhi by the emperor's supporters, but entered the city again the following year, deposed Shah Alam, and blinded him.

        A drunken ruffian, Ghulam Qadir behaved with gross brutality to the emperor and his family. Three servants and two water-carriers who tried to help the bleeding emperor were killed. According to one account, Ghulam would pull the beard of the old monarch, and say: "Serves you right. This is the return for your action at Ghausgarh." Servants were tortured and made to reveal the hidden treasures, and the entire palace was ransacked to find the buried wealth.

        After ten horrible weeks during which the honor of the royal family and prestige of the Mughal empire reached its lowest ebb, Ghulam Qadir left with the booty for his stronghold. Sindhia's officers hunted him down and captured him in December, 1788. He was put to death with tortures which equalled his own fiendish cruelties.

        When Delhi was retaken by the Marathas, the blind Shah Alam was enthroned again. While his action reconciled the people to Sindhia's rule, it meant that Delhi was being drawn into the great struggle then taking place between the Marathas and the British.

        An account of that struggle and of British expansion is outside the scope of this chapter, for the British did not defeat Mughal India, but its successor states, both Muslim and Hindu. Conquest was cautiously achieved. Periods of rapid expansion alternated with long periods of consolidation. Military action was effectively aided by diplomatic activity. Local differences and jealousies were most skilfully exploited. The Company's forces were normally able to depend on the direct or indirect cooperation of the commander, or at least some of the major leaders, of the troops confronting them. At Plassey it was Mir Jafar; at Buxar, the differences between Shuja-ud-daula and Mir Qasim were fully exploited. In fact, British success owed as [[273]] much to diplomatic skill and the demoralized state of Indian society as to valor and military organization.

        The great period of expansion initiated during the governor-generalship (1798–1805) of Lord Wellesley saw Delhi and the Mughal emperor pass under British sway. But even as late as 1798 this absorption did not seem inevitable, for an attempt was made to create a confederacy of the Afghan king, the wazir of Oudh, and a number of Maratha chiefs, to strengthen the position of the emperor. Wellesley took the plan seriously enough to stir up trouble between the Persian and the Afghan courts, so that the Afghan ruler would not be able to give any attention to India./9/

        More important for the fate of the Mughals was Wellesley's war with the Marathas in 1803. In a two-pronged attack, they were defeated in the Deccan and North India. Sindhia's defeat meant the capture of Delhi, and with this the Mughal empire, long a dependent of the Marathas, passed into British control. Yet after a century of decline, the Mughal emperor still remained a symbol of greatness that was not easily defaced. To many British, his continuance seemed absurd, at best an empty pageant. Yet as events were to show in 1857, even the last flickering shadow of Mughal greatness still appeared to be a possible center of power.

Causes of the Mughal Decline

        Before turning to these last years of the Mughal empire, it may be useful to summarize what appear to have been certain general causes of Mughal decline, leaving aside such specific causes as external invasions and internal rebellions. One feature of Islamic power in India, as elsewhere, was the failure to make progress in certain vital fields. For example, even Akbar failed to see the possibilities in the introduction of printing. The scarcity of books resulted in comparative ignorance, low standards of education, and limitation of the subjects of study. Because of this, the governing classes were ignorant of the affairs of the outside world. The position becomes clear if we [[274]] compare the books on India printed in Europe during the eighteenth century with the knowledge of the West current in India. The interest on the part of Europeans that led travelers like Bernier to make reports on their travels finds no parallel in Mughal India. So far from being concerned with Europe, the Mughals, after Ain-i-Akbari, made no real addition to their knowledge even of their own dominions.

        The stagnation visible in the intellectual field was visible also in the military sphere. Babur had introduced gunpowder in India, but after him there was no advance in military equipment, although the organization and discipline of forces had been completely revolutionized in the West. The Portuguese had brought ships on which cannons were mounted, and had thus introduced a new element which made them masters of the Indian Ocean. What was a fortified wall round the country became a highway, and opened up the empire to those countries which had not remained stagnant. Mughal helplessness on the sea was obvious from the days of Akbar. Their ships could not sail to Mecca without a safe-conduct permit from the Portuguese. Sir Thomas Roe had warned Jahangir that if Prince Shah Jahan as governor of Gujarat turned the English out, "then he must expect we would do our justice upon the seas." The failure of the Mughals to develop a powerful navy and control the seas surrounding their dominions was a direct cause of their replacement by an European power having these advantages.

        On land no real progress or large-scale training of local personnel in the use of artillery was made in Mughal India, and the best they could do was to hire foreigners for manning the artillery. The military weakness resulting from this was obvious, and was clearly visible to foreign observers. Bernier wrote in the early years of Aurangzeb's reign:" I could never see these soldiers, destitute of order, and marching with the irregularity of a herd of animals, without reflecting upon the ease with which five-and-twenty thousand of our veterans from the army in Flanders, commanded by Prince Condé or Marshal Turenne would overcome these armies, however numerous."/10/ With this condition of the Mughal army, the downfall of the empire was only a question of time.

        [[275]] Another factor which contributed to the fall of the Mughal empire was the moral decay of the ruling classes. This was partly due to the affluent standard of living maintained by monarchs like Shah Jahan and queens like Nur Jahan. Ostentatious luxury became the ambition of everyone who could afford it, and the puritanical Aurangzeb's attempts to arrest the tide were without success. The evil had gone too far and was only driven underground, to reappear within ten years of the emperor's death, in the uncontrolled orgies of his grandson Jahandar Shah. Perhaps Aurangzeb's extreme asceticism and self-denial only intensified the reaction of the nobility. Many a Maratha hill fortress captured after long and dreary siege was lost because the Mughal commander, unwilling to spend the monsoon months in his lonely perch, came down to the plains, while the hardy Marathas, awaiting the opportunity, moved in.

        The moral decline of the nobility showed itself in lack of discipline, laziness, evasion of duties, and even treacherous conduct. It also made them rapacious and heartless in dealing with the public. The extravagant standards that the Mughal bureaucrats tried to maintain were not possible without corruption, extortion, and the enrichment of the officers at the expense of the state and the people. These evils increased as Mughal authority weakened, but their seeds had been sown in earlier days and were a natural result of the efforts of the officers to maintain standards beyond their means.

        These were the basic factors responsible for the downfall of the Mughal empire, but others were contributory. The fact that after the death of Aurangzeb no ruler of real vigor and resourcefulness came to the throne made recovery of the lost position almost impossible. Even Aurangzeb's long life was an asset of doubtful value in its last stages. He drove himself hard and resolutely, conscientiously performing his duties, but at the age of ninety he was subject to the laws governing all human machines. When he died, his son and successor Bahadur Shah was already an old man of sixty. He began well but was on the throne for barely six years, and with his death a disastrous chapter opened in Mughal annals.

        Directly related to the troubles of this period was the absence of a well-defined law of succession to ensure the continuity of government. The result was that each son of a deceased king felt that he had [[276]] an equal claim to the crown, and succession to the throne was invariably accompanied by bloody warfare. The disaster was compounded when the imperial princes, who were often viceroys governing vast territories, started making secret pacts with soldiers to ensure their support for the time when the fateful struggle would begin. Soon not only the imperial army but forces external to the empire—the East India Company, the Marathas, the Sikhs—were being used by claimants to the throne of Delhi, as well as to control of the provincial kingdoms. The results were fatal.


/1/ G. S. Sardesai, New History of the Marathas (Bombay, 1958), II, 166–67.
/2/ Quoted in Muhammad Latif, The History of the Panjab (Calcutta, 1891), p. 200.
/3/ Hermann Goetz, The Crisis of Indian Civilization in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century (Calcutta, 1939).
/4/ For a brief selection from Shah Waliullah's writings, see Wm. Theodore de Bary et al., Sources of Indian Tradition (New York, 1958), pp. 455–62.
/5/ Ghulam Husain Khan, Seir-ul-Mutaqheerin, trans. by Raymond Mustapha (Calcutta, 1902), III, 281. The quotation is translated differently in this edition.
/6/ Mountstuart Elphinstone, History of India (London, 1905), p. 276.
/7/ Quoted in S. C. Hill, Bengal in 1756–1757 (London, 1903), III, 328.
/8/ Philip Woodruff, The Men Who Ruled India (New York, 1954), I, 100.
/9/ H. W. C. Davis, "The Great Game in Asia," Proceedings of the British Academy, XII (1926), 230.
/10/ François Bernier, Travels in the Mogul Empire A. D. 1656–1668, trans. by A. Constable (London, 1914), p. 55.

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