Modern History : Decline of The Mughal dynasty

Decline of the Mughals

The Mughal dynasty founded by Zahiruddin Babur following his decisive victory at the battle of Panipat in 1526 continued to grow in size under his successors. It reached its territorial climax under Aurangzeb (1657-1707) when the Mughal Empire was stretched from Kashmir in the North to Jinji in South and from Hindukush in the West to Chittagong in the East. But the process of decline had set in during the time of Aurangzeb and it could not be arrested by his weak successors. Ironically such territorial gains by Aurangzeb instead of increasing the strength of the empire actually weakened the foundations because of his socio-religious policies which, in sharp contrast to his ancestors, were intolerant and fundamentalist in nature.
After Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 the empire kept shrinking in size and kept weakening. In the 150 years period between 1707 when Aurungzeb died and 1857 when the last of the Mughals Bahadur Shah Zafar was deposed by the British there were as many as 12 Mughals who occupied the throne. Two of the longest surviving, Muhammad Shah (1719-48) and Shah Alam (1759-1806) of these witnessed devastating attacks by Nadirshah (1739) and Ahmadshah Abdali, who attacked six times during 1748-67. These aggressions left the foundations of the Mughal Empire completely shaken apart from leading to rebellion, revolt and cessation by regional powers all around.

Causes of the downfall of the Mughal Empire can be analysed under following heads

 Aurangzeb’s Responsibility

Although the expansion of Mughal Empire reached its optimum point under Aurangzeb yet it only resembled an inflated balloon. The Mughal Empire had expanded beyond the point of effective control and its vastness only tended to weaken the centre.
His policy of religious bigotism proved counterproductive and provoked a general discontent in the country and the empire was faced with the rebellions of Sikhs, the Jats, the Bundelas, the Rajputs and above all, the Marathas. Aurangzeb was orthodox in his outlook and he tried to remain within the framework of Islamic law which was developed outside India in vastly dissimilar situations and could hardly be applied rigidly to India.
The failure of Aurangzeb to respect the susceptibilities of his non-Muslim subjects on many occasions, his adherence to the time-worn policy towards temples and re-imposition of jizyah (per capita tax levied on a section of an Islamic state's non-Muslim citizens) as laid down by the Islamic law did not help him to rally the Muslims to his side or generate a greater sense of loyalty towards a state based on Islamic Law. On the other hand, it alienated the Hindus and strengthened the hands of those sections which were opposed to the Mughal Empire for political or other reasons. Aurangzeb’s mistaken policy of continuous war in Deccan was again a fatal blow to Mughal Empire. It was continued for 27 years and drained the resources of the empire completely. So Aurangzeb’s various such steps marked the start of Mughal Empire’s decline.

 Weak successors of Aurangzeb 

The Mughal system of government being despotic much depended on the personality of emperor, thus succession of weak emperors was reflected in every field of administration. All the emperors after Aurangzeb were weaklings and therefore unable to meet the challenges both internal and external. Bahadur Shah I (1702-1712) was too old to maintain the prestige of the empire and he liked to appease all parties by profuse grants of titles and rewards. Due to his such attitude he was nick named “Shah-i-Bekhabar” (The Headless king), Jahandar Shah (1712-13), the next in succession, was a wildly extravagant fool, Farrukshiyar was a completecoward, while Muhammad shah spent more of time in watching animal fights. Due to his
addiction to wine and woman, Muhammad shah got a title of “Rangeela”. Ahmad shah was
even one step ahead in his sensual pursuit and extended the harem (a separate place for
concubines/wives of emperor) to a very large area where he spent weeks or months. In
administration he also took equally foolish decisions. Thus successors were evidently weak and
the huge task of managing such a vast Mughal empire was far beyond their capacity.

 Degeneration of Mughal Nobility

There was also the degeneration of the Mughal nobility. When the Mughals came to India, they had
a hardy character. But too much of wealth, luxury and leisure softened their character. Their harems
became full. They got wine in plenty. They went in palanquins to the battle-fields. Such nobles were
not fit to fight against the Marathas, the Rajputs and the Sikhs. The Mughal Nobility degenerated at
a very rapid pace.
The chief reason for the degeneration of the nobility was that gradually it became a closed
corporation. It gave no opportunity of promotion of capable men belonging to other classes as had
been the case earlier. The offices of the state became hereditary and the preserve of people
belonging to a few families. Another reason was their incorrigible habits of extravagant living and
pompous display which weakened their morale and drained their limited financial resources. Most
of the Nobles spent huge sums on keeping large harems, maintaining a big staff of servants etc. and
indulged in other forms of senseless show.
The result was that many of the nobles became bankrupt in spite of their large Jagirs. Dismissal from
service or loss of Jagirs spelt ruin for most of them. That promoted many of them to form groups
and factions for securing large and profitable Jagirs. Others turned themselves into grasping tyrant
who mercilessly fleeced the peasants of their Jagirs. Many Nobles became ease-loving and soft.
They dreaded war and became so much accustomed to an extravagant way of life that they could
not do without many of the luxuries even when they were on military campaigns.
The Mughal Nobility was corrupt and fact-in-ridden. By giving suitable bribes, any Government rule
could be evaded or any favour secured. The interests of the Mughal Empire did not appeal to them.
The British regularly bribed Mughal Nobles for getting their work done. Even the highest nobles took
bribes which were called Peshkash or presents. That lowered the tone of administration. With the
passage of time, corruption and bribery increased. Later on, even some of the Mughal Emperors
shared the money which their favourites charged as Peshkash from people desirous of getting a post
or seeking a transfer. Factionalism kept on growing till it extended to all branches of administration
the two major causes of functionalism were struggle for Jagirs and personal advancement and
struggle for supremacy between the Wazir and the monarch. Thus faction fights weakened the
monarchy, gave a chance to the Marathas, Jats etc. to increase their power and to interfere in the
court politics and prevented the Emperors from following a consistent policy. Factionalism became
the most dangerous bane of the Mughal Rule from 1715 onwards. To save themselves from these
faction fights, the Mughal Emperors depended upon unworthy favourites and that worsened the

 Court Factions

Towards the end of Aurangzeb’s reign influential nobles at the court organised themselves into
pressure groups. Though these groups were formed on clan or family relationships, personal
affiliations or interests were the dominating factors. These groups kept the country in a state of
perpetual political unrest. The ‘turani’ or central Asian party consisted of nobles from trans-
oxiania. During the reigh of Muhammad Shah, Asaf Zah, Nizam-ul-mulk, Kamruddin and
Zakariya Khan were the principle leaders of Turani faction, while the leaders of the Persian
faction were Amir Khan, Ishaq Khan and Saadat Khan. These factions kept their own retainers
who were mostly recruited from central Asia or Persia as the case might be. Together these two
factions known as the Mughal or Foreign Party were pitched against the Hindustani partywhose leaders during this period were Sayyid Abdulla Khan and Sayyid Hussain Ali (sayyid
brothers), who enjoyed the support of the Hindus. Each faction tried to win the emperor to its
view point and poised his ears against the other faction. They fought battles, upsetting the
peace of the country and could not manage administration properly. Even in the face of foreign
danger these hostile groups could not forge a united front and often intrigued with the invader.
The personal interest of Nizam-ul-mulk (kilich khan) and Burhan-ul-mulk (saadat khan) led them
to intrigue with Nadir Shah.

Defective Law of Succession

Another cause was the absence of the law or custom, of the firstborn child to inherit the family
estate(primogeniture), in preference to siblings, in the matter of succession to the throne. The
result was that every Mughal Prince considered himself to be equally fit to become the ruler
and was prepared to fight out his claim. After the death of Bahadur Shah, the various claimants
to the throne were merely used as tools by the leaders of rival factions to promote their own
personal interests.
Zulfikar Khan acted as the king-maker in the war of succession which followed after the death
of Bahadur Shah I in 1712. Likewise, the Sayyid Brothers acted as king-makers from 1713 to
1720. They were instrumental in the appointment of four kings to the throne. After them Mir
Mohammad Amin and Asaf Jah Nizam-ul-Mulk acted as king-makers. Thus the absence of the
law of succession contributed to the decline of the Mughal Empire.

The rise of Marathas

Another important factor which contributed to the decline of the Mughal Empire was the rise
of the Marathas under the Peshwas. They consolidated their position in Western India and then
started entertaining plans for a Hindu-Pad Padshahi or a Greater Maharashtra Empire. The
dream could be realised only at the cost of the Mughal Empire. They gains of the Marathas
were the loss of the Mughals.
The Marathas became the strongest power in Northern India in the mid-eighteenth century.
They played the role of king-makers at the Delhi Court. They acted as the defenders of the
country against foreign invaders like Ahmad Shah Abdali. It is true that the Marathas did not
succeeded in their great mission but their conquests in Northern India in the 18th century gave
a death-blow to the Mughal Empire. The inability to the Mughal Emperors to accommodate the
Marathas and to adjust their claims within the framework of the Mughal Empire, and the
consequent breakdown of the attempt to create a composite ruling class in India; and the
impact of all these developments on politics at the court and in the country, and upon the
security of the north-western passes.

 Military Weaknesses

Another cause of Mughal downfall was the deterioration and demoralization in the Mughal
Army. The abundance of riches of India, the use of wine and comforts had their evil effects on
the Mughal Army and nothing was done to stop the deterioration. The soldiers cared more for
personal comforts and less for winning battles. A number of military vices may be attributed to
the degenerate Mughals; indiscipline, luxurious habits, inactivity and commissariat and
cumbrous equipment.
The impotence of the Mughal Armies was declared to the world when the Mughals failed to
recapture Qandhar in spite of three determined efforts made by them. In 1739, Nadir Shah not
only plundered the whole of Delhi but also ordered wholesale massacre. When such a thing
happened without any effort on the part of the ruler to stop it, he forfeited the right to
command allegiance from the people. The Mughal States was a police state and when it failedto maintain internal order and external peace, the people lost all their respect for the
The demoralization of the army was one of the principal factors in the disintegration of the
Mughal Empire. The source of the weakness was the composition of the army which consisted
chiefly of contingents maintained by the great nobles from the revenues of assignments held by
them for that purpose. As the authority of the sovereign relaxed, the general tendency among
the great nobles was naturally to hold them as their own those assignments which maintained
their personal troops.
The general laxity of discipline converted the army into a mob. Drill was unknown and a
soldier's training which he might undergo or as he liked, consisted in muscular exercise and an
individual practice in the use of the weapons with which he was armed. He mounted guard or
not as he liked. There was no regular punishment for military crimes. Aurangzeb himself
habitually overlooked a matters of course acts of treason, cowardice and deliberate neglect of
duty before the enemy.
About the military system of the Mughals, it is contended that their weapons and methods of
war had become outmoded. They put too much reliance on artillery and armoured cavalry. The
artillery was local in action and ponderous in movement. It was rendered stationary by huge tail
of camp which looked like a city with its markets, tents, stores and baggage. All kinds of people,
men and women, old and young, combatants and non-combatants, besides elephants, cattle
and beasts of burden, accompanied the Mughal Army.
On the other hand, the Maratha cavalry was swift and elusive like wind. They suddenly erupted
on Mughal Camps and launched damaging attacks on their posts. Before the Mughals could get
time for recovery, the Marathas, "like water parted by the oar," closed and fell on them.
At the turn of the 18th century, musketry made rapid progress and became prominent in the
methods of warfare. Swift running cavalry of matchlock men was superior to army equipped
with heavy artillery and armour-clad cavalry. In spite of that, the Mughals refused to change
their old methods of warfare and no wonder they were defeated by the Marathas.

 Economic Bankruptcy

After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire faced financial bankruptcy. The beginning had
already been made in the time of Aurangzeb and after his death; the system of tax farming
(assigning the responsibility for tax revenue collection to private citizens or groups) was
resorted to. Although the Government did not get much by this method, the people were
ruined. They were taxed to such an extent that they lost all incentive to produce.
Shah Jahan had increased the state demand to one-half of the produce. The extravagant
expenditure by Shah Jahan on buildings was a crushing burden upon the resources of the
country. The venality of the officials and the tyrannical caprice of the Mughal Governors, added
to the misery of the people who had little or no means, for obtaining redress. Aurangzeb’s long
war in Deccan besides emptying the royal treasury almost ruined the trade and industry of the
country. The marches of the imperial army damaged crops in the Deccan, While the beasts of
burden ate away all standing crops and greenery. The emperor ignored all complaints brought
to him because of financial difficulties. Whatever little was left was destroyed by Maratha
raiders- Maratha horses were fed on standing crops and Maratha soldiers destroyed whatever
property they found too heavy to be carried. The peasant gave up the agriculture and took life
of plunder and highway robbery.
Under later Mughals as provinces asserted their independence one after the other and ceased
the payment of any revenue to the center, the numerous wars of succession and political
turmoil coupled with the lavish living of the emperors emptied the royal treasury to the extentthat salaries of soldiers could not be paid regularly. The financial collapse came in the time of Alamgir II who was practically starved by his Wazir Imad-ul-Mulk and it is stated that Alamgir II had no conveyance to take him to the Idgah and he had to walk on foot.

Nature of Mughal State 

Mughal government was essentially a police government and confined its attention mainly to the maintenance of internal and external order and collection of revenue. The Mughals also failed to effect a fusion between Hindus and Muslims and create a composite nation whatever little effort was made by akbar to weld the people into a nation was undone by bigotry of Aurangzeb and his worthless successors. Many Indian chiefs looked upon Mughal rulers as foreigners and as enemies of India and Hindu religion which gave the Marathas, the Rajputs and others their awaited opportunity.

Invasion of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali

The invasion of nadir shah in 1739 gave a death blow to the stumbling Mughal Empire. Besides depleting the Mughal treasury of its wealth, it exposed to the world the military weakness of the empire and its utter degeneration. Turbulent element in the country so far kept in check by the name and prestige of empire rose in rebellion. The repeated invasion of nadir’s successors Ahmad Shah Abdali deprived the empire of frontier provinces of Punjab Sindh, Kashmir etc. The Mughal authority has so greatly shrunk that in 1761 Abdali fought the battle of panipat not against Mughal Empire but against the Marathas who virtually controlled the whole of northern India. For about a decade 1761-72 a virtual afghan dictatorship under Naji-ud-daula was set up in Delhi.

 Coming of the Europeans

With the weakness of Mughal central authority in the 18th century, war-lordism raised its early head. The European company also acted as war lords and profited from the confused times. The European company out did Indian princes in every sphere whether it was trade and commerce or diplomacy and war. The territorial gains of the English East India Company destroyed all chances of the revival of the Mughal Empire. The British won the Battle of Plassey and continued to expand their Empire in the Deccan and in the Gangetic Region. With the passage of time, they were able to establish their hold over the whole of India and there could be not be any chance for the revival of the Mughal Empire.