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Factors for the decline of the Mughal Empire

Factors for the decline of the Mughal Empire

  • The Mughal Empire held sway over a large part of India for nearly three centuries, but a drastic decline in its power and prestige came about by the first half of the eighteenth century.
    • Not only did the political boundaries of the Empire shrink, the decline also saw the collapse of the administrative structure so assiduously built by rulers like Akbar and Shah Jahan.
    • In the wake of the collapse of the Mughal power a number of Independent principalities emerged in all parts of the Empire.
  • However, the processes of the decline and the emergence of regional polities have been intensely debated among historians.
    • It has also been a subject on which scholarly opinion is more sharply divided than on any other aspect of Mughal history.
  • The historiographical perspective on the Mughal decline can be divided into two broad sections. First, the Mughal-centric approach, i.e., historians attempt to identify the causes of the decline within the structure and functioning of the Empire itself.
    • Secondly, the region-centric approach where the perspective goes out of the precincts of the Empire into the regions to look for the causes of turmoil or instability in different parts of the Empire.

There are two approaches regarding the decline of the Mughal Empire:

  • Empire centric approach
  • Region centric approach

Empire-centric approach

Historians attempt to identify the causes of the decline within the structure and functioning of the Empire itself.

Personality centric view:

  • This was propagated by Jadunath Sarkar, Stanley Lanepoole, V.A. Smith, William Irvine.
  • Attributed the decline to a deterioration in the characters of the Emperors and their nobles.
  • Historians like Jadunath Sarkar and Irvine find the real cause of crisis in the Empire in the personal deterioration of the kings and nobles due to harem influence.
  • Irvin says that crisis emerged mainly due to the decline in the character of the Emperors who could not choose right persons as their nobles.
    • Aurangzeb had frequently complained about the lack of able officials and he himself cites Sadullah Khan’s dictum that “No age is wanting in able men; it is the business of wise master to find them out, win them over, and get work done by means of them, without listening to the calemnies of selfish men against them.”
    • Irvine further states that:
      • “The deterioration in the character of the Emperors must be held to be the primary cause of the decline in the character of the nobility and the downfall of the Empire…. The heirs to the throne of Delhi in the 18th century grew up utterly helpless and dependent upon others, without any independence of thought, fearlessness in assuming responsibility or capacity to decide and act promptly. Their intellect and spirits were dulled and they found diversion only in the society of harem women buffoons and flatters.”
  • Jadunath Sarkar says that:
    • The Mughal Empire and with it Maratha over lordship of Hindustan, fell because of the rottenness at the core of Indian society. This rottenness showed itself in the form of military and political helplessness. The country could not defend itself; the nobles were selfish and short sighted; complete inefficiency and treachery disgraced all branches of the public service. In the midst of this decay and confusion, our literature, art and even true religion had perished
    • The country’s administration had become hopelessly dishonest and inefficient, and the mass of the people had been reduced to the deepest poverty, ignorance and moral degradation by a small, selfish, proud and unworthy, ruling class. Imbecile lechers filled the throne. The purity of domestic life was threatened by the debauchery fashionable in the court and the aristocracy and the sexual literature that grew up under such patrons. Religion had become the handmaid of vice and filly.
  • It is strange that this unscientific reason meant to blame women for the deteriorating qualities of the noble and crisis. The kings and nobles in 16th and 17th centuries had also enjoyed similar luxurious living as that of the 18th century nobles but strangely they did not suffer from the alleged personal deterioration
  • Jadunath Sarkar had analyzed the developments of this period in the context of law and order. He considered Aurangzeb as the arch culprit. He said:
    • Jadunath Sarkar has held Aurangzeb’s religious policy responsible to provoke Hindu reaction which produced the crisis.
    • Aurangzeb was a religious fanatic. He discriminated against sections of the nobles and officials on the basis of religion. This led to widescale resentment among the nobility.
    • Aurangzeb’s successors and their nobles were mere shadows of their predecessors and were thus unable to set right the evils of Aurangeb’s legacy.
  • Some of the Aurangzeb’s measures may be called discriminatory and the most important were
      • (i) Aurangzeb’s attitude towards temple
      • (ii) Levying of jizyah
      • (iii) Annexation of Marwar in khalisa
    • Aurangzeb’s famous statement, that long standing temples should not be demolished but no new temples allowed to be built, but old places of worship could be repaired as building could not last for ever, should be taken into account while examining his attitude towards temples.
    • Such orders were not new, similar orders had existed in Sultanate and even during Shahjahan’s period. However, the interpretation of long standing temples allowed flexibility to the local officials who had to depend on the local elements like zamindars who were largely Hindu for smooth functioning of the administration and thus order for temple destruction was seldom carried out in the country side.
    • In fact, when Aurangzeb was governor of Gujarat, he ordered for the destruction of temple, which were partially defaced and on his accession he found all these temple rebuilt, which led him to order for the destruction of the temples afresh in 1665.
    • Similarly his order to ban the new temples did not stop the construction at all as well as it never led to the blanket destruction of old temples. However, on encountering resistance from Jats, Marathas, he even destroyed old temples to instil a kind of fear among the subjects.
    • When he learnt that Hindu and Muslim visit Benaras, Mathura temples, he ordered for their destruction. However, there did not seem to had blanket destruction of the temples and Mustaid Khan writing in early 18th century used hyperbole to merely suggest as an attempt to establish Islam. Since, Sharia did not ban the non-Muslim from practising their faith so long they remain loyal to the state.
    • But, Aurangzeb’s policy was undoubtedly a setback to the policy of toleration followed by his predecessors and a climate of mutual mistrust come to exist On the other hand, Aurangzeb gave grants to gurudwara of Guru Ram Das at Dehradun, to Vaishnava temples at Brindavan as well as to jogies and Nath panthies. He gave land grants to Panth Bharati in pargana Siwana in Rajasthan as he stated ‘since he feeds travellers and is worthy of offering prayers’.
    • Despite such grants, undoubtedly, the policy of toleration was not followed in that spirit as it was being followed during Akbar’s reign, but at the same time it did not produce major rebellion from the Hindu officials and if they rebelled they returned to fold later on.
    • Some temples were destroyed but it did not create the crisis which engulfed the Empire later on. Even the contemporary writer Bhimsen did not mention the religious policy of Aurangzeb as a major factor for the ‘crisis’ in the Empire.
    • Aurangzeb re-imposed Jizyah in his 22 regnal year. It was regressive and the poor suffered more.
      • By 1680, Aurangzeb failed to conciliate Marathas and other Deccan elements and by imposing jizyah he hoped that the orthodox Muslim clergy would rally behind him particularly when he attacked the Deccani Sultans.
      • However, this policy suggested a contradiction in his policy towards non-Muslims. He did not dismiss Hindu Rajas and the number of non-Muslim nobles, in fact, had further increased to all time highest percentage.
    • Aurangzeb maintained largely cordial relation with Rajputs.
      • Although Jadunath Sarkar termed the Rathore rebellion was result of Aurangzeb’s religious policy where he sought to destroy the centre of Hindu revivalism.
      • But Waqa-i-Ajmer and Jodhpur Hukumat-ri-Bahi discounted the theory of Jadunath Sarkar and had mentioned different factors responsible for the rebellion.
    • Aurangzeb had not followed the liberal tradition established by his predecessors, but this did not cause the crisis as such.
      • Because we find Rajputs had rallied behind the Empire till its last.
      • Thus, scholars have found reason of crisis elsewhere.

Socio-economic-cultural-administrative centric view:

  • Jagirdari Crisis:
    • The jagirdari system faced crisis towards the end of 17th and in the 18th century.
    • The smooth functioning of the jagirdari system depended on the ability of the jagirdar to get sufficient resources to maintain quota of troops.
    • There was a correlation between jama (estimated income) and the hasil (actual realisation) and a balance between the two depended on the realistic nature of revenue assignment and its income as well as on the ability of the jagirdar to compel the zamindars to pay the assessed land revenue.
    • Jagirdars used to faundar’s services in compelling the zamindars got converted into kharaj (land revenue) collecting agent on payment of nankar.
    • Due to growing number of mansabdars, there arose imbalance between the available resources and demand of jagir in form of salary and this was overcome by reducing the sawar obligation and salary.
    • The jagirdari system faced crisis due to Deccan policy.
      • Bhimsen testifies: The provinces given to the mansabdars in tankhwah (salary) cannot be governed because of the smallness of their force. The zamindars, too, have assumed strength, joined the Marathas, enlisted armies and laid the hands of oppression on the country, when such is the condition of zamindars it had become difficult for a dam or dirham to reach the jagirdars
      • Towards the last years of Aurangzeb’s reign majority of mansabdars did not maintain the required contingent and Bhimsen further adds that The lawless men of every district, disregarding the petty faujdars have acquired strength. The faujdar, despiring of being able to bear the trouble and cost of campaigning, consider it gain to sit at one place, and to enter into an agreement with the enemy i.e., Marathas.
    • Owing to wars in Deccan the most paying jagirs were kept in khalisa to meet the expenditure of the war and the jagirdars were given jagir in zor-talab (difficult to realise).
      • When jagirdars failed to meet the obligation, their jagirs were confiscated and the struggle to get beneficial jagir allowed opportunity of corruption for the officials.
      • The jagirdari crisis was aggravated by the problem of be-jagiri (lack of sufficient jagirs for assignment).
      • The contemporary historian Khafi Khan informs us that on account of the inadequacy of pai-baqi (land meant for assignment in jagir), and the appointment of large number of mansabdars, particularly absorption of Deccani and Marathas after the annexation of Bijapur and Golconda created problems in jagir assignment and these mansabdars had to wait for four to five years for the jagir assignment. This had also deprived khanazadas who become discontented.
    • It has been established that the total number of mansabdars holding zat and above increased from 486 in 1658-78 to 575 in 1679-1707 thus, there was an increase of 31 per cent According to M Athar Ali, “the increase in the number of ranks was not anywhere near the scale witnessed between 1595 and 1656-57, an increase of 4.2 times (500 zat and above), and totally out of proportion with the actual increase of territory within the period”
    • Satish Chandra:
      • Mughal decline has to be seen in the Mughal failure to maintain the system of the mansabdar-jagirdar towards the end of Aurangzeb’s reign. As this system went into disarray, the Empire was bound to collapse.
      • S. Chandra was the first one to make serious attempt to study the structure of the Mughal Empire.
        • This led to shift of focus from personalities and policies of individual rulers to larger and broader developments that were weakening the very structure on which the Mughal edifice had been built.
    • Athar Ali:
      • The nobles competed for better jagirs, which were increasingly becoming rare due to the influx of nobles (Marathas and Deccanis) from the south.
      • The logical consequence was the erosion in the political structure which was based on jaglrdari to a large extent.
    • Nurul Hassan:
      • In the eighteenth century, with the decline of the Mughal authority, and with pressure on jagirs, agricultural economy began to face a crisis.
      • As agrarian situation worsened, conflict between zamindars and the state as also among themselves could not be checked. This often resulted in law and order problems and decimated the authority of the state.
  • Agrarian Crisis:
    • Irfan Habib has emphasised on the ‘agrarian crisis’ which led to the decline of the Empire.
    • Irfan Habib:
      • Peasant protests weakened the political and social fabric of the Empire.
      • The mechanism of collection of revenue that the Mughals had evolved was inherently flawed.
      • The imperial policy was to set the revenue at the highest rate possible to secure the greatest militery strength for the Empire, the nobles. On the other band, tended to squeeze the maximum from their jagirs, even if it ruined the peasantry and destroyed the revenue paying capacity of the area.
      • Since, the nobles’ jagirs were liable to be transferred frequently, they did not find it necessary to follow a far-sighted policy of agricultural development.
      • In reaction to this excessive exploitation the peasantry, protested. Very often the peasants protested against the state by refusing to pay the revenue and were up in arms against the Mughals (Jat, Satnami, Sikh rebellions).
    • The Mughal administration was approximating the surplus produce leaving bare minimum with the peasants as also said by Pelsaert.
    • On the other hand, there was contradiction between the interests of the imperial administration and the individual jagirdars.
    • A jagirdar, whose assignment was liable to be transferred any moment and who would never hold the same jagir for more than three or four years at the most, did not have any interest in following a far sighted policy of agricultural developments.
      • Similarly, his personal interest would sanction any act of oppression that conferred an immediate benefit upon him.
      • Even if it had ruined the peasantry and so destroyed the revenue-paying capacity of that area for a long time.
      • Bhimsen also informs us that in the later part of Aurangzeb’s reign, the agents of the jagirdar had given up the practice of helping the peasantry, as the jagirdars were not sure of their continuance, therefore, they went for maximisation of revenue collection.
      • Some of the jagirdars also resorted to extortion and in fact imperial regulation remained mute on paper.
      • Thus, the actual burden on the peasantry became so heavy that it put their subsistence under great strain and they were left with no choice between starvation and armed rebellion.
      • Pelsaert observed that despite misery, the people endured patiently, professing that they did not deserve anything better.
    • But there were instances where peasants refused to pay land revenue and such villages were designated as mawas and zor-talab.
    • Initially the acts of defiance by the peasantry were mere isolated incidents perhaps due to varied level of distress, but later on in this struggle the peasants and zamidnars usually joined hands.
    • The zamindars could be chieftains or could be a person having rights over portion of a village, but they formed a distinct class enjoying common rights like commanding armed retainers and were the leader of caste group.
    • Some of these zamidnars’ like Shobha Singh’s rebellion (1695-98) in Bengal had, in fact, shaken the empire and similarly in Kuch-Behar, Bhim Narayan was able to expel the Mughal troops and officials.
    • These frequent rebellion produced agrarian crisis.
    • The Jats of Agra region rose in revolt during Aurangzeb’s reign.
      • They inhabited the tract across river Yamuna and were notorious for creating law and order problem right from the beginning of the Empire.
      • They always resist before parting with the land revenue.
      • They belonged to basically peasant caste and largely inhabiting under many mahals in the region of Delhi, Agra and trans Yamuna tracts.
      • The Jat rebellion was led by Gokula Jat, the zamindar of Talpat and then the leadership passed to Raja Ram Jat and Churaman Jat.
      • They refused to pay revenue and the jagirdar complained about non-receipt of anything for three years from the area.
      • The revolt grew with the time into a big plundering movement and several parganas were devastated as well as the trade routes were blocked.
      • The Jat rebellion had greatly undermined the strength of ,the Empire financially and politically and was suppressed with great difficulty. This was symtomatic of crisis.
    • Satnami sect rebelled in 1672.
      • The sect seems to had been founded in 1657 and having done away with caste distinction, it was living on charity of others.
      • The sect displayed an attitude of sympathy with the poor and hostility towards authority and wealth.
      • They abandoned the company of unjust kings.
      • The faith attracted the lower classes.
      • The rebellion started when a foot trooper was involved in a conflict with one peasant belonging to Satnami sect and the trooper got killed, when the district officials sent the contingent of troops to restore order the conflict began.
      • Initially, they (Satnami) defeated the imperial army and captured Narnaul and Bairat but finally, they were defeated by the large army sent from imperial court.
    • Irfan Habib characterised Sikhism as a peasant religion because most of the Nanak’s verse are in the language of jatt (lingua franca of peasants) and they become great masands (agents) of the Guru.
      • Guru Arjan Das created a disciplined organisation and Guru Hargobind created an army and this had brought them into inevitable conflict with the Mughals which continued till Guru Gobind Singh and later on Banda continued the conflict for some time.
      • The rise of Sikhism, and assimilation of lower caste into the fold and prolonged rebellion greatly diluted the authority of zamindars and jagirdars thus, created agrarian crisis which undermined the strength of the Empire.
    • Further several small rebellions, around Allahabad in 1662 as referred by Manunchy; Meos rebellion in Mewat in 1630 and 1649-50, and against them first organised campaign was undertaken only in 1703, rebellion of Watt us, Dogas and Gujars in Lakhi jungle who kept on ravaging several sarkars, and Bundela rebellion were detrimental to the strength of Empire.
    • Irfan Habib suggests the agrarian contexts in which the Maratha movement had started which become great force and could singularly cause decline of the Empire.
      • Bhimsen informs us that zamindars obtained power and aligned with the Marathas and on the other hand, the Mughal jagirdars were not able to collect land revenue from the area under Maratha influence because they were not maintaining requisite number of troops.
      • The peasants of imperial territory, due to excesses of jagirdars in revenue collection and absence of any concessions and incentive, started joining Marathas.
      • The Marathas also distributed the Mughal territory among its chiefs and the peasants had to pay the taxes twice – once to Mughal jagirdars and other to the Maratha chief who could plunder the village on non payment.
      • The lack of protection from the imperial authorities further pushed the peasants in the hands of Marathas. Although peasants had aided Shivaji but he was not the leader of peasant uprising.
      • Similarly peasants were not free from oppression in Maratha regime as well.
    • It is apparent that the agrarian crisis had its genesis in the Mughal systems and once the Empire became weak, it failed to arrest such crisis and the downfall of the Empire became inevitable.
    • By 1667, one-third of Bengal silk was exported, through Dutch and English East India Companies as well as Armenian merchants, but destination remained Europe and only third remained for Indian markets.
      • Obviously this had put Indian supply market under great stress as the production did not increase much due to stationary technology which had put the eastern Empires under extreme strain and intensified the financial difficulties of the ruling classes and this caused greater agrarian exploitation, which proved counterproductive and acted as catalyst to the crisis.
    • European urban growth was due to cumulative effect of the growth of the new science and technology. In contrast the pace of such development was very slow in Mughal India. Since, the urbanisation was the result of the technological growth in Europe and it could provide a ‘safety valve’ during time of agrarian crisis, whereas the Indian urban centres were parasitical in nature, depending on the expropriation of agrarian surplus and once agrarian sector faced crisis the scope of urban growth too declined.
      • In other words, so long as craft production did not obtain independent base as happened in Europe, it could not take the shock of agrarian crisis. Perhaps due to this Mughal Empire in spite of its army was susceptible to face challenge and crisis from ill armed zamindars and peasants rebels.
    • Mughals were able to create an elaborate administrative structure which had sustained the Empire but the Empire’s sustenance greatly dependent on the appropriation of the surplus and the process of this appropriation was largely dependent on zamindars and jagirdars.
      • The system perfectly worked till late 17th century and so the surplus extraction continued smoothly which in turn allowed the luxury of ruling class and provided life to the parasitic urban centre.
      • But once, the appropriation got disturbed due to the agrarian crisis, the Mughal urban centres could not find alternative means for survival nor the Mughal state was capable to provide solution as it was completely dependent on the surplus.
      • Therefore, the Empire edifice was so dependent on agrarian system that its crisis proved to be terminal for the Empire.
    • The series of rebellions in later half of 17th and 18th centuries and Aurangzeb’s Deccan policy heavily drained the resources of the Empire which had become scarce due to the agrarian crisis.
    • After death of Aurangzeb’s death, rulers rose and fell with startling rapidity and no one seriously pondered to save the sinking ship by overcoming the crisis.
      • The frequent disruption and disintegration shook the foundation of the Empire.
      • The administrative institutions like mansabdari and jagirdari also suffered. There was an acute shortage of jagir which created payment problems and mansabdars were not able to maintain obligated contingent. Instead, they were involved in corrupt practices thus greatly weakened the famed Mughal army. 
  • Re-examination of ‘Crisis’:
    • Pearson:
      • Mughal rule was indirect. It was not state control but local ties and norms which governed the lives of people.
      • The nobles were bound to the Empire only by patronage, which depended on the “constant military success” of the Emperor.
      • Once Mughal patronage slackened due to the lack of any further military expansion, and, a shortage of fertile areas to be allotted as jagirs arose, the “personalised bureaucracy” of the Mughal Empire showed signs of distress. This sounded the death-knell for the Mughal system.
    • J. F. Richards:
      • He questioned the long held belief that the Deccan was a deficit area which generated bejagiri (absence of Jagir) leading to the Mughal decline.
      • He said, the jagirdari crisis was of an administrative and managerial nature.
        • The augmentation of the revenue resources of the Empire following the annexation of the Deccan states roughly kept pace with the expansion of the nobility during the second half of Aurangzeb’s reign.
      • The lack of pai baqi land was due to a deliberate decision on Aurangzeb’s part to keep the most lucrative Jagirs under khalisa in order to provide for a continued campaigning in the Karnataka and against the Marathas. Thus, the crisis was an administrative one and not caused by bejagiri.
    • Distinction between bejagiri and the crisis in Jagirdari:
      • Satish Chandra resolved problem of bejagiri to some extent.
      • The crisis of the Jagir system did not occur because of the growth in the size of the ruling class and the corresponding decline in the land earmarked to be assigned in jagir (i.e. bejagiri).
        • Jagir system was in crisis because of its non-functionality.
      • Functioning of the Jagirdari system:
        • A tripolar relationship between the peasants, the zamindars and the mansabdar/jagirdar formed the base on which the Mughal edifice rested.
        • The ability of the mansabdar/jagirdar to collect land revenue from the zamindars and keep the raiyat engaged in agricultural production was the key to successful working of the jagir system.
        • The jagirdar could perform his functions properly if he could maintain his military might.
        • This of course was based on his ability to muster enough revenue and resources from his jagir in order to maintain the requisite contingent of troopers.
        • Any factor which could disturb this neat balancing of jagirdar-zamindar-peasant parameter would ultimately cause the decline of the Empire.
      • Satish Chandra argues that:
        • The crisis of the jagir system had made its appearance fairly early in the history of the Empire.
          • The problem re-surfaced under Jahangir and Shah Jahan when the Empire had expanded to fringe arms beyond the fertile tracts of the Ganga-Yamuna doab.
        • Towards the end of Shah Jahan reign, the difference between jama (assessed revenue) and hasil (revenue actually collected) in jagir lands became too glaring.
          • The number of sawars he maintained had to be reduced proportionally and influence of the jagirdar proportionally lower.
        • Once the military power of the jagirdar was eroded, the tripolar relationship which sustained the Empire fell apart.
        • Crisis of Jagirdari system could have been deferred if there was rapid economic development both in agricultural and non-agricultural sectors (trade).
  • Cultural failure theory (By Athar Ali):
    • According to this theory, the cultural failure of rulers of India in imbibing western knowledge and learning was responsible for the decline of the Mughals.
    • The technological backwardness of the Indians in various fields like agricultural production, craft production, seafaring activities (Mughal did not have control over high seas), military fields etc. led to the decline of the Mughals.
  • The “Great Firm” Theory of the Decline of the Mughal Empire (by Karen Leonard):
    • The Mughal decline has also been explained in terms of participation in the eighteenth century politics of groups conventionally regarded as non-political.
    • Indigenous banking firms were indispensable allies of the Mughal State, and that the great nobles “were more than likely to be directly dependent upon these firms.
    • When in the period 1650-1750 these banking firms began “the redirection of their economic and political support towards regional politics and rulers, including the English east India Company in Bengal, this led to bankruptcy, a series of political crises and the down fall of the Empire.
    • But this theory does not get adequate support from other historians as it is not right to suggest that the Mughal finance system was dependent on merchants’ credit.

The region-centric approach

The perspective goes out of the precincts of the Empire into the regions to look for the causes of turmoil or instability in different parts of the Empire.

Muzaffar Alam and Chetan Singh have used this approach.

Centre-Region Relationship:

  • By studying the regional literature of Mughal Subas of Awadh and Punjab, Muzaffar Alam gave his argument.
  • He suggests that the Mughal Empire signified a co-ordinating agency between conflicting communities and the various indigenous socio-political systems at different levels.
  • The Empire’s strength lay in the inability of the local  communities and their systems to mobilize beyond relatively narrow bounds.
  • The late 17th and early 18th century, at least in the Awadh and Punjab regions, registered unmistakable economic growth.
    • Social groups that had hitherto shared Mughal power and contributed to the political stability of the Empire, now began to take advantage of the economic boom in their regions.
    • Many of them amassed wealth which helped them to increase their power to encroach on the rights and privileges of others.
    • The political edifice of the Empire was bound to suffer in the face of these developments.
    • This is in sharp contrast to the more generalized argument that it was financial crisis which led to Mughal’s decline, as postulated by Satish Chandra and others.
  • Political integration in Mughal India was, up to a point, inherently flawed. It was dependent on the realization of local magnate (nobles) that they could not amass fortunes by themselves.
  • Madad-i ma’ash holders were meant to establish pockets of influence for the Empire in the far flung regions of the countryside. The emperors were of the view that the madad-i ma’ash grantees would keep in check the power of the recalcitrant zamindars and thereby aid in balancing the social and political groups that constituted the base of the Empire.
  • The Mughal decline in the early 18th century has to be seen in the inability of the state to maintain its policy of checks and balances between
    • zamindars,
    • jagirdars,
    • madad-i ma’ash holders (men of learning, who were given revenue free grants of land by the Mughal Emperors) and
    • the local indigenous elements; like the shaikhzada in Awadh.
  • Tension between these social group was not new and had happened earlier also but in the hey-day of the Empire these tensions had been contained, sometimes using military force and at other times by balancing out the power of one social group by settling another in the vicinity.
  • Muzaffar Alam concludes that the decline of the Mughal empire was manifested both in Awadh and the Punjab in a kind of political transformation and in the emergence and configuration of the elements of a new subadari.
  • The genesis for the emergence of independent regional units was present in both the provinces. But in Punjab it ended in chaos, while Awadh witnessed a stable dynastic rule.

Contours of Regional Polities:  

  • Chetan singh followed Muzaffar Alam and tried to understand Mughal decline by looking at regional development in early 18th century.
  • He argues that the Mughal administrative infrastructure no doubt linked the region to the Mughal administrative core. Yet, this conventional form of integration had its limitations.
  • He sees the process of dissociation at work in the hey day of the Empire.
  • Erosion of highly commercialized Punjab economy:
    • By the late 17th century the silting of the river Indus  had adversely affected the riverine traffic of Punjab.
    • The political upheavals in contemporary Turkey, fall of Qandahar to the Shah of Iran and the Mughal attempt to recover it virtually brought overland traffic to a standstill.
    • This development coincided with the Yusufzai uprising (1667) in North-West Punjab and the Afridi rebellion (1678).
    • These developments had grave social and economic consequences for Punjab: they disrupted trade and thereby gradually eroded the economy which was based on a commercialized agrarian sector.
  • The loosening of Punjab’s socio-economic structure led to social unrest in Punjab. However, since the benefits of trade and commerce had been unequally distributed in the region, the discomforts caused by the decline of trade varied in different areas of the Punjab.
    • Thus the areas most closely associated with the Sikh rebellion were those that were also among the most commercialized and therefore most easily affected by economic regression.
  • He concludes, the social unrest which eventually led to the dissociation of Punjab from the Empire was the product of long term processes.
    • These processes had silently and steadily been at work in the region even before the political weakening of Empire had gained momentum in the 18th century.

Thus looking at the disintegration of the Empire from the point of view of the regional history of Punjab different picture emerges. Not only did different subas of the Empire dissociate from it for different reasons, but very often the dissociation were caused by political, social and economic developments beyond the purview of the Mughal Empire.

Conclusion

It is difficult to find a single explanation commonly applicable to the problems of the Mughal Empire in all its regions and provinces. For similar reasons it is difficult to accept a view of Mughal decline which applies uniformly to all parts of the Mughal Empire.

  • The Mughal Empire at best represented a consensus of both the centre and the peripheries. In the early 18th century, it was this consensus which was disturbed.
  • Different peripheries that had constituted the Empire followed their own different paths of developments.
  • The eighteenth century regional histories thus indicate the endeavour to make use of the possibilities for growth within existing social structures.

Evidently the regional history perspective on Mughal decline negates the application of one general theory to explain Mughal collapse all over India.

  • For the Mughal Empire, at best, represented a consensus between the centre and the peripheries. The peripheries were integrated to the Mughal core not merely administratively.
  • For there was an economic and cultural assimilation between the conqueror and the vanquished. It was on certain shared economic and cultural spaces that the Mughal state structure rested.
    • Regions, held together by these heterogeneous linkages to the Mughal core, were bound to be vulnerable to the kinds of social, economic and cultural changes that swept through 17th century Mughal India.
  • Different regions were affected in different ways. While in some regions links with the Mughal core were severed, in others they were retained.
  • It was logical that the different regions followed different paths of dissociation from the Mughal Empire. Mughal decline was thus much more complex than what the historians subscribing to the Mughal-Centric approach would have us believe.

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