Downfall of the Mughal empire

        Mughal empire started its decline from the beginning of eighteenth century. Nine Mughal emperors followed one another in quick succession in the 50 years following the death Aurangzeb. Mughal Govenors of Awadh, Bengal and Deccan freed themselves from the control of the Central Government and the Hindu powers found the time opportune for assertion of their independence. Invaders from north-west repeated their incursions in search of wealth and European trading companies dabbled in Indian politics. Baji Rao I’s raid of Delhi (1737) and Nadir Shah’s invasion (1739) exposed the weakness of the Mughal empire and by 1740 the fall of the empire was an accomplished fact, by the close of eighteenth century the empire had shrunk to a few kilometers around Delhi. After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, a war of succession amongst his three surviving sons, Muazzam, the Governor of Kabul, Azam, the Governor of Gujarat and Kam Baksh, the Governor of Bijapur. Muazzam defeated both Azam at Jajua and Kam Baksh near Hyderabad and ascended the Mughal throne with the name of ‘Bahadur Shah’.  He was also known as Shah Alam I. Below are the important causes for the downfall of the Mughal empire.

  • The Mughal Empiie had become too big and complex to be governed from a single centre.
  • Aurangzeb’s policy of Deccan occupied half of his life. His religious intolerance earned the wrath of the Hindus. His Government was a personal despotism and lacked popular support.
  • The successors of Aurangzeb were not competent. They were pleasure loving and dependent on unscrupulous ministers.
  • The attacks of Nadir Shah and Ahamed Shah Abdali left the Mughal EmpiIe in shambles.
  • The internal rivalries and fratricidal wars dismembered the very fabric of administration and led to chaos.
  • The rise of Marathas was also a strong cause.

Later Mughal Emperors:

Bahadur Shah (1707-1712 A.D.):

Prince Muazzam emerged, victorious in the war of succession and ascended the throne with the name of Bahadur Shah at the age of 67. He adopted a more tolerant attitude towards Hindus. The Jizyah was withdrawn and independence of Mewar and Marwar was acknowledged, He released Shahu. He gave a high Mansab to Guru Govind Singh. After the death of Guru Govind Singh, Sikhs rebelled under the leadership of Banda Bahadur. During the course of a campaign against Barida, he died in 1712. There was deterioration in the field of administration during his reign. The Mughal historian Khafi Khan gives him the title of “Shah-i-bekhabar”.  With the death of Bahadur Shah a new element entered Mughal politics and the war of succession, previously, the contest for power was between the royal princes, the nobles had merely backed and sided with them. Now they became direct aspirants to the throne and began using the princes as pawns to capture authoritarian positions.

Jahandar Shah (1712-1713 A.D.):

Jahandar Shah won the war of succession due to the support Zulfiqar Khan, the most powerful Iranian noble of the time. Jahandar Shah was the first puppet ruler in Mughal India. The administration was virtually in the hands of Zulfiqar Khan. He was a clever man and advocated a friendly policy towards Rajputs, Marathas and Hindu Chieftains not only to strengthen his own position but to ensure the survival of the empire. He tried to improve the finance of the empire by checking the reckless growth of jagirs and offices and forced the mansabdars to maintain their official quota of troops. But he also introduced the evil practice of revenue farming or ijarah. Jai Singh of Amber was given the title of Mirza Raja Sawai and Ajit Singh was awarded the title of Maharaja. Shahu was granted to collect the Chauth and Sardeshmukhi of Deccan. Jahandar Shah was defeated at Agra in 1713 by Farrukh Siyar.

Kanwar Khan has talked about his reign-in these words: “The owl dwelt in the eagle’s nest and the crow took the place of nightingale.” 

Farrukh Siyar (1713-1719 A.D.):

He had succeeded to the throne with the help of Syed Brothers. To repay that obligation, he appointed Syed Abdulah Khan as Wazir and his younger brother Hussain Ali Khan as Mir Bakshi. Zulfiqar Khan was murdered. Banda Bahadur, the Sikh leader was executed at Delhi. Hussain Ali made a settlement with Balaji Vishwanath by which he made many concessions to the Marathas in return of their active armed assistance in the struggle for supremacy going on in Delhi. In 1719, Syed brothers with the help of Maratha troops killed Farrukh Siyar.

Syed brothers abolished Jizyah completely and the pilgrim tax was also abolished from a number of places.

Rafi-ud-Darj at (1719 A.D.): After Farrukh Siyar, Syed brothers placed him on the throne, but he died of consumption within four months.

Rafi-ud-Daulah (1719 A.D.): He was placed on the throne with the title of Shah Jahan II by Syed brothers.

Muhammad Shah (1719-1748 A.D.): Muhammad Shah (Roshan Akhtar) also ascended the throne with the help of Syed brothers. A conspiracy was hatched by the nobles against the Syed brothers, who were murdered by the nobles in 1720. 

Nizam-ul-mulk was appointed the wazir of the empire. But instead of supporting Nizam, the emperor suspected his own ministers. So, Nizam chose to pursue his own ambitions.

Nizam-ul-mulk set up an autonomous state in Deccan. Saadat Khan carved out a state for himself in Avadh while Murshid Quli Khan became virtually independent in Bengal. The Maratha under Bajirao I raided Delhi in March 1717. Nadir Shah invaded India in 1739. Ahmad Shah Abdali, raided the kingdom for the first time during his reign. His addiction to wine and women got him the nick name "Rangila". He loved dancing and was an expert Kathak dancer. Rustam Ali, The author of Tarik-i-Hind says that "Muhammad Shah was negligent of his duties, even he did not know if he had any duty to perform".

Ahmad Shah (1748-1784 A.D.): He was born to Muhammad Shah through a dancing girl Udham Bai. Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded Delhi many times and Punjab and Multan were ceded to them. The Maratha snatched Malwa and Bundelkhand. His wazir, Imad-ul-Mulk, blinded him and placed Alamgir II on the throne.

Alamgir II (1754-1759 A.D.): Azizuddin took the title of Alamgir II. Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded Delhi. He was murdered by his wazir Imad-ul-mulk.

Shah Alam II (1759 - 1806 A.D.): Prince Ali Gauhar took the title of Shah Alam II. He crowned himself under Sujauddaulah’s protection at Gothauli in Bihar. Another prince Shahjahan III was placed on the throne of Delhi. Shah Alam had to remain in exile for twelve years. He was defeated by British in 1764 at the Battle of Buxar and lived for several years at Allahabad as a pentioner of the East India Company. By the Treaty of Allahabad, the emperor received the territories of Allahabad and Kara and an annual tribute of 26 lakhs from Bengal. By a firman, the emperor confirmed the English gains and granted them Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. In 1803, the English captured Delhi. Shah Alam died In 1806 as a prisoner .of British.

Akbar Il (1806 - 1837 A.D.): During his reign Raja Ram Mohan Roy went to England. 

Bahadur Shah II (1837 – 1862 A.D.): He was the last Mughal Emperor, Lord Dalhousie agreed to recognise Mirza Fakhruddin as heir if they left the Delhi fort and moved to Qutb Minar area.  Lord Canning decided to drop the title of king.   After the Revolt of 1857, Bahadur Shah was deported to Rangoon where he died in 1862. Thus Mughal empire came to an end. 

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