Reasons of fall of Mughal Empire

Reasons of fall of Mughal Empire

This article deals with ‘ Reasons of fall of Mughal Empire – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Reasons of fall of Mughal Empire

1.Aurangzeb’s  policies

  • Alienation of Hindus  who constituted majority of population of India with his policy of religious bigotism . The imperialist designs & narrow religious policies of Aurangzeb turned the Rajputs , reliable supporters of the imperial dynasty into foes .
  • Expansionist military campaigns in western India against  Bijapur, Golconda & Marathas which drained wealth of empire & expanded empire beyond the point of effective control (this expedition is called Deccan Ulcer like Spanish Ulcer which caused downfall of Napoleon) 
  • But some other historians believe that the roots of Mughal decline lay in institutions and systems intrinsic to Mughal administration, rather than in personalities or specific policies .

2. Institutions of Mughal Empire

  • Mughal state was a WAR STATE in core .  It developed a centralised administrative system whose vitality depended on its military power with emperor standing at apex & Mansabdars or military aristocracy beneath
  • Appointment , promotion or dismissal of Mansabdars and jagirs allotted to them was done by emperor alone leading to personal loyalty and there was no national, ethnic or religious loyalty .  Effectiveness and the permanence of this relationship depended on the personal qualities of the emperor and the constant expansion of resources, which explains the constant drive towards territorial conquests in Mughal India. But there were no more conquests since the late years of Aurangzeb

3. Jagirdari Crisis

  • This was created because too many Mansabdars were chasing too few jagirs & many of them have to remain jagirless for years 
  • In Words of Satish Chandra :“The available social surplus was insufficient to defray the cost of administration, pay for wars of one type or another and to give the ruling class a standard of life in keeping with its expectations” . This happened because of the
    1. Unusual increase in the number of mansabdars at a time when the area to be distributed as jagir (or paibaqi) remained stagnant or even declined.
    2. Revenue collection, particularly in the south, fell far short of the estimated income, diminishing in turn the real income of the jagirdars in disturbed areas.
    3. To make matters worse, there was a continuous price rise since the late seventeenth century, as the supply of luxury goods flowed towards the European markets, putting the Mughal aristocracy in further distress.
    4. As too many mansabdars were now chasing too few jagirs, many of them had to remain jagir- less for years; and even when a jagir was assigned, there was no guarantee that they would not be transferred within a short period. The entire aristocracy, therefore, suffered from a tremendous sense of personal insecurity.
  • This jagir crisis was not, however, a new phenomenon, as there had always been gaps between collection of revenue and the estimated revenue income of a particular jagir. The crisis increased during the last years of Aurangzeb, mainly because of the Deccan wars. There was now a rise in the number of mansabdars and the political turmoil made the collection of revenue a more difficult task. Also when two kingdoms of Golconda & Bijapur were added to Mughal empire , their noblemen were absorbed in Mughal aristocracy but what Aurangzeb did wrong was he converted large chunk of land to Khalisa ie royal land to finance his campaigns leading to artificial scarcity of jagirs . After his death & during Bahadur Shah’s time this reached to crisis situation
  • This crisis played important role in decreasing loyalty of aristocracy 

4. Weak successors of Aurangzeb

  • Had no hold over administration  & mere symbolic heads
  • Nadir Shah’s attack in 1738-39 gave final blow to Mughal prestige
  • Weren’t able to stop Maratha plunders which even reached upto suburbs of Delhi in 1734

5. No Upgradation of army & weak generals

  • Military reforms were not made with changing times + no new technology & weapons introduced in the army
  • The Mughal artillery was crude and ineffective against the guerrilla tactics of  Marathas . The Maratha fortresses which mughal  armies couldn’t capture despite repeated attempts easily succumbed to the British arms.
  • Dearth of capable commanders in Mughal army but this statement challenged by some historians saying that there were capable commanders like Sayyid Brothers, Abdus Samad Khan , Zakaria Khan,  Saadat Khan but all were occupied in self aggrandisement

6. Degeneration of Mughal Nobility

  • ‘When gold rusts what will iron do’ . Following the unworthy examples of the emperors, the nobles discarded hard life of military adventure & took to luxurious living. They became ‘knights of romance’ against ‘knights at arms’
  • At a time when the emperors ceased to be impartial judges for rewarding merit, the nobles had no incentive to fight & die for the empire

7. Structure of Nobility

  • Mughal nobility was divided into three warring factions
Irani Group Led by Asad Khan & his son Julfiqar Khan
Turani Group Led by Ghazi Uddin Khan & Feroz Jung & his son Chin Qulich Khan (Nizam ul Mulk)
Hindustani Sayyid Brothers , Khan-i-Dauran & some Afghani leaders 
  • Although no factional rivalries went beyond imperial court , nor lapsed into violent confrontations . No one questioned the divine rights of the Timurids to rule but every group tried to extend their influence over the emperors to  control the distribution of patronage
  • Proximity of one to centre of power alienated others & this gradually affected personal binds of loyalty between the emperor & nobleman . Each faction tried to win the emperor to its viewpoint & poison his ear against other faction.
  • Even in face of foreign danger these hostile groups couldn’t forge a united front & intrigued with invader. The personal interests of Nizam-ul-Mulk & Burhan-ul-Mulk led them to intrigue with Nadir Shah.

8. Defective Law of Succession

  • Absence of the Law of Primogeniture among the Mughals usually meant a war of succession among the sons of dying emperor in which military leaders of the time took side . Although this system was not commendable but has inherent advantage that it provided the country with the ablest son of the dying emperor as ruler .
  • But after Aurangzeb, the new principle that worked in Mughal dynasty was survival of the weakest . The Princes of Royal Dynasty receded to the background & struggle was fought by leaders of rival factions using royal prince as nominal leaders. Powerful nobles started to act as king makers to suit their personal interests  

9. Recurring peasant revolts

  • These revolts can be interpreted in various ways. They can be por­trayed as
    • Political assertion of regional and communitarian identities against an intruding centralising power or
    • As reactions against the bigoted religious policies of Aurangzeb. The latter interpretation seems to be more unlikely, as in the later span of his reign, Aurangzeb was showing more liberalism towards the non-believers and in fact wooing many of the Hindu local chieftains in a cool calculating move to win their loyalty and solve the political problems of the empire by isolating his enemies .
  • Mughal Empire was empire imposed from above . Its increasing economic pressures was never fully accepted by rural society but the fear of Mughal Army always acted as deterrent
  • But in late 17th century , weakness of Mughal army became apparent after it faced successive debacles & at same time oppression of Mughal ruling class increased . Resistance  to imperial authority also became widespread
  • In most cases rebellions were led by Local Zamindars (who were forced to pay more taxes by Mansabdars/ Zamindars and were often failing ) & fully backed by oppressed peasantry
  • Other major reason for the open defiance of the local landlords might have been the increasing oppression of the jagirdars. The earlier emperors tried to keep them in check through a system of rotation.

10. Rise of Marathas

  • Most powerful external factor that brought collapse of Mughal empire was the rising power of the Marathas .
  • Marathas inaugurated the policy of Greater Maharashtra & popularised the ideal of Hindu-pad padshahi . The ideal of Hindu Empire could only be realised at the cost of Mughal empire. Although they didn’t succeed in making Hindu Empire but they certainly played a great part in bringing about disintegration of the Mughal empire .

11. Perspective of Periphery

  • By Revisionist historians
  • Mughal decline was due to rise of new groups into economic & political power & inability of the distant & weakened centre to control them any longer
  • Even in 18th century there were some surplus regions like Awadh, Bengal, Benaras . This made more resources at disposal of Zamindars & peasants & powerful lineages who gained distinctively greater advantage & confidence vis a vis imperial centre
  • Taking advantage of weakening central control they found more convenient to repudiate their allegiance . Although they kept on sending share of revenue but Mughal control over these territories were not there

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