Bk. II ] History of Muslim Civilisation in India & Pakistan 586
religious duty. In the atmosphere of luxury and high living, which developed in later Mughal society, this presumption was rarely fulfilled and very few qadis maintained the high standards of integrity expected of them.
Estimates of Mughal Government
The government of ”the Grand Mogul,” as it was often called, enjoyed a high reputation in contemporary Europe. For a long time afterwards, when memories were still fresh, the same impression continued. Warren Hastings spoke warmly of the work done by the Mughals and called on the officers of the East India Company to keep their example before them. Sir John Shore, who was Governor-General of India from 1793 to
1798, also spoke appreciatively of the Mughal system of government ”in which the rights and privileges of different orders of the people were acknowledged and secured by institutions derived from the Hindus, which, while faithfully and vigorously administered, seemed calculated to promote the prosperity of the natives, and to secure a due realisation of the revenues of the state”.22 Scrafton, who was British Resident in Murshidabad in 1758 and published his Reflections on the Government of Indostan only six years after the battle of Plassey, says about the Mughal system of administration that, till the invasion of Nadir Shah, ”there was scarce of better administered government in the world. The manufactures, commerce and agriculture flourished exceedingly; and none felt the hand of the oppression but those who were dangerous by their wealth or power.”23
Recently, however, the administrative system of the Mughals has been the subject of very adverse comments by Vincent A. Smith24 and W. H. Moreland, which now appears in a concentrated form in the Mughal Rule in India by Edwardes and Garrett. These comments have led to spirited rejoinders, among others, by Faruki, Sri Ram, Saran, and Banarsi Prasad. Moreland, relying mainly on the accounts of the European travellers and in particular on the complaints made by the English and the Dutch traders against the Mughal
( Ch. 25
officials in charge of ports and customs, has painted a very grim picture of the Mughal administration. His ^ar to Aurangzeb, though ostensibly a study of the social and economic conditions of the Mughal period, is, apart fr°m sections dealing with foreign trade, designed solely to bring out the deterioration in the condition of the country at the hands of the Mughal officials from the death of Akbar to that of Aurangzeb, and has very little to say about the principal matters with which historians usually deal in relation to social and economic conditions. In paragraphs more reniin’scent °’ Hyde Park oratory than sober history, Moreland sums up:
”Weavers naked themselves, toiled to cloth£ others. Peasants themselves hungry, toiled to feed the towns an<^ cltiesIndia, taken as a unit, parted with useful comm0^1’68 in exchange with gold or silver, or, in other words, gave ”read for stones. Men and women, living from season to season on the verge of hunger, could be contented so long as the suPP’y of food held out; when it failed, as it often did, theif hope of salvation was the slave trader, and the alternatives were cannibalism, suicide or starvation.”25
To make out his case for the misery of the peasants, Moreland has relied on Aurangzeb’s order that, in or^er to bring more land under cultivation, every method should be employed, and if, by use of concessions, grant of ’oans an(* other reasonable and favourable treatment, the required resu’ts were not obtained, force should be used. Moreland’s ma’n ’me of argument, brought out largely by quotation fr°m tne accounts of foreign travellers,26 is that the conditi°n °’ Q peasantry very much deteriorated under Jahangir and Shah Jahan, and became infinitely worse during the reign of Aurangzeb.
There is no doubt that under a personal system of government there is a great scope for adi”n’stratlve oppression, and, owing to prolonged war in tl>e Deccan, conditions in certain rural areas must have been abnormally bad during the days of Aurangzeb. We have dealt elsewhere with the general deterioration in administration which began in
Bk. II ] History of Muslim Civilisation in India & Pakistan 588
Jahangir’s reign. Moreland’s basic thesis regarding the treatment of peasantry under Aurangzeb is, however, not warranted, either by the data available or by a fair and careful study of Aurangzeb’s conscientious and perfectly defensible instructions. Moreland had held that the increase in revenue from the days of Akbar to the days of Aurangzeb in itself is a measure of increased burden which the peasantry had to bear. Faruki has, however, shown that owing to the largescale addition of new territories, and continuous efforts at increased cultivation, the area under plough had increased by 119% (i.e. from 1,270,440 bighas in 1594 to 278.176,156 bighas in
1720), while the revenue assessment increased by 75%. Further, although standard assessment of revenue was Rs
332,696,241, the actual collections amounted to Rs 189, 934,
863, i.e. a little above one-half of the actual demand.27 Faruki has dealt at length with various points raised by Moreland. It is not possible to deal with these details here, but, even on a superficial study of the subject, it appears a strange misreading of Aurangzeb’s fiscal policy to hold that he favoured increase of financial burden upon his subjects. The full effect of his remission of early eighty taxes or cesses has not been worked out, and even if it is accepted that some of these remissions were not given effect to by dishonest officials, these must have brought considerable relief to the general population. So far as land revenue in Northern India is concerned, Aurangzeb made no change in the old arrangements. He, however, worked out a new revenue system for the Deccan, and here one can clearly see the characteristics of his fiscal policy. He fixed the State demand at one-fourth, against one-third fixed by Todar Mai during Akbar’s days. Even this proportion was high by modern standards, but surely it was lower than Akbar’s and shows the direction in which the wind was blowing in Aurangzeb’s reign.
The shift from rural areas to cities was not confined to Aurangzeb’s days, and need not have been due merely to causes unflattering to the Mughal administration. The position of the Indian agriculturist with agriculture being a proverbial
[ Ch. 25
”gamble in rains” could not have been happy under the Mughals, as it is not very happy even today, in spite of a series of measures taken for the agriculturists’ benefit. In 1932, The Reserve Bank of India, after a careful survey of agriculture in the subcontinent, came to the conclusion that by and large it was ”uneconomic”. The position under the Mughals must have been similar, if not worse, but the development of new cities under the Mughals, the growth of foreign trade with its economic consequences, increased scope for employment under the government, must also have made towns and cities more ractive than rural areas.
According to Smith, ”the hired labourer in the time of Akbar and Jahangir had probably more to eat than he has now”.28 Moreland also admits that in Akbar’s days ”speaking generally, the masses lived on the same economic plane as now”.29
So far as official oppression is concerned, there is no doubt that the Mughal system of government was, in the last analysis, despotic and, as we have stated earlier, officials corruption increased from Jahangir’s days. There were cases of oppression and official corruption, but Moreland omits to mention the continuous efforts made by the rulers to deal with them and the large number of instances in which officials against whom complaints were received were punished. On these points, he ignores the evidence, not only of Muslim chroniclers, but of Hindu writers like Sujan Rai. Saran has quoted numerous such cases. After examining the entire system, he has come to the conclusion:
”In view of these agencies of restraint and supervision of the local administration, it would be no exaggeration to say that due allowance being made for stray cases of misgovernment or oppression-cases which occur even under the best of Governments and which no Government can entirely eliminate-peace and security reigned and the people were on the whole happy and contented.”30
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Dealing with the ”European criticism” of the Mughal government, Sri Ram says: ”European critics, partly judging by modern standards and partly reluctant to acknowledge that India was even more prosperous than in modern times, are rather chary to admit the truth of the above (favourable) description...”31 It is not necessary to attribute motives, but apparently many modern English writers, by concentrating attention on some facts of the situation and by ignoring others, have painted a picture which is, by and large, misleading. For example, by concentrating on occasional acts of religious discrimination and intolerance they have created an impression that there was systematic and continuous persecution of Hindus, while the contemporary European travellers and particularly the Jesuits were almost shocked at the state of toleration which they saw in the country.
Some Continental writers have seen things more clearly and fairly. Bartold, the eminent Russian orientalist, says in his survey: ”Only India under the grand Mughals lived under different condition; and the Islamic state in that country was superior to contemporary Europe in riches and religious tolerance.”32
It is interesting to turn from Vincent Smith and Edwardes and Garret to a slightly earlier British historian. Sydney Owen writes:
”... the Great Mogul winked at and condoned the misbelief of the bulk of his subjects, and their strange practices; showed special favour to their more eminent men; admitted them freely to high posts, both civil and military, and thus, figuring in the capacity of the father of all his people, made it their interest and their pride to served and sustain a regime so liberal, comprehensive and considerate.”33
Sydney Owen describes the principal features of the Mughal government in the following words:
”Though the Government was despotic, and particular acts of great severity are recorded, its general tone was mild and
[ Ch. 25
humane. Taxation was light; and its most productive source,
the land revenue, was moderately assessed, and equitably
adjusted. Foreign commerce was protected and favoured; and
the English East India Company throve, and multiplied its
factories, under the shadow of the Imperial authority. The
judicial system, though what we should consider crude and
capricious, as well as too often corruptly exercised, was not
liable like our own to the tedious delay, which have been its
reproach, and which have so much tended to obstruct, and even
defeat, the course of justice. And the right of appealing to the
Emperor from inferior tribunals, though too generally a futile
privilege, was sometimes really remedial, and probably was a
standing check to judicial inequity.
Much the same may be said as to the provincial Governors.”34
Owen recalls that in the middle of the seventeenth century, the empire of the Great Mughal ”was renowned both in Asia and in Europe,” and sums up the position thus1 ”Whatever its defects, it was, on the whole a grandly conceived, welladjusted, and beneficent structure of dominion.”35
Causes of the Mughal Downfall. A number of factors were responsible for what appears to be the sudden collapse of the Mughal authority after the death of Aurangzeb, but the basic cause was one. The Mughals maintained a mighty empire for centuries, and established a government and a social organisation, impressive by Asiatic standards, but they had not been able to keep pace with the rapid, almost cataclysmic changes which were taking place in intellectual matters, military organisation, instruments of offence and defence, and other factors which make for stability and prosperity of a state. The intellectual revolution in Western Europe, the new spirit and the new discoveries, the wide diffusion of knowledge due to the introduction of printing had released forces which were bound to result in European domination. ”At the same time that Europe has been steadily advancing, the stationary Muhammadans had been relatively falling back, and every year has increased the distance
Bk. II ] History of Muslim Civilisation in India & Pakistan 592
between Europe and Asia in knowledge, organisation, accumulated resources and acquired capacity, and made it increasingly difficult for the Asiatics to compete with the Europeans.” It was merely a question of time when a Medieval organisation, however impressive, would give way before the modern.
Modern Muslim apologists are never tired of saying that the Muslim Arabs took the torch of learning to Western Europe, and were at one time the intellectual leaders of the world. They, however, fail to point out that, while Europe steadily continued to march forward, in the East forces of progress were defeated by the forces of conservatism and reaction. Partly it was the fault of the ”progressive” to which we have referred while dealing with the intellectuals at Akbar’s court. Partly it was the result of historical developments. The destruction of libraries and seats of learning during the Mongol holocaust and the rigorous methods adopted by ruling groups, vested interests and champions of conservatism, were other factors responsible for Muslim intellectual stagnation. The political system which came to dominate the Muslim world was not conducive to free intellectual growth. The result was that, not only progress stopped, but there was actual regression, resulting in increasing loss of objectivity, moral courage and intellectual curiosity.
The decline of Muslim government in India as in other lands was basically due to their failure to progress in vital fields in proportion to the progress elsewhere. Most of the causes directly responsible for the Mughal decline stemmed from this root. Even a ruler so open-minded and receptive as Akbar failed to see the possibilities of the introduction of printing. Without a general spread of knowledge, unattainable without printing, no great society could be built. The paucity of books resulted in comparative ignorance, lower standards of education and limitation of the subjects of study. These factors were responsible for the governing classes being ignorant of the affairs of the outside world. The position becomes clear if we only study the list of the books about the Indo-Pak
[ Ch. 25
subcontinent which were printed in Europe during the seventeenth century, i.e. before the death of Aurangzeb. While European statesmen had penetrating and up-to-date studies of the conditions in Mughal Empire by Bernier and others before them, there was no real addition to the Mughal knowledge of their own dominion since the days of A ’in-i Akbari.
The stagnation visible in the intellectual field was paralleled in the military sphere. Babur had introduced gunpowder in India, but after him there was no real improvement in military equipment of the Mughals The organisation and discipline of forces had been completely revolutionised 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. In spite of this, the Mughals neglected the navy. Mughal helplessness on the sea was visible from the days of Akbar Their ships could not sail to Mecca without a ”safe conduct” from the Portuguese. Foreigners knew this weakness and exploited it. 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 sea”. 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 a European power having these advantages.
On the land no real progress or largescale training of local personnel in the use of artillery was made or undertaken in Mughal India and the best they could do was to hire foreigners to man the artillery. The military weakness resulting from this was obvious, and was clearly visible to discerning foreign observers. Writing about the Mughal army, 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
Bk. II ] History of Muslim Civilisation in India & Pakistan 594
reflecting upon the ease with which five-and-twenty thousand of our veterans from the army in Flanders, commanded by Prince Conde or Marshal Turenne would overcome these armies, however, numerous.”36
With this condition of the Mughal army, of which the alien observers were aware, the downfall of the Empire was only a question of time.
The causes of the military weakness of the Mughals were not merely technical. The deeper causes were economic. If the army was to be properly organised, trained and equipped, it had to be a large professional army. The greatly increased use of firearms and artillery necessitated this. The feudal cavalry was unequal to the task, but the maintenance of a large standing army on modern lines was not possible without a proper economic base which was not provided by the predominantly agricultural economy maintained on a low technological level.
The other important factor which contributed to the fall of the Mughal Empire was moral decay of the ruling classes. This was partly due to the case and luxury, which was engendered by the peace and prosperity introduced by Mughal government and which became the order of the day under Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The good things of life were in such abundance and such high standards of living were maintained by monarchs like Shah Jahan and queens like Nur Jahan that rich ostentations living became the ambition of everybody who could afford it. The puritanical Aurangzeb tried to arrest the tide but without success. His own Wazir did not follow his example, and in any case 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, and a few years later under Muhammad Shah Rangila. Perhaps the extreme asceticism and self-denial of Aurangzeb only intensified the reaction and the inner resistance on the part of the spoiled nobility. Aurangzeb was nearly twenty years in the hills of Deccan, while his nobles pined for the pleasures of the capital. Some of them like Ni’mat Khan ’Ali had their revenge
[ Ch. 25
in verses ridiculing and satirising the fate of the Mughal army. The moral breakdown of others took a more reprehensible shape. Mughal commanders were no longer the tough, hardy soldiers of the days of Babur and Akbar and they adopted all stratagems to shirk arduous, unpleasant tasks. Many a Maratha hill fortress captured after a long and dreary siege was lost because the Mughal commander was unwilling to spend the monsoon months in his lonely perch and came down to the plains, while the hardy Marathas, awaiting for the opportunity, moved in. ”The demoralisation of the army was one of the principal factors in the disintegration of the empire.”’7
The moral decline of the nobles showed itself, not only in a loss of spirit, lack of discipline, laziness, evasion of duty or even treacherous conduct, but made them rapacious and heartless in dealing with the public. The extravagant standards, which Mughal bureaucrats tried to maintain, were not possible without corruption, extortion and enrichment of officers directly or indirectly at the expense of the State. These evils increased as the Mughal authority weakened during the eighteenth century, but their seeds had been sown* in earlier days and they were a natural results of the efforts of the officers to maintain standards beyond their means.
The demoralisation of the Mughal nobility was greatly accelerated by the play of economic forces. Extravagant living was facilitated by the new sea-borne trade with Europe which made largescale iimport of European novelties and luxuries possible. Corruption of bureaucracy was also engendered by the fall of th»e value of money, due to the import of specie and other fa^ctors. The economic structure of the society was also undergoing farreaching changes. The place of Muslims in the vastly increased maritime trade was taken by foreigners or their local agents, who were Indian Christians or IHindus or Parsis. At the ports or big commercial centers a new class of businessmen and financiers was arising, butt Muslim had no share of this economic activity. The moiral dec me
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deepened with the breakdown of the fabric of government, and later of society. Even ordinarily society under a despotic regime, largely unregulated by written and enforced civil law, has many ugly features. It breeds sycophancy and stunts moral growth. The position becomes much worse when there is little to share, and everybody is cruel and ruthless and indulges in unscrupulous struggle to grab what he can. In Muslim India of the eighteenth century, the position was saved for some time by spiritual influences. Later the reforms of Shah Wali Allah and his sons infused a new life among Muslims and provided the basis for the efforts of Sayyid Ahmad Brelvi and Sayyid Ahmad Khan. In the later half of the eighteenth century, however, it appeared that the political affairs of the community were, to quote Keene, in the hands of ”an aristocracy without conscience” and were governed by ”that base and tortuous selfishness, which in the East, more than elsewhere, usually passed for statecracft.’”58
These were the basic factors responsible for the downfall of the Mughal Empire. Many others were contributory. The fact that after the death of Aurangzeb no ruler of the requisite vigour and resourcefulness sat on the throne made recovery of the position lost impossible. Even the very long life of Aurangzeb was an asset of doubtful value in the last stages. He sat on the throne till the age of ninety and though, till the very end, he drove himself hard and resolutely, and conscientiously performed his duties, he was subject to the laws governing human machinery. When Aurangzeb 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 before death overtook him, and with his death a disastrous chapter opened in Mughal annals.
An important factor, which militated against the peaceful continuity of the Muslim government, was the absence of a well defined rule of succession. Islam had not visualised monarchy, and Muslim Law did not lay down any principles for monarchical succession. The result was that every son of a deceased king felt that he had an equal claim to the crown, and
[ Ch. 25
succession to the throne was invariably accompanied by bloody warfare. ”Within a little more than a decade after Aurangzeb’s death, seven fierce battles for imperial succession occurred, in which large numbers of princes and trained soldiers were slain.” One of these wars brought the Sayyid brothers to the fore, and released forces which struck a devastating blow to the prestige of the Mughal monarchy. Apart from this loss of valuable personnel in repeated wars of succession, there was a continuous dislocation of administration. A disastrous development started when the princes, often viceroys governing vast territories, and their supporters, started making deals with the outsiders, to ensure their support at the time of the fateful struggle. Shuja’ started this in Bengal with foreign settlers. Later the Marathas were called in and that was the beginning of the end.
Vincent Smith has stated that the basic cause of the decline of the Mughal Empire consisted in its ”shallow roots,” as it ”lacked popular support, the strength based upon patriotic feelings, and stability founded upon ancient traditions”.39 Edwardes and Garrett have endorsed this view. It is, however,totally incorrect. The Mughals, of course came as foreigners, but they so completely identified themselves with the population here that they ceased to be treated as such. The aim of the Mughal kingship was, as pointed out by Sydney Owen, to be ”the father of all the people,” both Hindus and Muslims, and this aim was normally pursued. The Mughal Empire, far from having any ”Shallow roots,” was so deeply embedded in the affection of the people that long after it ceased to be a major military or political force, it continued to exist mainly on account of its prestige and the affection it inspired. Even when the Marathas, the declared enemies of the Mughals, secured real power at Delhi, they did not disturb Shah Alam.40 The fact that the Mughals had never to face any widespread rising, like the Indian Struggle of 1857, would itself show how deep-rooted and strong their hold was.