by Vanshita Chandwani
The Mughal Empire’s expansionary policies based on strong administrative practices; diverse, and inclusive elites; systematic, centralized, and uniform rule were extremely successful in gaining the faith of its subjects which led to a prosperous and flourishing reign. At the zenith of its territorial expanse, it ruled a quarter of the world’s population with a GDP of $90 billion.
The highest period of growth that the renaissance saw was probably during the reign of Akbar. This was aided by the strategic locations acquired by Akbar. Through warfare and diplomacy, Akbar had gained access to most of the Indian subcontinent that fell on the north of Godavari.
This opened Europe for trade and commerce, and a stable economy could be developed as revenues boomed. Along with economic development, the Mughals also emphasized cultural development. Various fairs in the interest of producers kept the overall aggregate demand of the economy high.
By the time Shah Jahan came into power, the Empire had also extended and flourished. Monuments were erected, and art was appreciated throughout the reign. The Mughals, however, were privileged enough to spend on luxury items, yet Shah Jahan’s obsession with architecture had drained the Mughal resources, and Jehangir’s addiction to opium had given adversaries and the internal administration a free reign to threaten the government exchequer.
Shah Jahan’s illnesses further weakened the internal administrative system and the treasury had to suffer. By this time, the cost of maintaining the luxurious palace, and the court began to exceed the revenue of the state.
Aurangzeb’s dictatorship enabled the resurgence of the political power of the state, but his conservatism continued to undermine its stability. Eventually, He lost popular support. Rajputs who had acted as strong pillars of the empire had turned bitter foes, making this the first major rift within the family and the first sign of division.
Another change that this period saw was in the relationship of the nobles with the monarchs. Instead of directly being paid from the government exchequer, the nobles were allotted lands and were given a share of the revenues. Zamindars were appointed to manage the lands, which led to an emergence of classes in the society which created a hierarchy.
The poor were deprived, and this was seen as the beginning of the corruption of systems in the Empire. The opportunist Marathas saw this as the perfect time to assert militant power which would lead to the terminal decline of the dynasty but Aurangzeb’s battles in the south shook up the economy, and the Mughals never directly gained control over the Deccan. The warrior troops of Marathas and Telugus exhausted all their resources.
The Marathas took over important provinces of Punjab and Bengal which were major contributors to the government’s repository, and the revenues dipped drastically. The loss of these provinces was not just a mere monetary loss for the dynasty but also implied a significant fall in the resources available. These were as important geographically as they were economical.
The lack of access to the ports of Bengal took a toll on trade, and lack of access to the roadways of Punjab impeded movement in the state. Marathas also got an edge over the Empire when its diplomatic relations weakened further and the Empire broke-up.
The increasing number of provinces declared their independence and formed sovereign territories. Nawabs of Bengal, Oudh, Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Shah of Afghanistan cut their ties with the Empire. These independent states would later become easy targets for the English East India Company to exploit.
Aurangzeb’s death saw a war of succession between his three sons. Bahadhur Shah ascended the throne and followed policy and compromise and reconciliation to regain political power which only strengthened the Sikhs and the Marathas. Its subjects also just offered nominal loyalty.
The wars of succession after his death were also fueled by various nobles for their vested interests which made them more acute than ever before. Weak rulers attracted foreign invasions, and this period of decline also saw an establishment of banking firms.
These firms extended their support to the newly entered Dutch and English. The credit facilities were availed by the English while the local authorities struggled for revenue and capital. The local zamindars were now paying taxes to the British, and the crops that were commercially produced were being sent to Europe.
The remnants of the Empire were eventually formally taken over by the British initially by the British English East India Company, and they were subjugated under the Crown.