The mighty Mughal Empire disintegrated and declined during the first half of the 18th century. During this time, the emperors lost all their power, and, as the once conquered states started declaring their independence, the glory of the empire shortened to merely a couple of square miles in Delhi. In fact, by the end of 1803, Delhi came to be ruled by the mighty British and the Mughal emperor was turned into a pensioner of the foreign power.
The decline (decline meaningपतनin Hindi) of the Mughal Empire revealed some of the glaring defects in the political, economic, and social structure of medieval India. This led to the eventual domination of the country by the East India Company. The stability and unity of the empire had already been destroyed during the reign of Aurangzeb. Yet, the efficiency and the strength that the army had at the time of Aurangzeb’s death in the year 1707, was soon on the path of decline. As such, the reasons for the weakening of the Mughal Empire can be divided into four categories, namely, political reasons multiple wars of succession, religious causes, and foreign invasion and a brief overview of these factors have been discussed below.
The economic and political structure of the country, coupled with a lack of proper means of communication made establishing a centralized, stable administration all over the country really difficult. Thus, Aurangzeb’s goal of uniting the country under a centralized political authority was only justifiable as an idea and not as a practice. Besides, his attempts at establishing the Mughal rule over the Marathas extended for many years and turned out to be not just futile but also drained the resources of the kingdom. This also made the prestige of the army and the empire plummet and the revealed the weaknesses of the army.
As the Maratha’s extended their empire in the north in the 18th century, it made the authority of the Mughals even weaker. Aurangzeb’s conflict with the Rajput states made him jeopardizes the alliance that existed for years and loses the military support. The strength of administration that Mughals had were continuously challenged and weakened by the repeated attacks of the Sikhs, the Jat, and the Satnam. These attacks were mainly the result of the continuous oppression of the revenue officials on the peasantry. The attacks proved that the peasantry was highly dissatisfied with the oppression from the nobles, the zamindars, and even the state.
The policy of religious tolerance followed by the Mughal rulers like Akbar, Jahangir, and Shahjahan brought about a state of stability to the empire. The religious orthodoxy and the oppressive policies towards the Hindu rulers by Aurangzeb affected the stability of the Mughal Empire in a major way. He reversed the secular policies by imposing the jizya tax on non-Muslims. He put several other restrictions on Hindus as well and destroyed many temples in the north.
Though jizyah tax was abolished within a few years of Aurangzeb’s death the zamindars and the nobles continued to ruthlessly exploit and oppress the common people irrespective of the religion.
The multiple wars of succession:
Aurangzeb left his empire while unresolved problems and the wars of succession that broke up after his death further worsened the situation. Since there was no fixed rule of succession in the Mughal Empire, the death of a king was almost always followed by a civil war among the princes. The destructive and fierce wars of succession during the 18th century led to a great loss of life and property. Thousands of able military commanders and soldiers were killed in these wars of succession and it ended up loosening the administrative fabric of the Mughal Empire.
The great empire left by his forefathers was undermined by Aurangzeb due to his lack of economic, social, and political insights. The weaknesses of the king could not even be covered by the efficiency and alertness nobility because they had also started deteriorating. They became fond of luxury and ended up spending more than their means.
The able and energetic nobles that were still there used their abilities for promoting their selfish interests instead of serving the kingdom. In this struggle for supremacy and the desire for personal gains, the nobles resorted to fraud, treachery, and force. The quarrels and bickering weakened the fabric of the empire and made it easy prey for the foreign powers. By this time, the army was so weak and corrupted that it did not have the power to defend the kingdom from the foreign powers.
A chain of foreign invasions affected the Empire adversely. The attacks from Ahmad Shah Abdali and Nadir Shah were results of the weakness of the empire. It drained the empire of a major portion of its wealth, destroyed its industry and trade in the north, and ruined its military prowess. Any chances of reviving the empire were further ruined by the emergence of the British Empire with all its power and might.
The rulers that came after Aurangzeb, such as, Bahadur Shah I, Jahandar Shah, FarrukhSiyar, Muhammad Shah, Nadir Shah’s Outbreak, and Ahmad Shah Abdali, were too feeble and weak to revive the lost prestige and power of the kingdom. They lacked the foresight and the abilities to preserve the great works carried out by their forefathers.