Eighteenth Century Political Formations

An Overview of Eighteenth Century Political Formations

The eighteenth-century political formations in India were very dramatic and the country was changing at a very rapid pace. During the first half of the century, the Mughal Empire was shrinking due to the emergence of independent kingdoms. In the second half, the British had started creating a strong presence in eastern India.

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The Mughal Empire Crisis

By the end of the seventeenth century, the Mughal Empire had started facing many crises. Due to the long war in Deccan, Aurangzeb had depleted the financial and military resources of his empire. Eventually, the efficiency of the subsequent Mughal emperors broke down since the imperial administration was not in control.

The appointed governors started controlling the offices of revenue and military administration. This gave them economic, political and military powers over vast regions of the empire. Hence, this led to a decline in the revenue of the capital.

eighteenth century political formations Aurangzeb

Source: Wikipedia

Rebellions were challenging the Mughal Empire too. Peasants, zamindars, and chieftains started seizing the economic resources to consolidate their positions. Basically, the Mughal emperors, post-Aurangzeb, were unable to manage these crises. In 1769, the ruler of Iran – Nadir Shah invaded and plundered Delhi, taking away immense wealth. Also, the Afghan ruler – Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded the northern regions of India five times between 1748 and 1761.

The Mughal Empire had problems all around them. Two major factions (groups) were formed between their nobles – the Iranis and the Turanis (nobles of Turkish descent). These groups alternatively held control of the empire for a long time.

But the worst was still to come. The assassination of two Mughal emperors, Farrukh Siyar (1713-1719) and Alamgir II (1754-1759) and blinding of two others, Ahmad Shah (1748-1754) and Shah Alam II (1759-1816) by their nobles. This was the decline of the Mughal Empire which led to the eighteenth-century political formations.

Eighteenth Century Political Formations: New States Emerged

Throughout the eighteenth century, the Mughal Empire broke down into multiple independent regional states. There were three groups:

  • The old Mughal provinces. The rulers of these states maintained their ties with the Mughal emperor.
  • Several Rajput principalities which had enjoyed independence under the Mughals in their Watan Jagirs.
  • The Marathas, Sikhs, Jats and others like them who had fought a long battle against the Mughals to gain their independence.

Let’s look at each of these groups individually.

Old Mughal Provinces

Let’s talk about three major states here – Awadh, Bengal, and Hyderabad. All three states were founded by members of the high Mughal nobility who had been governors of large provinces:

  • Sa‘adat Khan (Awadh)
  • Murshid Quli Khan (Bengal)
  • Asaf Jah (Hyderabad)

Awadh

Awadh was a prosperous region, controlling the rich alluvial Ganga plain and the main trade route between north India and Bengal. In 1722, Burhan-ul-Mulk Sa‘adat Khan was appointed subadar(governor) of Awadh. Burhan-ul-Mulk was responsible for managing the political, financial and military matters of Awadh. He reduced the Mughal influence in the province by cutting down on the number of jagirdars (office-holders) appointed by the Mughals and appointed his loyal servants in the vacant positions.

Also, he allowed moneylenders and bankers to be an active part of the state’s revenue system. Basically, this was a big shift from the earlier mahajans and local bankers.

Bengal

eighteenth century political formations Murshid Quli Khan

Source: Wikipedia

Murshid Quli Khan, Deputy to the Governor of Bengal, was quick in seizing power and controlling the revenue administration of the state. He transferred all Mughal appointed jagirdars to Orissa and ordered a state-wide assessment of revenues in Bengal. Also, revenue was collected from the zamindars in cash. Subsequently, many zamindars borrowing money from the moneylenders and bankers to pay to the administration.

Hyderabad

Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah, the most powerful member in the court of the Mughal Emperor Farrukh Siyar was entrusted with the responsibility of Governor of the Deccan provinces. However, he brought skilled administrators and soldiers from the northern states and offered jagirs, thereby winning their loyalty. He also ruled independently without consulting the capital.

eighteenth century political formations Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah

Source: Wikipedia

At that time Hyderabad was in a constant battle with the Marathas and the Telugu warrior chief since Asaf Jah wanted to control the rich Coromandel Coast. However, with the British strengthening in the east, he was kept in check. To summarize-

  • All the nobles trusted upon by the Mughal Empire misused their power
  • Also, they helped increase the practice of ijaradari or revenue collectors which the Mughals disapproved
  • All these nobles had strong relationships with the rich bankers and moneylenders.

The eighteenth-century political formations were beginning to show a new order and the biggest stakeholders were the bankers and moneylenders.

The Watan Jagirs

Many Rajput kings were allowed by the Mughal Empire to rule autonomously in their watan jagirs. Eventually, they extended their territories by seizing portions of the neighbouring watans. However, in the 1740s, Maratha campaigns into Rajasthan put their expansion plans in check.

The Sikhs, Marathas, and Jats

Sikhs

Guru Gobind Singh fought many battles against the Rajputs and Mughals and united the Sikhs into a political community with the institution of Khalsa in 1699. All the leaders that followed, organized Sikhs into a powerful force living the core belief of Khalsa – to RULE. Also, this unit put up a solid resistance to the Mughal Empire and Ahmad Shah Abdali.

In 1765, the Khalsa declared their sovereign rule from the Indus to the Jamuna. Unfortunately, the rule was divided into three different Sikh rulers. Maharaj Ranjit Singh successfully managed to reunite them in the late eighteenth century and established his capital at Lahore in 1799.

Marathas

Shivaji (1627 – 1680), created a powerful regional Maratha kingdom which stood bravely against the Mughal rule. He challenged the Mughal presence in the Indian peninsular region. Subsequently, after his death, his Peshwas took charge. Also, the Peshwas took the Maratha regime to higher military levels.

By 1730s, the Maratha king was declared as the ruler of the entire Deccan Peninsula and had the right to levy Chauth and sardeshmukhi in the region. Eventually, the Maratha domination spread Rajasthan, Punjab, Orissa, Bengal, Tamil Nadu and many other states.

However, these military campaigns turned other rulers hostile towards them and they were found without any support during the third battle of Panipat in 1761. The Marathas were also excellent in developing an effective administrative system over newly won regions.

Jats

During this period Jats united and gained control over the region lying west of Delhi. By the late seventeenth century, they had domination over Delhi and Agra. Basically, Jats were great agriculturists and were instrumental in the development of Panipat and Ballabhgarh as important trading centers in the area.

When Nadir Shah attacked Delhi in 1739, Suraj Mal was leading the Jats. His son – Jawahir Shah along with Maratha and Sikh troops put up a strong opposition to the Mughals too.

Solved Questions for You

Q1. Which new states emerged due to the eighteenth-century political formations?

Ans. Due to the eighteenth century political formations, throughout the eighteenth century, the Mughal Empire broke down into multiple independent regional states. There were three groups:

  • The old Mughal provinces. The rulers of these states maintained their ties with the Mughal emperor.
  • Several Rajput principalities which had enjoyed independence under the Mughals in their Watan Jagirs.
  • The Marathas, Sikhs, Jats and others like them who had fought a long battle against the Mughals to gain their independence.
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