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The Myth of Mughal Greatness- Socio-Economic Analysis

Ye imaarat o Maqabir ye fasilein ye hisaar,
Mutlaq-ul-hukm shahanshahon ki azmat ke sutoon;
Seena-e-dahar ke nasoor hain kohna nasoor,
Jazb hain unmein tere mere ajdaad ka khoon. 

                       – Sahir Ludhianvi

(Maqabir- Graves, hisaar- Fortress, Mutlaq-ul-hukm- Sovereign, azmat- Greatness, sutoon- Pillars,
Seena-e-dahar-The chest of the world, kohna- Ancient, Azdaad- Ancestors)

The above couplet from Sahir’s famous Nazm, Taj Mahal, loosely translates as below:

“These grand graves, and these high-walls of the majestic fortresses,
Are the pillars of the brutal majesty of the sovereign dictators.
 These gaping wounds are the ancient wounds on the breast of the world,
Mingled with the ugly pus and the oozing bloods of our common ancestors.”

In today’s world where the intellectual mind stands divided on communal lines with even daughters of noted Urdu poets like Munawwar Rana proudly declaring first to be a Muslim and then to be an India, it is no wonder that these couplets of Sahir, a proud secularist India remain buried in the oblivion. While the Nazm, Taj Mahal, became popular, to me these two couplets stand apart in their scathing and brutal honesty. Today, more than ever, when riding on the crafty and cunning Communist re-telling of Indian history, there is a growing tendency to recreate the myth of Mughal majesty, it is important for people to read, understand and acknowledge the pain and truth in Sahir’s words. This is one rare poem which goes back into the history, when the Mughals looked at the Indians, those converted and not yet converted to Islam, with equal distrust, disgust and disdain. There were far too many people in India, the most populous land on the Earth even then, for all of them to be converted to Islam. The Mughals were often far too busy to manage their empire amid overwhelming number of people of different faiths who were so different from them. The wars with the remnants of earlier Islamic Sultanate and Hindu kings continued, while the Mughals tried to neutralize the antipathy against the foreign invaders by aligning with Hindu kinds. Even the Mughals would not have known that someday, they will be projected as great Secularists merely because they established alliances with Hindu kings out of political expediency. Equally surprised they would be to know, if they were to know, that the descendants of the same people they had treated with disdain and whom they converted to Islam under duress, will hail them as an epitome of greatness, long after they were gone, resurrecting the Mughals as some Motif of Muslim Identity, incongruent and inconsistent with their National Identity and history as Indians. We need to see things in the right perspective. At the time of Mughals, or even before the Mughals when Islam first made entry into India, around Seven Hundred years after it came into existence and nudged at the Hindu borders; the business in the Indian subcontinent went about as usual.
The Mughals were no more and no less secular than the Afghans before them. Even the most secular of them, Akbar, while he married in the families of Hindu Kings, it was mostly out of political expediency. History does not tell us of any of the offspring of Hindu wives of Akbar who was raised as a Hindu. Akbar did not raise any of his descendants as a Hindu and in two generation will give rise to the most fanatic Emperor India had ever seen in Aurangzeb. The fact is that religion was less of a political tool even under Akbar when they were constantly fighting the co-religionists, the Afghans for supremacy in India. While Aurangzeb was a fanatic Sunni, Humayun, when he sought help from the King of Persia, claimed to have faith in Shiaism. More than anything, the Mughals were fanatic Timurides.
Akbar, the greatest among the Mughals, is often equated with Emperor Ashoka. John S Hoyland and SN Bannerjee do not agree with this comparison. In their editorial introduction to ‘The Commentary of Father Monserrate’ , they write, “Akbar’s greed for conquest and glory and his lack of sincerity form a marked contrast to Ashoka’s paternal rule, genuine self-control and spiritual ambition. They add that ‘the old notion that Akbar was a near-approximation to Plato’s philosopher king has been dissipated by modern researches. Akbar remains a personality full of contradictions. His philosophical wanderings were secular, he grants lands to the Sikhs, abolishes Jaziya, builds relationships through marriages with the Rajputs. A great deal of these initiatives had to do with Akbar’s desire to bring some stability to his newly-established Muslim empire in an overwhelmingly Hindu land. Let us stick to the falsehood of great economic shape of India under the Mughals.
It is true that India, as a nation, was quite rich by the time British stepped into India. But the three things they looked for – Spices, Indigo and Textiles- were industries based on the skill and land of India. It had precious little to do with the state. The Emperor was rich, richest Monarch on the face of this Earth. But there was no just distribution of wealth. There was almost no middle-class and the society was split between the extremely rich and severely poor. The myth of India being rich as society under the Mughals is as big as India being totally under the Mughals. Even at the time of death of Akbar, Vijaynagar, Deccan, Khandesh, Ahmadnagar, Bidar and Bijaipur were independent, towards the south, so was the region in North-East. A quick glimpse into Indian History, objectively, without interference of the partisan parties gives a different picture than what those who somehow feel that Mughal greatness is equivalent to Muslim greatness and in some way is a justification of Islamic supremacy. Let us look at Maddison’s The World Economy- A Millennial Perspective. In the First Century AD, India’s share in the Global GDP was 32.9% which went down to 28.9% in 1000 AD. When the Mughals arrived, in 1500 AD, it went further down to 24.5% and at the end of Akbar’s rule, in 1600 AD it was 22.6%. The slow decline under the Mughals ended at 16% of Global GDP in the year 1820 AD. Looking at things from Individual prosperity perspective, the Per Capita GDP remained almost stagnant during Mughal period, with USD 550 in the year 1500 AD, unchanged in year 1700 and reducing further to 533 $ in the year 1820 AD. In comparison, Per capita GDP for the British was 762 USD in 1500, and 2121 USD in 1820 AD (at 1994 rate of USD). This was the state of individual wealth at the time when the Mughal Emperor would sit on a throne worth Millions of Dollars.

The relationship between the Hindu masses of India and the Mughals remained that of the Conquered and the Conqueror. The welfare schemes were minimal. The irrigated land constituted around 5% of the land. Maddison writes that ‘there was little motive to improve the landed property. Mughal officials needed high incomes because they had many dependents to support. They maintained polygamous households with vast retinues of slaves and servants. This lack of initiative to create revenue sources apart from regressive taxations which appeared more like security money extracted by the warlords could possibly explain the quick crumbling down of the Mughal empire and subsequent poor state of landless Muslims with the decline of Mughal empire. Maddison called this a system of warlord predators leading to wasteful use of resources coming down from the tradition of the nomadic societies which created Islam in Arabia and the Ottoman Empire.

Far from the Utopian world of secularism under Islamic rulers projected by the Islamists and leftist historians alike, as Maddison says, under the Mughals, Muslims were the ruling elite in India from the 13th Century until the British take over. Bernier writes that the Mughals were even then (17th Century) were foreigner in India. Among the Nobles in Mughal courts, 70% above the rank of 500 were Foreigners (Turks, Persians and Afghans). Of the remaining 30% who were Indians, more than 50% were Muslims. Even in Akbar’s court, which with revocation of Jaziya- a tax exclusively on Hindus, as charge for practicing a non-Islamic faith, was one of the better period under the Islamic rule, in 40 years of rule, Akbar only appointed Twenty-One Hindus above 500, out of these 21, 17 were Rajputs, One was Brahmin (Birbal), two Khatris (Todarmal and his son), and one unknown. The larger masses of Indian population had no say, no stakes to play in Mughal rule. Taxation was oppressive. Unlike earlier Hindu kings whose taxation as per Hindu books was limited at One-Sixth (History of Mediaeval Hindu India by Ck Vaidya quoting Hiuen Tsang), Akbar took 1/3rd of the Produce as taxes. It was only slightly better than Delhi Sultanate period when taxes were half the produce for the Hindus.

With little attempt to involve the masses and totally dependent on taxes as protection money, the Mughal empire quickly collapsed under its own weight when the Pre-Akbar intolerant practices came in. Continuing to be disconnected from the people, the Emperors continued to indulge in their decadent luxuries. Shahjahaan who is said to build Taj Mahal, as per Badshaahnama by Abdul Hamid Lahori ordered demolition of 70 Temples in Benaras. After the great famine of 1629-1632 which killed Millions in Gujrat, the Emperor was busy building his famous Throne in 1634 AD, adorned with the diamonds and rubies valued Rupees Two Crores then, Jewels worth Eighty Six Lakhs, with Twelve Emerald Columns. The cost of construction of the throne came to be One Crore, over a period of Seven Years. Majlisu-s-Salatin of Muhammad Shah Hanafi mentions the revenue of Hindustan (collected by the Mughals) as Six Arbs and Thirty Crore Dams (One Arb being equalt to 100 Crores, and A Hundred Crore Dam equal to Two Crore Fifty Lakh Rupees). The much-touted symbol of love, Taj Mahal, also turns out anything but that (Sahir’s poem above refers to that). It is nothing more than a narcissist and self-indulgent memory of Shah Jahaan’s second and most favorite wife, Aliya Begum or Mumtaj Mahal, who died at the age of Forty, having birthed Eight Sons and Six Daughters to the Emperor.  

Then came the repressive empire of Aurangzeb. Miraat-i-Aalam of Bakhtawar Khan mentions the policies of Aurangzeb when he writes that Hindu writers have been entirely excluded from holding Public offices and all the worshipping places of these infidels and the great temples have been destroyed in a manner which excites astonishment. A firman of 1679 orders to restart the campaign to demolish Hindu temples. On 2nd of April, 1679 Jaziya was imposed on the Hindus. The opposition to the same was met with releasing elephants on the protesting crowds. An Imperial order dated 10th of April, 1665, imposed Custom duty on all material imported for re-sale at 5% for the Hindus and 2.5% for the Muslims. This collection was considered as Zakaat only to be used on the welfare of Muslims. Another order dated 9th of May, 1667, changed this to 0% for Muslims and 10% for the Hindus. Manucci notes that many Hindus who were unable to pay converted to Islam. An order in March, 1695, forbade all Hindus except Rajputs to ride Palkis, horses or Elephants. Carrying of Arms was prohibited for the Hindus. Shivaji wrote a passionate letter asking Aurangzeb to stop harassing Hindus, trying to tell the fanatic Emperor that Hindus and Muslims both should be treated similarly. His letter is ignored, paving way for huge discontent which waited for the empire to weaken a little. With the death of Aurangzeb, the Jats, the Marathas all rise in rebellion. The weakened Mughal forces harassed everywhere. The queens have to run away from Red Fort in disguise to Loni. After attack of Bajirao on Delhi in 1737 and later the complete plunder under Nadir Shah in 1739, the fate of Mughals, deprived of power and money to maintain forces, and isolated from the Hindu population around them, was sealed. It would take centuries for India to become Independent and for Islamist forces, not satisfied with the Partition of this great land to come under the flag of a cynical opposition and Communist politics to resurrect a fake history of secular Mughals. The emperors did not look at themselves as a forefront of a campaign to destroy a civilization. As many have written, they considered themselves foreign warlords only. Much has been written about Bahadurshah Zafar leading Indian Freedom Struggle, the fact remains that he was forced to lead the rebels only reluctantly and tried to disown them in front of the British immediately thereafter. The attempt here is not to prove if Mughals were all good or all bad. It is merely to establish that in spite of administrative principles left behind by Sher Shah Suri, the Mughals, in general, did not govern well and treated India as a foreigner war lord would. How the Mughal Empire and once the richest Monarch fell into bankruptcy and not one tear was shed for him is a story for another day. The matter under consideration right now is that Mughals were neither great rulers nor were they secularists competing with Nehru. It is also to remind us what Sahir wrote, that it wasn’t the Hindus alone who suffered under the Mughals, rather the same riches which modern Muslims boast about where created by a shared suffering inflicted on the ancestors of both Hindus and Muslims, many of latter might have been former then.  


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