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The Mughal Empire which had been ruling the north since 1526 was declining and soon the emperor of Delhi became a pensioner for the British. Aurangzeb was the last of the powerful Mughal rulers. He established control over a very large part of the territory that is now known as India. After his death in 1707, many Mughal governors (subadars) and big zamindars began asserting their authority and establishing regional kingdoms. As powerful regional kingdoms emerged in various parts of India, Delhi could no longer function as an effective centre.

The process of disintegration began with Aurangzeb and his policies yet at the time of his death 1707 the Empire was strong. Aurangzeb’s death was followed by a war of succession among his three sons. It ended in the victory of the eldest, Prince Muazzam. The sixty five-year-old prince ascended the throne under the name of Bahadur Shah.

Bahadur Shah (1707 A.D.-1712 A.D.)

He had a more tolerant and secular policy. Under him the Rana’s of Mewar and Marathas were appeased and earlier policy of aggression was withdrawn. Sikhs too were conciliated by giving Guru Gobind Singh a Mansab rank. However due to grant of Mansabs and posts the royal treasury was exhausted. He died in 1712. Wars of Succession, which had been a regular feature among the Mughals, had become more acute after the death of Bahadur Shah.

Jahandar Shah (1712 A.D.-1713 A.D.)

Jahandar shah  was supported by the most powerful noble Zulfiqar khan. Zulfiqar khan controlled the administration and adopted  policy of tolerance towards chief of Mewar and Marathas. However against the Sikhs he continued the aggression. Jahandar khan was killed by Farrukh Siyar.

Farrukhsiyar (1713 A.D.-1719 A.D.)

Farrukhsiyar ascended the throne with the help of the Sayyid brothers (Syed Hassan Ali Khan Barha and Syed Hussain Ali Khan Barha )who were popularly called the ‘king makers’. They got important posts in the administration. He was controlled by the Sayyid brothers who were the real authority behind Mughal power. When he tried to free himself from their control, he was killed by them.

Mohammad Shah (1719 A.D.-1748 A.D.)

The Sayyids helped Mohammad Shah, ascend the 18-year-old grandson of Bahadur Shah, to the throne. Taking advantage of the weak rule of Mohammad Shah and the constant rivalry among the various factions of the nobility, some powerful and ambitious nobles established virtually independent states. One such Wazir Nizam ul Mulk founded the south state of Hyderabad. Bengal, Awadh and Rohilkhand offered but nominal loyalty to the Mughal Emperor. The Mughal Empire practically broke up.

Mohammad Shah’s long reign (1719-1748 A.D.) was the last chance of saving the empire. When his reign began, Mughal prestige among the people was still an important political force. A strong ruler could have saved the dynasty. But Mohammad Shah was not equal to the task. He neglected the affairs of the state and never gave full support to able wazirs.

Nadir Shah’s Invasion:

The condition of India with its incompetent rulers, weak administration and poor military strength attracted foreign invaders. Nadir Shah, the ruler of Persia, attacked Punjab in 1739. Mohammad Shah was easily defeated and imprisoned. Nadir Shah marched towards Delhi.

He massacred thousands of people in Delhi. Delhi looked deserted for days. Mohammad Shah, however, was reinstated on the throne. Nadir Shah carried with him the Kohinoor diamond and the Peacock throne of Shah Jahan. He got enormous wealth.

Nadir Shah’s invasion gave a crushing blow to the already tottering Mughal Empire and accelerated the process of its disintegration. Mohammad Shah’s kingdom was practically confined to Delhi and its neighbourhood. He died in 1748.

Mohammad Shah was succeeded by a number of inefficient rulers Ahmad Shah (1748-1754), Alamgir II (1754-1759), Shah Alam II (1759-1806), Akbar II (1806-1837) and Bahadur Shah II (1837-1857).

During the rule of Alamgir II, the East India Company fought the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal. They thus got a foothold in Bengal.

In 1761, during the reign of Shah Alam II, Ahmad Shah Abdali, the independent ruler of Afghanistan, invaded India. He conquered Punjab and marched towards Delhi. By this time, the Marathas had extended their influence up to Delhi. In this Third Battle of Panipat the Marathas were completely defeated. They lost thousands of soldiers along with their very good generals. They were forced to retreat to the Deccan. Ahmad Shah Abdali’s invasion further weakened the Mughal Empire.

Shah Alam II granted the Dewani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company in 1765. This allowed the Company to collect revenue from these areas. It also showed that Mughal authority was recognised by the Indian rulers. Mughal rule formally came to an end when Bahadur Shah II was deposed and deported to Rangoon by the East India Company (1857) and his sons were shot in cold blood

Ahmad Shah Bahadur (1748-54)

Alamgir II 1754–1759   

He was murdered by the Vizier Imad-ul-Mulk and Maratha associate Sadashivrao Bhau.

Shah Jahan III

Was ordained to the imperial throne as a result of the intricacies in Delhi with the help of Imad-ul-Mulk. He was later deposed by Maratha Sardars

Shah Alam II(1759–1806)

He was proclaimed as Mughal Emperor by the Marathas. Later, he was again recognised as the Mughal Emperor by Ahmad Shah Durrani after the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761. 1764 saw the defeat of the combined forces of Mughal Emperor, Nawab of Oudh & Nawab of Bengal and Bihar at the hand of East India Company at the Battle of Buxar. Following this defeat, Shah Alam II left Delhi for Allahabad, ending hostilities with the Treaty of Allahabad (1765). Shah Alam II was reinstated to the throne of Delhi in 1772 by Mahadaji Shinde under the protection of the Marathas. He was a de jure emperor. During his reign in 1793 British East India company abolished Nizamat (Mughal suzerainty) and took control of the former Mughal province of Bengal marking the beginning of British reign in parts of Eastern India officially.

Akbar Shah II (1806–1837)

He became a British pensioner after the defeat of the Marathas, who were the protector of the Mughal throne, in the Anglo-Maratha wars . Under East India company’s protection, his imperial name was removed from the official coinage after a brief dispute with the British East India Company

Bahadur Shah II (1837–1857)

Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last Mughal emperor. He was the second son of and became the successor to his father, Akbar II, upon his death on 28 September 1837. He used Zafar, (translation: victory) a part of his name, for his nom de plume (takhallus) as an Urdu poet, and wrote many Urdu ghazals. He was a nominal Emperor, as the Mughal Empire existed in name only and his authority was limited only to the city of Delhi (Shahjahanbad). Following his involvement in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British exiled him to Rangoon in British-controlled Burma, after convicting him on conspiracy charges in a kangaroo court.

Causes of the decline of the Mughal Empire:

  1. Wars of Succession:

The Mughals did not follow any law of succession like the law of primogeniture. Consequently, each time a ruler died, a war of succession between the brothers for the throne started. This weakened the Mughal Empire, especially after Aurangzeb. The nobles, by siding with one contender or the other, increased their own power.

  1. Aurangzeb’s Policies:

Aurangzeb failed to realise that the vast Mughal Empire depended on the willing support of the people. He lost the support of the Rajputs who had contributed greatly to the strength of the Empire. They had acted as pillars of support, but Aurangzeb’s policy turned them to bitter foes. The wars with the Sikhs, the Marathas, the Jats and the Rajputs had drained the resources of the Mughal Empire. Revenue policy of Aurangzeb too was harsh and affected the peasant. The agriculture produce declined which couldn’t sustain the mighty state. The jagirdars harassed the peasants for revenue; this wasn’t passed on to the treasury. The decline in trade and industry compared to Europe led to India lagging behind it economically and politically.

  1. Weak Successors of Aurangzeb:

The successors of Aurangzeb were weak and became victims of the intrigues and conspiracies of the faction-ridden nobles. They were inefficient generals and incapable of suppressing revolts. The absence of a strong ruler, an efficient bureaucracy and a capable army had made the Mughal Empire weak.

  1. Empty Treasury:

Shah Jahan’s zeal for construction had depleted the treasury. Aurangzeb’s long wars in the south had further drained the exchequer.

  1. Invasions:

Foreign invasions sapped the remaining strength of the Mughals and hastened the process of disintegration. The invasions of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali resulted in further drainage of wealth. These invasions shook the very stability of the empire. Also rise of the British.

  1. Size of the Empire and Challenge from Regional Powers:

The Mughal Empire had become too large to be controlled by any ruler from one centre i.e. Delhi. The Great Mughals were efficient and exercised control over ministers and army, but the later Mughals were poor administrators. As a result, the distant provinces became independent. The rise of independent states led to the disintegration of the Mughal Empire.

  1. Weakness of the army:

as the mansabdars couldn’t maintain their full quota of the soldiers.