Decline of Mughal Empire

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  • Topic: Mughal Empire, Maratha Empire, Maratha
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  • Published : April 8, 2012
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Discuss the decline of the Mughal Empire. To what extent do you agree that the downfall of the Mughal Empire was caused by the agrarian crisis of the 17th and 18th century?

AGRARIAN CRISIS OF MUGHAL EMPIRE by IRFAN HABIB:
Various explanations are put forward for the revolts which brought about the collapse of the Mughal Empire. There has existed for a long time the thesis of “Hindu Reaction” as the main factor behind the revolts against Aurangzeb. Its proponents tent, however, to rely more on present sentiment than on contemporary evidence. Main concern is with what 17th and early 18th century texts have to say; and they, at any rate, put the greatest store by the economic and administrative causes of the upheaval and hardly ever refer to religious reaction or consciousness of nationality. The assignment system, as it was established and worked under the great Mughals, necessarily presupposed the prevalence of a certain type of economic order. The jagirs were divorced, as far as possible, from any permanent rights to the land, and were essentially assignments of revenue, assessed in terms of money. This suited best an economy where the cash nexus was well established; but that in turn meant that agrarian trade should have been both brisk and extensive. Both these conditions were present in Mughal India. At the same time, commercial activity could prosper best under an imperial system with its uniform methods of tax collection and administration and its control of the routes. In so far, therefore, as the assignment system strengthened imperial power it also reinforced the economic foundation of its own existence. Unlike the feudal lord of Western Europe, the Mughal jagirdar might not have needed to harbour any fear of money and trade undermining his power.

The unity and cohesion of the Mughal ruling class found its practical expression in the absolute power of the emperor. The jagidari as an individual member of the government class had theoretically no right or privileges apart from those received from the emperor: he could not manage his jagir just as he pleased, and was required to conform to imperial regulation. The rate of the land revenue demand and the methods by which it was to be assessed and collected were all prescribed by the imperial administration. The emperor also decreed what other taxes were to be collected. The conduct of the jagirdar and his agents was supposed to be watched over and checked by officials such as qanungos and chaudhuris, and faujdars and news-writers. Imperial revenue policy was obviously shaped by 2 basic considerations. First, since military contingents were maintained by the mansabdars out of the revenues of their jagirs, the tendency was to set the revenue demand so high as to secure the greatest military strength for the empire. But, secondly, it was clear that if the revenue rate was raised so high as to leave the peasant not enough for his survival, the revenue collections could soon fall in absolute terms. The revenue demand as set by the imperial authorities was thus designed ideally to approximate to the surplus produce, leaving the peasant just the barest minimum needed for subsistence. It was this appropriation of the surplus produce that created the great wealth of the Mughal ruling class. The contrast was accordingly striking between “the rich in their great superfluity and the utter subjection and poverty of the common people”. There seems, moreover to have been a tendency, increasing in its effect with time, to press still harder upon the peasant. This tendency seemed to derive from the very nature of the jagir system. The imperial administration, which could observe the long-term interest of the empire and the ruling class, did, probably, strive to set a limit to the revenue demand. A great increase in revenue demand was approved in the course of 17th century is based on an oversimplified view of the evidence; and there are...
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