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By Saleem Akhtar Malik

When we compare the twilight years of the Mughal rule in India with what is happening in Pakistan today, we find centrifugal forces like the TTP, BLA, BRA, and Jiye Sindh, etc. challenging the authority of the central government even as the Sikh, Maratha, and Afghan powers had challenged Delhi’s authority. Whatever is happening in Pakistan these days reminds on of the decline of the Mughal power in the Subcontinent, particularly it’s twilight years.  The Mughals were great builders of magnificent palaces, awe-inspiring forts, pleasure gardens, and breathtaking mausoleums, But they were not interested in public welfare projects. When Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard universities were being established in the West, Shah Jahan was building the Taj Mahal to immortalize the loving memory of his favorite wife. Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by Shah Jahan and was largely completed by 1643. By rough estimates, it cost 32 million rupees. The annual revenue during Shah Jahan’s reign was estimated between 18 and 30 million rupees. The building of the Taj Mahal depleted the Mughal treasury. Financial bankruptcy was one of the major reasons for the collapse of the Mughal rule in India. The reign of Shah Jahan marked the beginning of the financial bankruptcy of the Mughals The revolts, the wars in the Deccan, followed Aurangzeb’s long military campaigns against the Marathas putting an extra burden on the resources of the Empire. Finally, the licentious lifestyles of the Later Mughals, the breakdown of the administration, and the loot of the Sikhs, Marathas, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali broke the backbone of the financial system of the Mughal Empire. When these native centrifugal forces were repeatedly plundering Delhi, the East India Company conquered, subjugated and brought under its control vast tracts of south Asia. Many Pakistanis think that the emergence of Pakistan was essentially the resurrection of Muslim rule in the Sub-Continent after a lapse of almost two centuries. They are partially correct. Imagine the Mughals who had leased out many of their provinces, notably Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa to the British East India Company to pay for their luxurious life style. Not to be left behind, the “Pakistani successors “ to the Mughal rule in India, are leasing out their motorways, airports, railway infrastructure, and industrial assets to the 21st Century equivalents to the British East India Company- the IMF, World Bank, Asian Bank, and the Petro  Sheikhs of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar. The advent of the Sikhs, Marathas, and Afghans during the 18th Century weakened the Mughal Authority further. The forays by these nascent powers, coupled with the administrative expansion of the East India Company to the northwest frontier of India, made Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal ruler, virtually a prisoner in the Red Fort of Delhi. Even before his unwitting abetment of the freedom fighters in the 1957 War of Independence, he was nothing more than a pensioner of the East India Company. When we compare the twilight years of the Mughal rule in India with what is happening in Pakistan today, we find centrifugal forces like the TTP, BLA, BRA, and Jiye Sindh, etc. challenging the authority of the central government even as the Sikh, Maratha, and Afghan powers had challenged Delhi’s authority. The East India Company became the dominant political and military power in mid-nineteenth-century India. Outside the region controlled by the company, hundreds of kingdoms and principalities were lorded over by the company. Bahadur Shah Zafar was tolerated by the company, which provided him with a pension. His official designation by the company was“King of Delhi”.The emperor permitted the company to collect taxes from Delhi and maintain a military force in it.

How did Bahadur Shah Zafar meet his end?

Bahadur Shah Zafar was tried by the British East India Company after the failure of the War of Independence, called the Sepoy Mutiny by the British. He was tried and charged with four counts:

  1. Aiding and abetting the mutinies of the troops
  2. Encouraging and assisting in waging war against the British Government.
  3. Assuming the sovereignty of Hindustan
  4. Causing, and being an accessory to the murder of the Christians.

 Proceedings of the April 1858 Trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar ‘King of Delhi’

On the 20th day of the trial, Bahadur Shah defended himself against these charges. The “King of Delhi” as the British called him, in his defense, stated his complete haplessness before the will of the sepoys. The sepoys apparently used to affix his seal on empty envelopes, the contents of which he was absolutely unaware. According to the British, “While the emperor may have been overstating his impotence before the sepoys, the fact remains that the sepoys had felt powerful enough to dictate terms to anybody”. Hakim Ahsanullah Khan, Zafar’s most trusted confidant and both his Prime Minister and personal physician, had insisted that Zafar did not involve himself in the rebellion and had surrendered himself to the British. But ultimately Hakim Ahsanullah Khan betrayed him by providing evidence against him at the trial in return for a pardon for himself. Respecting Major Hodson’s guarantee of his surrender, Zafar was not sentenced to death but exiled to Rangoon, Burma. His wife Zeenat Mahal and some of the remaining members of the family accompanied him. During exile, Bahadur Shah and his family were given split chickpeas (Dal Chana) as their sole ration. His wife made flour by grinding the dal in a manual grinder (Chakki), and made pita bread from the flour, which they ate with boiled chick peas. This was their diet till the death of Bahadur Shah. In 1862, at the age of 87, he had reportedly acquired some illness. In October, his condition deteriorated. He was “spoon-fed on broth” but he found that difficult too.  On 6 November, British Commissioner H.N. Davies recorded that Zafar “is evidently sinking from pure desuetude and paralysis in the region of his throat”. To prepare for his death Davies commanded the collection of lime and bricks and a spot was selected at the “back of Zafar’s enclosure” for his burial. Zafar died on Friday, 7 November 1862. Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology.

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