Saturday, December 8, 2001
S L I C E  O F  H I S T O R Y

There was widespread corruption in Mughal India
 by Pramod Sangar

MUGHAL rulers occupied a position of power and prestige till the time of Aurangzeb. European travellers have eulogised the all-round progress during the time of Akbar, but after his death the glory departed and it gave way to corruption on a scale unknown or unheard of before. Things reached an alarming state during the reign of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, and paved the way for the final annihilation of the Mughal rule. The loss of power and prestige was due amongst other causes, to the basic character of the rulers of this period, most of whom had neither the will nor the ability to guide the destinies of the state at this critical juncture of history.

Corruption in Mughal India was on an extensive scale. No social or political group was considered aboveboard those days. Corruption was a common feature even though there was an elaborate machinery to prevent corruption, and news writers were particularly instructed to keep the emperor and high officials informed about the cases of corruption. Despite all this, cases have been recorded of even high officials accepting bribe. Sometimes even the emperor was bribed by highly placed officials to secure their continuance in office. There are many cases on record of rich presents being offered to Jahangir, Nurjahan, Khurram and Itmad-ud-Daula, father of Nurjahan, who was notorious for taking bribes and resorting to corrupt practices. Another besetting sin was embezzlement by officials, of which numerous examples can be cited. There was no moral code to guide the conduct of the government officials in those days. The officials as a rule did not care much about the general masses and led a luxurious life. They were required to give valuable presents on various accounts — so they were always in need of ‘money’ and the money was generated through corrupt practices.


Daulat Khan, entitled Nazur-ud-daula, the head eunuch in Akbar’s time, had according to Jahangir, no equal in taking bribes. After his death, he left 10 crores of ashrafis and jewels worth Rs 3 crore. All the money was appropriated by the state. Banarasi Dass Jauhri of Jaunpur and a contemporary of Akbar and Jahangir had given an account of how oppressive the hakim of Jaunpur, Qulich Khan, was towards the diamond dealers of the city in 1595, when they failed to provide him with the ‘required things’. He ordered their arrest. They were brought in his presence and were flogged with thorny whips. They were later let off in a half-dead state. Terrified and highly disturbed, they left the city and fled to different places. The poor Mughal subjects groaned under the tyrannies of the Provincial Governors who possessed immense authority to book or torture anybody not ‘obliging’ them.

We have sufficient evidence in the European Factory records that English caravans carrying Indian commodities like indigo, Saltpetre and other things were stopped by the customs officials and were allowed to proceed only after receiving handsome gratification from them. They were notorious for accepting bribes. Wazir Khan, a noble at Shahjahan’s court, took huge bribes sometimes as much as Rs 30,000 a day. There is evidence that the decline of administrative standards set in as early as 1630, a mere 25 years after the passing away of emperor Akbar. The corrupt practices increased with each passing year, after Akbar.

During the reign of Shahjahan, Muiz-ul-Mulk, mentioned in an English letter from Ahmedabad to Surat on November 29, 1623, under the name of Mir Musa, was not averse to taking good presents from the English and harassed them to a great extent. Such a policy of expropriation drove nobles and officials to act oppressively and their most obvious victims were merchants. Another practice was that of farming out important posts and payment of bribes for continuance in them. Muiz-ul-Mulk had to pay some three lakh mahmudis (about £ 15000) and a bribe of some £ 10000 to secure his post at Surat. Another report has it that Muiz had to pay 72 lakh mahmudis for a Surat post and even by 1641 he found himself short of his commitment by 31 lakh. In October, 1650, he still had an uncleared debt of many lakhs of rupees. Such heavy demands for a post inevitably led the Governor to resort to oppressive measures for revenue collection. The merchants could do little but suffer at his hands and as they were utterly helpless. Muiz-ul-Mulk was only the product of the age and he was doing what he was called upon to do in order to retain his position. Such cases were certainly not there in excess in time of Akbar, who had a galaxy of personalities like Abul Fazl, Faizi, Birbal, Man Singh, Todar Mal and many more who rose to the occasion and served the Mughal empire with utmost devotion and dedication, a rare phenomenon in medieval history. But things headed towards inevitable collapse during the time of Aurangzeb. Historians Bhimsen and Khafi Khan have rightly painted the dismal picture of fast-declining standards of society and administration during the rule of Aurangzeb. The historians were struck by the hopeless moral degradation of the Mughal aristocracy. We find the aged emperor himself dolefully shaking his head over the prospect of the future and predicting deluge after his death. Bigotry and narrowness of outlook under Aurangzeb and vice and sloth under later Mughals ruined the administration of the empire and dragged down the Indian people along with the falling empire. Khafi Khan has pointed out that Zafar Khan, one of the early Wazirs of Aurangzeb, was offered a purse of Rs 30,000 by Jai Singh to retain him in the Deccan Campaign. Not only that, even Aurangzeb is said to have asked an aspirant to a title: "Your father gave to Shahjahan one lakh of rupees for adding alif to his name and making him Amir Khan. How much will you pay me for the title I am giving you?" Manohar Das, a Quiledar of Sholapur, gave him Rs 50,000 for receiving the title of ‘Raja’. Even officers weary of life in the Deccan used to present the emperor with large sums for a transfer to North India, especially Delhi. The inflated expenditure, continuous warfare in the Deccan, adversely affected the situation in North India. The more prosperous provinces of the empire were drained of wealth and talent by pursuing the policy set by Aurangzeb. It proved detrimental to the empire and led to its inevitable collapse.