The founder of the autonomous kingdom of Avadh was Saadat Khan Burhanul-Mulk who was appointed as Governor of Avadh in 1722. He was an extremely bold, energetic, iron-willed, and intelligent person.
At the time of Burhan-ul-Mulk’s appointment, rebellious zamindars had raised their heads everywhere in the province. They refused to pay the land tax, organized their own private armies, erected forts, and defied the Imperial Government.
For years, Burhan-ul-Mulk had to wage war upon them. He succeeded in suppressing lawlessness and disciplining the big zamindars and thus, increasing the financial resources of his government.
Burhan-ul-Mulk also carried out a fresh revenue settlement in 1723, as he was asked to improve the peasant condition by protecting them from oppression by the big zamindars.
Like the Bengal Nawabs, Burhan-ul-Mulk too did not discriminate between Hindus and ‘Muslims. Many of his commanders and high officials were Hindus and he ‘curbed refractory zamindars, chiefs, and nobles irrespective of their religion. His troops were well-paid, well-armed, and Well-trained.
Before his death in 1739, Burhan-ul-Mulk had become virtually independent and had made the province a hereditary possession.
Burhan-ul-Mulk was succeeded by his nephew Safdar Jang, who was simultaneously appointed the wazir of the Empire in 1748 and granted in addition the province of Allahabad.
Safdar Jang suppressed rebellious zamindars and made an alliance with the Maratha Sardars so that his dominion was saved from their incursions.
Safdar Jang gave a long period of peace to the people of Avadh and Allahabad before his death in 1754.
The Rajput States
Many Rajput states took advantage of the growing weakness of Mughal power to virtually free themselves from central control while at the same time increasing their influence in the rest of the Empire.
In the reigns of Farrukh Siyar and Muhammad Shah, the rulers of Amber and Marwar were appointed governors of important Mughal provinces such as Agra, Gujarat, and Malwa.
The internal politics of Agra, Gujarat, Malwa, etc. were often characterized by the same type of corruption, intrigue, and treachery as prevailed at the Mughal court.
Ajit Singh of Marwar was killed by his own son.
The most outstanding Rajput ruler of the 18th century was Raja Sawai Jai Singh of Amber (1681-1743).
Raja Sawai Jai Singh was a distinguished statesman, law-maker, and reformer. But most of all he shone as a man of science in an age when Indians were oblivious of scientific progress.
Raja Sawai Jai Singh founded the city of Jaipur in the territory taken from the Jats and made it a great seat of science and art.
Jaipur was built upon strictly scientific principles and according to a regular plan. Its broad streets are intersected at right angles.
Jai Singh was a great astronomer. He erected observatories with accurate and advanced instruments, some of his inventions can be still observed at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi, and Mathura. His astronomical observations were remarkably accurate.
Jai Singh drew up a set of tables, entitled Zij-i Muhammadshahi, to enable people to make astronomical observations. He had Euclid’s “Elements of Geometry”, translated into Sanskrit as also several works on trigonometry, and Napier’s work on the construction and use of logarithms.
Jai Singh was also a social reformer. He tried to enforce a law to reduce the lavish expenditure which a Rajput had to incur on a daughter’s wedding and which often led to infanticide.
This remarkable prince ruled Jaipur for nearly 44 years from 1699 to 1743.
The Jats, a caste of agriculturists, lived in the region around Delhi, Agra, and Mathura.
Repression by Mughal officials drove the Jat peasants around Mathura to revolt. They revolted under the leadership of their Jat Zamindars in 1669 and then again in 1688.
Jats’ revolts were crushed, but the area remained disturbed. After the death of Aurangzeb, they created disturbances all around Delhi. Though originally a peasant uprising, the Jat revolt, led by zamindars, soon became predatory.
Jats plundered all and sundry, the rich and the poor, the jagirdars and the peasants, the Hindus and the Muslims.
The Jat state of Bharatpur was set up by Churaman and Badan Singh.
The Jat power reached its highest glory under Suraj Mal, who ruled from 1756 to 1763 and who was an extremely able administrator and soldier and a very wise statesman.
Suraj Mal extended his authority over a large area, which extended from the Ganga in the East to Chambal in the South, the Subah of Agra in the West to the Subah of Delhi in the North. His state included among others the districts of Agra, Mathura, Meerut, and Aligarh.
After the death of Suraj Mal in 1763, the Jat state declined and was split up among petty zamindars most of whom lived by plunder.
Bangash and Rohelas
Muhammad Khan Bangash, an Afghan adventure, established his control over the territory around Farrukhabad, between what are now Aligarh and Kanpur, during the reigns of Farrukh Siyar and Muhammad Shah.
Similarly, during the breakdown of administration following Nadir Shah’s invasion, Ali Muhammad Khan carved out a separate principality, known as Rohilkhand, at the foothills of the Himalayas between the Ganga in the south and the Kumaon hills in the north with its capital first at Aolan in Bareilly and later at Rampur.
The Rohelas clashed constantly with Avadh, Delhi, and the Jats.
Founded at the end of the 15thcentury by Guru Nanak, the Sikh religion spread among the Jatpeasantry and other lower castes of Punjab.
The transformation of the Sikhs into a militant, fighting community was begun by Guru Hargobind (1606-1645).
It was, however, under the leadership of Guru Gobind Singh (1664-1708), the tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs, that Sikhs became a political and military force.
From 1699 onwards, Guru Gobind Singh waged constant war against the armies of Aurangzeb and the hill rajas.
After Aurangzeb’s death Guru Gobind Singh joined Bahadur Shah’s camp as a noble of the rank of 5,000 Jat at and 5,000 sawar and accompanied him to the Deccan where he was treacherously murdered by one of his Pathanemployees.
After Guru Gobind Singh’s death, the institution of Guruship came to an end and the leadership of the Sikhs passed to his trusted disciple Banda Singh, who is more widely known as Banda Bahadur.
Banda rallied together the Sikh peasants of the Punjab and carried on a vigorous though unequal struggle against the Mughal army for eight years. He was captured in 1715 and put to death.
Banda Bahadur’s death gave a set-back to the territorial ambitions of the Sikhs and their power declined.
At the end of the 18th century, Ranjit Singh, chief of the Sukerchakia Mislrose into prominence. A strong and courageous soldier, an efficient administrator, and a skillful diplomat, he was a born leader of men.
Ranjit Singh captured Lahore in 1799 and Amritsar in 1802. He soon brought all Sikh chiefs west of the Sutlej River under his control and established his own kingdom in the Punjab.
Ranjit Singh conquered Kashmir, Peshawar, and Multan. The old Sikh chiefs were transformed into big zamindars and jagirdars.
Ranjit Singh did not make any change in the system of lend revenue promulgated earlier by the Mughals. The amount of land revenue was calculated on the basis of 50 per cent of the gross produce.
Ranjit Singh built up a powerful, disciplined, and well-equipped army along European lines with the help of European instructors. His new army was not confined to the Sikhs. He also recruited Gurkhas, Biharis, Oriyas, Pathans, Dogras, and Punjabi Muslims.
Ranjit Singh set up the modern foundries to manufacture cannon at Lahore and employed Muslim gunners to man them. It is said that he possessed the second best army in Asia, the first was the army of the English East India Company
Taking advantage of the growing weakness of the central authority, two men of exceptional ability, Murshid Quli Khan and Alivardi Khan, made Bengal virtually independent. Even though Murshid Quli Khan was made Governor of Bengal as late as 1717, he had been its effective ruler since 1700, when he was appointed its Dewan.
Murshid Quli Khan soon freed himself from central control though he sent regular tribute to the Emperor. He established peace by freeing Bengal of internal and external danger.
The only three major uprisings during Murshid Quli Khan’s rule were −
By Sitaram Ray,
By Udai Narayan, and
By Ghulam Muhammad.
Later Shujat Khan, and Najat Khan also rebelled during the Murshid Quli Khan’s reign.
Murshid Quli Khan died in 1727, and his son-in-law Shuja-ud-din ruled Bengal till 1739. In that year, Alivardi Khan deposed and killed Shuja-ud-din’s son, Sarfaraz Khan, and made himself the Nawab.