History (1) Of Frivolous Young Men and Depraved Morals

History repeats ... first as tragedy, then as farce - one of the most repeated quotes of Karl Marx could most political dynasties to a "T". India is no different.

Consider these two paragraphs, that I have partly edited for the sake of dramatic impact: the modified words are highlighted in bold
"He proclaimed his accession at Delhi. Though about fifty years of age, he behaved like a frivolous young man of eighteen. His morals were highly depraved. He drank heavily and passed most of his time in the company of his mistress, whose relations had obtained high posts in government service. Nor could his advisor fill in the void successfully. He had been overtaken with senile decay. He devolved his entire responsibility on his favourite ... With such persons at the helm of affairs, the fate of the administration can better be imagined than described."



And the second paragraph; again, the modified words are in bold:
"Never before did a more care-free sit on the throne of Delhi. This lad of 17 had passed most of his time within the four walls of the palace, in the society of ladies. None had cared for his education, because few could foresee the good fortune which lay in store for him. ... Timid and wavering ... he was a lover of pleasure, indolent and addicted to loose habits. He made it a rule of his life never to decide anything for himself; his favourites did it for him. He readily lent his ears to the advice of others without pausing to reflect upon the consequences of accepting it. He had no initiatives, nor even the dash of some of his predecessors. He was utterly ignorant of the elementary rules of the game of politics; he was not even anxious to know them. An author says that "he was negligent of his duties; but the fact is that he did not know if he had any duties to perform."



Jahandar Shah
(credit: Wikipedia)
Have I gone overboard in creative license and distorted these lines to make them fit the present? Judge for yourself; here is the original version of the first paragraph:
"Jahandar Shah proclaimed his accession at Lahore. Though about fifty years of age, he behaved like a frivolous young man of eighteen. His morals were highly depraved. He drank heavily and passed most of his time in the company of his mistress - Lal Kunwar, whose relations had obtained high posts in government service. Nor could his Vazir Zu'lfiqr fill n the void successfully. He had been overtaken with senile decay. He devolved his entire responsibility on his favourite, Sabha Chand. ... With such persons at the helm of affairs, the fate of the empire can better be imagined than described."

OK, so who was Jahandar Shah?

Jahandar Shah was one of the Mughal emperors! He was the eldest son of Bahadur Shah - not the "Zafar".

And who, pray, was Bahadur Shah, if he was not -the- Bahadaur Shah Zafar? He was the eldest son of Aurangzeb - we all know who Aurangzeb was, right? There is even a prominent road named after him in the poshest part of the capital. But before he became Bahadur Shah, his name had been Mu'azzam, and who Aurangzeb had intended to "receive 12 subas with his capital at Delhi." But immediately after Aurangzeb's death, his Vazir, Asad Khan, asked Azam - Aurangzeb's second son - to return to Ahmadnagar, where he was proclaimed king on 14th March, 1707, and who then decided to march to Agra.

Lal Kunwar
(credit: Wikipedia)
Mu'azzam meanwhile also started to make his way to Agra from Kabul, proclaimed his accession at Pul-i-Shah Daulah (near Lahore), and assumed the title of Bahadur Shah.
The two armies - of Azam and Bahadur Shah - faced each other at Jajau near Samurgarh in which A'zam and his sons Bidar Bakht and Wala Jah were killed.


[As an aside, Jajau is a small town on the Mumbai-Agra highway today, and Samurgarh is better known for the decisive battle fought between the sons of Shah Jahan - Aurangzeb and Murad Baksh on one side and Dara Shikoh on the other in 1658 ("Battle of Samugarh", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Samugarh).]

After Bahadur Shah's death in 1712, yet another and quite predictable fratricidal war took place between his four sons - Jahandar Shah, 'Azim-ush-Shan, Rafi-ush-Shan and Jahan Shah. In the skirmish near Lahore, the other three brothers were killed and thus it came to be that Jahandar Shah ascended the throne at Lahore. He was about fifty years of age.
This then was Jahandar Shah.

You see, a peaceful succession "would have violated the hoary Timurid tradition of fratricide."

Now on to the second paragraph: here is the original version:
"Never before did a more care-free sovereign sit on the throne of Delhi. This lad of 17 had passed most of his time within the four walls of the palace, in the society of eunuchs and ladies of the harem. None had cared for his education, because few could foresee the good fortune which lay in store for him. ... Timid and wavering ... he was a lover of pleasure, indolent and addicted to loose habits. He made it a rule of his life never to decide anything for himself; his favourites did it for him. He readily lent his ears to the advice of others without pausing to reflect upon the consequences of accepting it. He had no initiatives, nor even the dash of some of his predecessors. He was utterly ignorant of the elementary rules of the game of politics; he was not even anxious to know them. Rustom 'Ali, the author of Tarikh-i-Hind, says that "Muhammad Shah was negligent of his duties; but the fact is that he did not know if he had any duties to perform."

Who was Muhammad Shah?
Let me give you a hint. He was also one of the Mughal Emperors!!

Emperor Muhammad Shah with Falcon
Viewing his Garden at Sunset from a Palanquin ca 1730
Muhammad Shah, formerly known as Prince Roshan Akhtar, was "the son of the late Khujista Akhtar Jahan Shah, the fourth son of the emperor Bahadur Shah." After his accession to the throne on 28th September, 1719, he "assumed the style of Abul Muzaffar Nasir-ud-din Muhammad Shah Badshah Ghazi." This grandiloquent title was assumed without the slightest hint of irony!

As a puppet, he was a "virtual prisoner in the hands of the Sayyid brothers." His plight changed little after the exit of these puppeteers - "he fell into the clutches of Rahmat-un-Nisa Koki Jiu, the eunuch Hafiz Khidmatgar Khan, the necromancer Shah 'Abdul Ghaffar..."

Interestingly, it is argued that even "though the [Mughal] empire was falling to pieces, the name of the Mughal emperor and his titular supremacy had still some prestige left. He was recognized sovereign as much by the aggressive Marathas as by the succession States of Bengal, Awadh, Rohilkhand and Hyderabad. Even the Rajputs did not repudiate formal alliance to him. ... no other chief either cared or dared to assume the supreme title of king or emperor."
It is therefore little surprise that the sacking of Delhi by Nadir Shah "shook the nerves of many Indian politicians and statesmen. The French, the English and the Dutch trading companies were also frightened."

Azim ush-Shan
(credit: Wikipedia)
Little dignity as Muhammad Shah had to begin with, it was stripped completely away during Nadir Shah's invasion. He would die shortly after his battle with Ahmad Shah Abdali, in 1748. In case you are wondering, the pivotal battle that Abdali fought, with the Marathas, took place in 1761, and is also known as the Third Battle of Panipat.

Oh, while we are on the subject, remember  'Azim-ush-Shan - the second son of Bahadur Shah who was defeated by Jahandar Shah? His son, Farrukh-siyar, got the support of the Sayyid brothers (Sayyid Hussain 'Ali was the governor of Patna and Sayyid 'Abdullah the governor of Allahabad), and won in a battle against his uncle and Mughal emperor, Jahandar Shah. Jahandar Shah escaped to Delhi on a bullock cart and took protection with Asad Khan, who promptly betrayed him to his enemies. Thus Farrukh-siyar became the Mughal emperor.

How did his reign end? Need I tell you? Well, for the sake of completeness, let us complete this gory chapter.

For those who believe in Karl Marx's quote that "History repeats ... first as tragedy, then as farce", I would argue that the farce was what took place in the eighteenth century.



Reference:
I have adapted this account from Chapter II - "Successors of Aurangzeb", by B.P. Saksena (M.A, Ph.D, Formerly Professor of History, Allahabad) - of the magnum opus - "The Maratha Supremacy - The History and Culture of the Indian People", General Editor R.C. Mazumdar, published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Second Edition, 1991.

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© 2015, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.