Objectives of the Deccan Policy of Aurangzeb
Aurangzeb had several objectives in his Deccan policy, which included: • Expanding the Mughal Empire into the Deccan region. • Controlling local kingdoms and suppressing rebellions. • Dominating strategic trade routes in the Deccan. • Asserting Mughal authority over regional powers. • Promoting the spread of Islam and converting non-Muslims. • Establishing an efficient administration in the Deccan.
Phases of the Deccan Policy of Aurangzeb
Historians have divided Aurangzeb's Deccan Policy into four distinct phases, each marked by different strategies and outcomes. Another phase was later added describing the aftermath of the Deccan policy after the death of Aurangzeb.
Phase 1: 1658-1668 - Reclaiming Ahmednagar from Bijapur
The genesis of this phase can be traced back to a treaty forged between Shah Jahan, the predecessor of Aurangzeb, and the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda in 1636 AD. Under this agreement, Shah Jahan granted them one-third of the territory of Ahmednagar and sought their assistance in countering the Marathas. In return, he guaranteed not to launch any military campaigns against them. However, Shah Jahan's subsequent actions betrayed this treaty when, in 1657-58, he threatened to attack Bijapur and Golconda, citing their occupation of extensive areas in Karnataka as justification.
Shah Jahan's change of heart can be attributed to the Mughals' need for financial resources and their policy of neutrality towards the ongoing conflicts in the Deccan. To rectify this situation, he demanded the return of the Ahmednagar territories. Aurangzeb, who succeeded Shah Jahan, sought the cooperation of Adilshah of Bijapur in his quest to confront the Marathas. However, Adilshah adopted a non-cooperative stance, complicating Aurangzeb's ambitions in the region.
Recognizing the futility of a passive approach, Aurangzeb sought counsel from Jaisingh, a trusted advisor, who advised him on the necessity of an aggressive policy to address the Maratha problem effectively. However, Aurangzeb's concerns regarding the northwest threats and his reluctance to leave the capital deterred him from launching an extensive military expedition to Bijapur.
Despite the logistical challenges, Aurangzeb's desire to secure Solapur, a significant stronghold, drove him to adopt alternative means. In 1668, he resorted to bribery, leveraging his resources to acquire Solapur. This maneuver, although successful, showcased Aurangzeb's flexibility and adaptability in pursuing his territorial objectives.
The first phase of Aurangzeb's Deccan policy exemplifies the complexities and trade-offs involved in imperial expansions. The emperor faced diplomatic setbacks, uncooperative allies, and logistical constraints while grappling with the ambition to subdue the Marathas and consolidate Mughal authority in the Deccan. While Jaisingh's advice was initially met with limitations, subsequent events would shape Aurangzeb's approach in the following phases of his Deccan policy.
Phase 2: 1668-1681 - Annexation of Bijapur and Golconda
In this phase, Aurangzeb strategically intervened in the internal affairs of Bijapur, leveraging alliances and exploiting power dynamics to further his objectives. Recognizing the internal vulnerabilities within Bijapur, Aurangzeb selected Diler Khan, an Afghan Sardar known for his strong relations with the Sardars of Bijapur. This alliance aimed to consolidate Mughal influence by manipulating the political landscape in Bijapur. Aurangzeb's move set the stage for subsequent actions in the Deccan.
In 1677, Aurangzeb launched an invasion of Golconda, rallying the Afghans of Bijapur to his cause. However, the combined forces of Madonna and Akhanna successfully repelled the joint Mughal-Bijapur army. It is worth noting that Golconda had previously welcomed Shivaji, the Maratha warrior, with open arms. In light of this history, Shivaji also lent his support to Golconda, leaving Bijapur isolated in the Deccan. This isolation presented an opportunity for the Mughals to exploit the weakened Bijapur.
Confronted with the impending Mughal threat, Bijapur sought assistance from Golconda. However, Qutb Shah of Golconda imposed humiliating conditions for his support, underscoring the zenith of Golconda's influence in the Deccan. Despite the affront, the Afghans of Bijapur reluctantly accepted these conditions, understanding the necessity of aligning with Golconda to withstand the Mughal onslaught.
In this complex political landscape, Masud was appointed as the deputy ruler of Bijapur, and he attempted to establish peace with the Mughals by engaging in negotiations with Diler Khan. These efforts reflected the delicate balancing act required to navigate the shifting alliances and power dynamics in the Deccan.
Aurangzeb's determination to subjugate Bijapur reached its apex in 1679 when he decided to launch a direct attack on the kingdom. However, the Mughal army encountered significant challenges, resulting in their failure to capture Bijapur. Forced to retreat, the Mughals faced setbacks that would reverberate throughout the region.
Seizing the opportunity presented by the Mughal retreat, Shivaji initiated attacks on Mughal territories. This development further complicated the Deccan landscape and highlighted the resilience of regional powers in the face of Mughal ambitions.
The second phase of Aurangzeb's Deccan policy unfolded as a intricate tapestry of political maneuvering, military encounters, and shifting alliances. The Mughals' attempts to assert dominance over Bijapur faced significant resistance and setbacks, ultimately highlighting the complexities and challenges inherent in governing a diverse and politically dynamic region like the Deccan.
Phase 3: 1681-1687 - Struggle against the Marathas
The third phase of Aurangzeb's Deccan policy marked a critical juncture in Mughal-Deccan relations, characterized by a relentless pursuit of dominance and the emergence of fierce Maratha resistance. Initiated in 1681, this phase was triggered by the flight of Aurangzeb's rebellious son, Akbar, who sought refuge with the Marathas in the Deccan.
Aurangzeb, determined to quell the Maratha challenge, followed Akbar to the Deccan, unleashing the full might of the Mughal Empire against Sambhaji, the son of the legendary Maratha leader Shivaji. However, despite his formidable efforts, Aurangzeb failed to achieve his objective. It became evident to the southern states that the Marathas served as a protective shield, ensuring their survival against the Mughals. Consequently, Bijapur and Golconda refrained from supporting Aurangzeb, recognizing that without Maratha strength, their existence would be threatened by Mughal aggression.
Frustrated by the lack of support, Aurangzeb directed his ire towards Bijapur, launching an attack on the kingdom. In response, the rulers of Bijapur sought assistance from both the Marathas and Golconda, who promptly provided their aid. The joint army of the three forces confronted the Mughal army, but even the combined strength of this alliance proved insufficient against Aurangzeb's well-organized and formidable troops.
In 1686, Bijapur succumbed to Mughal dominance and was annexed into the empire. Emboldened by this victory, Aurangzeb turned his attention to Golconda, launching a successful invasion that resulted in the annexation of the kingdom. While the Mughals exacted a significant indemnity from Golconda, Aurangzeb offered assurance of forgiveness. However, despite these gestures, Golconda remained unable to escape the clutches of the Mughals.
After the downfall of Bijapur and Golconda, Aurangzeb was able to concentrate all his forces against the Marathas. Apart from invading Burhanpur and Aurangabad, the new Maratha king, Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj (son of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj), had thrown a challenge to Aurangzeb by giving shelter to his rebel son, Prince Akbar.
Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj took a peculiarly passive attitude towards Prince Akbar, spending his energies in a futile war with the Siddis on the coast and with the Portuguese. In 1686, the prince dashed into Mughal territory but was repulsed. Discouraged, Prince Akbar escaped by sea to Iran and sought shelter with the Iranian king.
The third phase of Aurangzeb's Deccan policy marked a turning point in Mughal-Deccan relations. The inability to subdue the Marathas, coupled with the annexation of Bijapur and Golconda, set the stage for heightened Maratha resistance and a protracted struggle for regional dominance.
Fourth Phase: 1687-1707 Failure of the Deccan Policy:
In 1689, Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj was surprised at his secret hideout at Sangameshwar was attacked by a Mughal force. He was paraded before Aurangzeb and executed as a rebel and an infidel. Historians observed that this was undoubtedly a major political mistake on the part of Aurangzeb. He could have sealed his conquest of Bijapur and Golconda by coming to terms with the Marathas. By executing Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, he not only threw away this chance but also provided the Marathas a cause. In the absence of a single rallying point, the Maratha sardars were left free to plunder the Mughal territories.
Rajaram, the younger brother of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, was crowned as king, but he had to escape when the Mughals attacked his capital. Rajaram sought shelter at Jinji on the east coast and continued the fight against the Mughals from there. Likewise, Maratha resistance spread from the west to the east coast.
Aurangzeb, after 1690, concentrated on annexing the rich and extensive Karnataka tract to the Mughal Empire. During the period between 1690 and 1703, Aurangzeb stubbornly refused to negotiate with the Marathas. Rajaram was besieged at Jinji, but the siege proved to be long-drawn-out. Jinji fell in 1698, but the chief prince, Rajaram, escaped. Maratha resistance grew, and the Mughals suffered a number of serious reverses. The Marathas recaptured many of their forts, and Rajaram also managed to come back to Satara.
From 1700 to 1705, Aurangzeb dragged his exhausted and ailing body from the siege of one fort to another. On the other hand, floods, disease, and the Maratha rambling bands took a fearful toll of the Mughal army. All these factors combined to weaken Aurangzeb's hold on the Deccan. The Marathas regrouped and launched a spirited guerrilla warfare against the Mughals.
In 1705, Rajaram died, and his widow, Tarabai, assumed the leadership of the Marathas. She provided strong and able leadership and managed to keep the resistance alive. The Mughals faced numerous challenges in the Deccan due to the relentless Maratha attacks and the rugged terrain that favored guerrilla warfare.
By the time of Aurangzeb's death in 1707, the Deccan policy had failed to achieve its objectives. The Marathas, under the leadership of Tarabai, continued to resist Mughal dominance and fought for the liberation of their motherland. The Deccan remained a challenging region for the Mughals.
Fifth Phase: 1707-1761- Decline of the Mughal and Maratha Rule in Deccan
After Aurangzeb's death in 1707, the Mughal Empire entered a period of decline, and the Marathas seized the opportunity to expand their influence and establish their own power in the Deccan. Under the leadership of Tarabai, the Marathas launched a series of campaigns against the Mughals and gradually gained control over significant territories. Tarabai's son, Shivaji II, succeeded her as the ruler of the Maratha Empire. However, he was a weak and ineffective leader, and the real power resided with the Maratha generals known as the Peshwas. The Peshwas played a crucial role in shaping the destiny of the Maratha Empire and expanding its influence.
During the early 18th century, the Marathas under the Peshwas consolidated their power and established their capital in Pune. They adopted a policy of expansion and launched military campaigns to conquer territories in the Deccan and beyond. The Marathas succeeded in capturing important cities such as Bassein, Surat, and Tanjore, and they established a vast empire stretching from present-day Maharashtra to parts of present-day Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
Under the leadership of the Peshwas, the Marathas developed a sophisticated administration system known as the "Peshwa administration." They implemented policies that encouraged agriculture, trade, and commerce, which contributed to the economic prosperity of the Maratha Empire. They also established a network of alliances with various regional powers and employed a decentralized system of governance, allowing local rulers to retain their autonomy under Maratha suzerainty.
The Marathas faced challenges from various quarters during this period. They encountered resistance from the Mughals, who were trying to regain their lost territories in the Deccan. The Marathas also faced opposition from the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Nawab of Bengal, and the British East India Company, which was gradually expanding its presence in India.
The most significant conflict during this period was the three Anglo-Maratha Wars fought between the Marathas and the British East India Company. These wars, fought between 1775 and 1818, resulted in the gradual decline of the Maratha Empire. The Marathas were initially successful in their resistance against the British, but internal conflicts, the lack of unity among the Maratha leaders, and the superior military tactics of the British eventually led to their defeat.
The Third Anglo-Maratha War, fought from 1817 to 1818, marked the end of Maratha dominance in the Deccan. The Marathas were decisively defeated by the British, and the Peshwa's authority was abolished. The British East India Company took control of large parts of the Maratha territories, while some territories were assigned to Maratha chiefs who accepted British suzerainty.
The decline of the Marathas continued in the following years, and they gradually lost their political and military significance. However, their legacy as a regional power and their contributions to Indian culture, administration, and military tactics remained significant. The Marathas played a crucial role in shaping the history of the Deccan and left a lasting impact on the subsequent political developments in India.