During the 18th Century, the Empire saw fighting for its throne which resulted in war that claimed thousands of lives.
This left the Emperor in a weakened position and brought about a wave of uprisings throughout the provinces. Their emerging power was too much to deal with for the empire, and thus saw the beginning of its decline.
At the same time, England was experiencing the Industrial Revolution. They needed raw goods from India and in order to obtain these materials, the East India Company interfered in the local political turmoil. Gradually, the company gained more and more power within India. Eventually, it established its own military and administrative departments. Shareholders even met to make decisions regarding the British Colonies.
By 1813, the British government took away the power that allowed the East India Company’s monopoly and later, the company worked on behalf of the government. In 1857, the Indian Rebellion occurred which prompted the British colonial office to exile the last emperor, Bahadur Shah II, and take complete control of the Indian subcontinent.
The first cause for the decline was Aurangzeb’s responsibility. He was largely responsible for the downfall of the Mughal Empire. This happened even though those kings, who ruled before him, did a great job in winning the loyalties of their subjects like the Hindus and the Rajputs.
As a fanatic, Aurangzeb was unable to tolerate those who were non-Muslims in his empire. He introduced oppressive laws like the introduction of jazia and a total ban on celebration of Hindu festivals. Because of this animosity, he lost the trust and friendship with the Rajputs. He executed the Sikh Guru Teghbahadur and created widespread enmity with the Marathas, forcing them to rebel against his leadership. Additionally, Aurangzeb was also obsessed with the Deccan, which had detrimental effects on Mughal army. As a staunch Sunni Muslim, he did not have room for the Shias, who also turned against him.
The nobles also developed rebellion against their king because he was mostly against their way of life, including dancing, singing and drinking. These were common habits among most Muslim nobles, who felt oppressed by the King. It is therefore evident that King Aurangzeb was responsible for the decline of the Mughal Empire.
Besides the oppressive rule of Aurangzeb that, his successors also contributed to the fall of Mughal Empire. For example, his successors turned out to be weak and incompetent to take control of the entire empire. Most of them found pleasure in lavish lives without bothering the stability of the state. This created weaknesses that led to the decline of the once strong and stable empire.
This weakness from successors took root because there was no law that defined the process of succession in the Mughal Empire. Oftentimes, the death of a king resulted into wars among their sons before a king would sit on the throne. They used nobles and royal family members to fight for power. Consequently, nobles were divided as they fought to safeguard their interests. This bred anarchy as nobles resorted to conspiracies, making the Mughal Empire weak and vulnerable to external attacks.
The poor economy of Mughal Empire further weighed heavily on its stability. Importantly, the economy grew weak because of constant wars, which rocked the empire. Moreover, the Mughal kings were less concerned with economic growth as they spent public resources on having fun and putting up monuments, which added no value in the state.
The Rise of Regional Politics and States
The so-called “Regional Powers” by which one probably means the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh, the Marathas under Baji Rao I and the Mysore Kingdom under Hyder Ali were no small powers.
Each of them was equal or greater than one or more European states of that era in terms of size, GDP and population. Also, it wasn’t that they had suddenly erupted out of nothing. The Sikhs had been persecuted since the beginning of their religion by the various Delhi-based dynasties.
The Mughals ruled strongly for 200 years and overall for a period of 350 years (the last 100 odd years as virtual prisoners in Delhi). But for nearly 400 years before the Mughals came to power, various dynasties were competing. Further, Rajputana was almost always neutral or enemy with the ruling houses of Delhi.
The Deccan states were too far away from Delhi to have accepted their rule as were the North-Eastern states and Southern states. The Afghan provinces usually rebelled at intervals of 100 years or so in all these rules. Most of the newer dynasties occupying Delhi first conquered Kabul, made it their base and then marched on Delhi . This movement of power is well documented. The dynasties ruling Delhi were ruling only until they held the power of the sword, as the numbers of their allies and permanent friends were never greater than 5% of the total population, the remaining abhorred them. This was the reason there were near-perpetual rebellions.
Infact, Humayun the second Mughal, spent most of his rule in exile in Afghanistan while trying to conquer Delhi. Further, after the death of Shah Jahan, there was a major civil war between Aurangazeb and his brothers for the throne which he finally won by force.
The empire built on sword was always liable to be broken by the sword and it finally got broken because after the death of Aurangazeb no ruler sitting in “Delhi” could enforce his diktat on the provinces.