Regional Powers in 18th Century – Part 1

In this article we will know about the regional powers during the 18th Century. As you are aware that the central power during this time was a fading Mughal empire and rising British East India Company. Apart from these two major powers, there were many regional rulers who are listed here in the first of this series.

HYDERABAD AND THE CARNATIC

  • Chin Quilch Khan better known as Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah founded the state of Hyderabad in 1724 and the Asaf Jahi dynasty.
  • He played a leading role in the overthrow of the Sayyid brothers and was rewarded with the viceroyalty of the Deccan.
  • From 1722 to 1724 he was the wazir of the Empire but due to irresponsible behaviour of emperor left for Deccan.
  • He never openly declared his independence.
  • A Hindu, Puran Chand, was his Dewan.
  • The Carnatic was one the subahs of the Mughal Deccan under the Nizam of Hyderabad.
  • However under Nawab Saadutullah Khan, Carnatic became virtually independent.
  • Saadutullah Khan nominated his nephew Dost Ali as his successor without approval of his superior, Nizam.

BENGAL

  • Murshid Quli Khan was made Diwan of Bengal by Aurangzeb.
  • He was made Governor of Bengal in 1717, soon became its ruler in true sense.
  • Though virtually independent Murshid and his successors sent revenue to Mughal emperor regularly.
  • In choosing revenue farmers he gave preference to local zamindars and mahajans (money lenders) who were mainly Hindus. He thus laid the foundations of a new landed aristocracy in Bengal.
  • The only three major uprisings during his rule were: first by Sitaram Ray, Udai Narayan and Ghulam Muhammad, and then by Shujat Khan, and finally by Najat Khan.
  • After Murshid Quli Khan’s death his son-in-law Shuja-ud-din ruled, followed by Shuja-ud-din’s son, Sarfaraz Khan.
  • In 1739, Alivardi Khan deposed and killed Sarfaraaz and made himself the Nawab.
  • It was Ali Vardi’s grandson and successor Siraj-ud-Daulah who fought against British at Plassey (1757).
  • The Nawabs of Bengal neglected to build a strong army and paid a heavy price for it.
  • Alivardi Khan was constantly troubled by the repeated invasions of the Marathas and, in the end, he had to cede a large part of Orissa to Maratha Sardar Raghuji Bhonsle.

AWADH

  • Founder was Saadat Khan Burhan-ul-Mulk who was appointed Governor of Awadh in 1722 as reward for overthrowing the Saiyid brothers.
  • He was succeeded by his nephew Safdar Jang, who was simultaneously appointed the wazir of the Empire in 1748 (hence called Nawab-Wazirs of Awadh) and granted in addition the province of Allahabad.
  • Safdar Jang made alliance with Maratha to save his dominions from their incursions. He carried on warfare against the Rohelas and the Bangash Pathans.
  • In his war against the Bangash Pathans, he secured Maratha military help along with some Jat support.
  • Safdar Jang entered into an agreement with the Peshwa by which the Peshwa was to help the Mughal Empire against Ahmad Shah Abdali and also against internal rebels.
  • The highest post in his Government was held by a Hindu, Maharaja Nawab Rai.
  • Faizabad was capital of Awadh till 1775, after which Lucknow became the capital and soon extended to Delhi his patronage of the arts and literature.

RAJPUTS: JAI SINGH OF AMBER

  • The most outstanding Rajput ruler of the 18th century was Raja Sawai Jai Singh of Amber (1681-1743).
  • He was a distinguished scientist, astronomer, statesman, law-maker, and reformer.
  • Being a great astronomer he erected observatories at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi and Mathura.   His astronomical observations were remarkably accurate.
  • He drew a set of tables titled as Zij Muhammadshahi to help people to make their own astronomical observations.
  • He had Euclid’s “Elements of Geomerty” and Napier’s work on construction and use of logarithms translated into Sanskrit.
  • He founded the city of Jaipur and built it on scientific principles and regular plan.
  • Jai Singh was also social reformer, He tried to enforce a law to reduce the lavish expenditure which the Rajputs had to incur on their daughters’ weddings.
  • He also tried to promote widow re-marriage.

THE JATS

  • During Aurangzeb, Jats under leadership of Gokla and again under Rajaram had revolted against the Mughals.
  • The Jat state of Bharatpur was set up by Churaman and Badan Singh.
  • Jat power reached its highest glory under Suraj Mal (1756-1763).
  • Surajmal was extremely brilliant administrator and leader.
  • He is known as Plato of the Jat tribe and was considered next only to Nizam-ul-mulk Asaf Jah among Grandees of India.

BANGASH PATHANS AND ROHELAS

  • Muhammad Khan Bangash, an Afghan adventurer, established his control over the territory around Farrukhabad during reign of Muhammad Shah.
  • Ali Muhammad Khan carved out a separate principality, known as Rohilkhand, at the foothills of the Himalayas.
  • Their first capital was Aolan in Bareilly and later Rampur.

PUNJAB

  • The transformation of Sikhs into militant, fighting community began under 6th Guru Hargobind Singh. They became political and military force under 10th Guru Gobind Singh.
  • After 10th Guru institution of Guruship ended and leadership passed to his trusted disciple Banda Bahadur. Banda rallied together the peasants and lower castes of Punjab and fought a vigorous struggle against Mughal army.  But he was captured and killed in 1715.
  • The anarchy created by invasions of Nadir Shah and Abdali gave Sikhs opportunity to rise again and between 1765-1800 they brought Punjab and Jammu under their control.
  • They came to be organized into 12 misis (confederacies) in Punjab which were based on principle of equality with each member having equal voice in affais of Misi and in electing chief of Misi and its officers.
  • But soon democratic nature of Misis and spirit of brotherhood and unity of Khalsa disappeared. Misi chiefs quarreled with one another and carved independent fiefdoms.

RANJIT SINGH (1792-1839)

  • Born to the chief of the Sukerchakia misi, Maha Singh.
  • He succeeded to the chieftainship in 1792 as a minor with his mother as the regent and assumed of full charge in 1796.
  • His organized an alliance of Sikh Misis west of Indus against invasion of Zaman Shah of Afghanistan. This success made him powerful and these Misis accepted him as Maharaja of Punjab in 1801.
  • He captured Lahore (1799) and Amritsar (1802) where he added the golden dome to Harmandir or Golden temple.
  • He made Lahore his capital.
  • He brought all Sikh chiefs west of the Satluj under his control.
  • But he signed Treaty of Amritsar (1809) with the British and accepted not to cross the Satluj as he realized that he was no match for British.
  • He later captured Kashmir, Multan and Peshawar.
  • He also signed tripartite alliance with British and Shah Shuja of Afghanistan in 1838. He also got back the Kohinoor diamond from Shah Shuja.
  • Ranjit Singh built up his powerful army (Fauj-i-Khas) on European lines raised by European officers Ventura and Allard.
  • He recruited Gurkhas, Oriyas, Pathans Dogras etc.
  • His artillery department was headed by Ilahi Baksh.
  • He set up modern foundries to manufacture cannon at Lahore.
  • His army was considered as 2nd best in Asia, first being that of East India Company.
  • He was very liberal and is said to have wiped feet of the Muslims with his long beard.
  • His finance minister was Dewan Dina Nath and another trusted minister was Fakir Azizuddin.
  • Ventura, Allard, Court, Gardener and Avitable were his European officers.
  • After his death, there was lot of instability due to political intrigues.
  • The last ruler of his dynasty was his son Dalip Singh who was exiled to Britain and Punjab was annexed by Dalhousie in 1848 after 2nd Sikh war.

Also Read:

Regional Powers in 18th Century – Part 2

Regional Powers in 18th Century – Part 3

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