I have written in previous articles about similarities between Phillips II, the second Habsburg King of Spain and ruler of a huge European and South and Middle American Empire, and the last Great Mughal, Aurangzeb.
Phillips II was a bigoted Roman Catholic who because he could not allow any form of accommodation with the Protestant rebels of the Netherlands, did enormous damage to his empire. The Kings who ruled after him inherited a debt-ridden country and Spain never recovered its former strength.
Aurangzeb was not willing to accommodate the defeated Hindu rulers of the south of India, and was therefore forced to fight the same battles again and again as the southern royal families kept producing able commanders to lead
rebellions. This also gave an opportunity to rebels in the north (not just the Sikhs). Aurangzeb exhausted the resources of his mighty empire and after him it went all the way down until its inglorious end during the 1857 mutiny.
In the five columns that precede this one I have given the readers who are interested in matters not directly related to Panjab or the Sikhs a fuller account of the rebellion in the Netherlands and the reaction of Phillips to it.
One thing that struck me was the ‘apology’ that Willem van Oranje wrote for the rebellion. Willem’s reasoning, simplified, is that there is a contract between the ruler and the ruled. That contract is partly formal; various groups within the 17 semi-independent states that made up the Netherlands had formal rights, which that the ruler promised to respect at his swearing-in.
But there is also an underlying idea that the ruler has to be a just ruler. What made a just ruler during the 17th century in Europe is not what we would now expect, but this reasoning contradicts both the concept that the lands ruled by the high noblemen are their personal property, to dispose of at will, and the idea that the rulers have absolute power granted by God.
I do not know whether such an idea of a compact between ruler and ruled existed in Central Asia, where India’s Mughal rulers had their origin. But within the Hindu Dharm there are notions of just rulers. Again I must emphasise that these notions would not lead to the sort of government that would be acceptable in 2011.
I think that most of the Great Mughals had a notion of being just rulers, but that Aurangzeb, because he thought that he had unlimited absolute powers, did not show any care for the vast majority of the people in his empire.
One final note: in Muslim countries religious minorities were often better respected than in Christian countries. Aurangzeb was not the only intolerant Muslim ruler, but Akbar was most definitely not the only tolerant one. Too many people’s view on Islam is distorted by Osama bin Laden, but he was not a Muslim.