475.Man in Blue – The Mughal & Habsburg Empire

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.

460.The Man in Blue – Intolerant Bigots

King Philips II of Spain (1527 – 1598) was the ruler of most of South America and Central America, Lord of the Netherlands, successor to the Dukes of Burgundy and to the mightiest nobles of the German Empire, the Habsburgs.

When in 1492 Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile conquered Granada, the last Muslim kingdom in Spain, they treated the conquered Muslims and Jews so badly that even many of those that converted to Christianity left the country.

When in 1580 Philips II conquered Portugal the descendents of those Granada Jews left Portugal. On both occasions Spain through bigotry and intolerance lost populations that everywhere they went contributed greatly to trade, science, philosophy and the arts.

In my previous article about the Netherlands I wrote about the 80 years war between the mostly Northern Protestant Dutch and their ruler Philips II. There were several moments when a peaceful solution of the conflict was possible.

But Philips, who was an intolerant bigot, did not know how to compromise. The religious strife was not the only cause of the war, another important aspect was Philips’ attempt to centralise the government of the Netherlands. But Philips would not budge even an inch, and the rebels won their independence.

He did manage to re-conquer what are now West and East Flanders and most of Brabant, including Antwerp. After the fall of Antwerp and other Flemish and Brabant cities that were in the forefront of business and culture in those days, many of their citizens went north to the young Dutch republic and added to the development of the arts and science and contributed to the Dutch world trade.

Later France revoked the edict of Nantes, which offered religious freedom to the French Protestants or Huguenots. Many Huguenots left France and a good few of them settled in Dutch cities like Amsterdam.

Baruch de Spinoza, the brilliant Dutch Jewish philosopher had his roots in Spain, and was allowed to discuss his original and controversial ideas in the Netherlands. René Descartes, the French philosopher, was neither a Jew nor a Huguenot, but got himself in trouble with the authorities in his country because of his controversial ideas. He settled in the Netherlands.

Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was often successful in the battle, but lost the peace. His predecessors gave defeated Hindu kings a position in the Empire. Aurangzeb just could not do this because he was an intolerant bigot. As a result he got involved in never ending conflicts which greatly weakened the Empire.

The Dutch republic thrived in the 17th century because of its tolerance and Philip II and Aurangzeb destroyed the might of their empires through their intolerance.

422.The Man in Blue – Guru Har Rai, Har Krishan, Teg Bahadur

Guru Hargobind was succeeded by his grandson Har Rai, who according to John F Richard in ‘The Mughal Empire’ page 177/178, supported Dara Shiko during the war of succession after the death of Shah Shahan. Dara Shiko was seen as somebody who would be more inclusive to people of other religions.

Aurangzeb won the war of succession and was not pleased with Guru Sahib. Therefore he demanded that Guru should send his eldest son Ram Rai to the Mughal court as a hostage and to be brought up as a supporter of the Mughal Empire. A faction of the Sikh community supported Ram Rai, but Har Rai nominated his youngest son Har Krishan as his successor.

Har Rai and Har Krishan were summoned to Delhi, where Har Rai died of natural causes. Before Aurangzeb could decide the succession, a faction of the Sikhs elected Teg Bahadur as the new Guru. There is no mention of Har Krishan as Guru in this section.

This is the first instance where the version of Sikh history as told by John Richards differs greatly from that generally accepted by Sikhs. The sources mentioned in the bibliography are three books by J S Grewal and one by W H McLeod. About nine years ago I read J S Grewal’s contribution on Sikh history to the New Cambridge History of India. I do not remember reading anything like this in that book. Does this story come from Hugh McLeod, and if so what was his source ?

This section, called ‘Sikh Martyrdom’, continues with how Guru Teg Bahadur organised the Sikhs and proselytised in Panjab and in Bengal and Assam. According to Richards many Jats converted to Sikhí. Wherever Guru went he was greeted by large enthusiastic crowds who welcomed his teachings.

Richards writes that under previous Emperors non-Muslims were allowed to build new places of worship. Aurangzeb did not allow this and even destroyed some Mandirs that were built in the time of Akbar and Jahangir. This was now also applied to Gurdwaré.

After several conversions of Muslims to Sikhí were reported to Aurangzeb he ordered the arrest of Guru Sahib. Guru and his five companions were arrested in Agra and taken to Delhi. He was tried and found guilty of blasphemy and was sentenced to death. There is no mention in the book of the Kashmeri pandits, or of the torture to death of Guru’s companions.

Richard’s finishes this section with : ‘After this second martyrdom the annual spring Baisakhi congregation of Sikhs in the hills acclaimed Gobind Singh [should be Gobind Rai], the young son of the slain leader, as the new Guru. At one stroke Aurangzeb earned the bitter hatred of thousands of Jat and Khatri Sikhs living in the North Indian plain.’

421.The Man in Blue – Shah Jahan & Aurangzeb

What changed in the Mughal empire after the death of Jahangir ? Was Jahangir like the intolerant Aurangzeb, or was there an important difference between the two ?

John F Richards in his book ‘The Mughal Empire’ writes that Guru Arjan was not made a martyr because he was not a Muslim. He was killed because he had a popular following and was seen as a potential alternative centre of power in the Panjab.

Jahangir was a follower of a quietist Vaishnava ascetic, whose teachings were further removed from mainstream Islam than the teachings of Guru.

Shah Jahan and even more Aurangzeb were not interested in learning from, or recognising the value of the Dharmic traditions of the sub-continent. How religious they really were is difficult to tell, but they clearly were ‘politically’ more Islamic than Akbar and Jahangir.

Akbar promoted intermarriage with the Rajputs and other Indian elites. Whatever his other motives were, he realised that he could not even count on the support of all ‘Indian’ Muslims, and that he needed support from the Hindu ‘upper classes’ in order to survive. Jahangir continued this policy.

When under Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb this policy changed, it took away their most powerful tool to integrate new militant groups that confronted them. What you see under Aurangzeb is that members of the ruling Maratha Bhonsla family who joined the Mughals, almost always went back to their old allegiance, as they had no chance to become part of the Mughal ruling elites as the Rajputs became under Akbar.

The result was that every time the Mughals thought that they had the situation in the ‘Deccan’ under control and went back north, the insurrection in the south would flare up again. Unrest in the south created the opportunity to successfully rebel to Sikhs in the North West, Jats in what is now UP, various Nizams and Nawabs ruling as governors on behalf of the Mughal Patishah and formerly loyal Rajputs.

No government can rule if they do not have the respect of a substantial part of the population. Respect might be based on fear or on the expectation of rewards, under Aurangzeb non-Muslims lost their fear and got no rewards.

Under Aurangzeb the Mughal empire reached its greatest expansion, but he was the last of the great Mughals. After his death his successors, weakened by the constant wars, rapidly lost control over many of their territories.  Aurangzeb died in 1807 and the Mughals carried on till 1857, but their Empire was gradually taken over by the East India Company.