1. Question: Fragmented Polity in Later-Mughal period
  2. Introduction (Define | Origin | Data)
  3. Body#1: Fragmented Polity in North & East India
  4. Body#2: Fragmented Polity in Deccan and the South
  5. Body#3: Why it was a ghastly spectre?
  6. Conclusion

Question: Fragmented Polity in Later-Mughal period

Q. Clarify how mid-eighteenth century India was beset with the spectre of a fragmented polity. (150 words, 10 marks, GSM1-2017)
Question is not out of syllabus. it was asked in UPSC Mains 2017 because UPSC notification itself mentions “Mid-18th century – Present (significant events, personalities, issues)” as a syllabus topic in General Studies Paper-1. First, let’s breakdown the words of the question:

  1. Mid-eighteenth century: the time around 1750s.
  2. Beset: annoy continuously
  3. Spectre: ghostly appearing figure or some haunting experience. Merely narrating the events and factors related to decline of Mughal empire around 1750s– will not suffice, until you explain why it was a ‘ghostly haunting annoying experience.’ Let’s start:

Introduction (Define | Origin | Data)

Best way to open this answer is with ‘origin’. It asks about ‘fragmented polity’ so better we start origin from a point when India had a ‘centralized polity’.

  • During 16th & 17th century, major parts of India gradually came under a centralized administrative system with the Mughal emperor at its apex and his Mansabdari bureaucracy ruling the provinces.
  • In the first decade of 18th century, Bahadur Shah (Shah Alam-I) had ascended the Mughal throne after a war of succession among 3 sons of Aurungzeb. (1707 to be precise)
  • This marked the beginning of ‘Later Mughal period’ – characterized by (I) weak rulers and (II) Rise of autonomous regional states who pledged only namesake loyalty to the emperor.
  • The resultant politico-administrative situation in Delhi and elsewhere was as following:
Mughal Empire Fragmented Polity

If there was no fragmented Polity then entire map would have been in single color only!

Body#1: Fragmented Polity in North & East India

  • The internal bickering among the Mughal family members and factionism among the nobles had emboldened first Nadir Shah and then Ahmed Shah Abdali to invade India.
  • 1739: Nadir Shah captured and sacked Delhi, went off with Kohinoor diamond, Peacock throne and three years worth of revenue. This had significant repercussions on Mughal emperors’ reputation, financial & military strength in the later years.
  • Aurangazeb’s policies on religion, economy and Deccan region had already started discontent among Mansabdars, the weak personalities and lack of foresight of the later Mughal rulers didnot help curbing their discontent. Consequently, the viceroy / governors of Awadh (1722), Hyderabad (1724) and Bengal (1746) founded independent states.
  • While they acknowledged Mughal emperor as their symbolic political sovereign but exercised autonomy in the local administration. The emperor couldn’t rely upon them for financial and military help during foreign invasions.
  • Bengal’s ruler Alivardi Khan stopped paying any tribute to Mughal emperor (1746), as Maratha, English and French became more active in his region. His son Siraj-ud-Daula was defeated by Robert Clive at the battle of Plessey (1757)- which marked the foundation of British rule in India.

Body#2: Fragmented Polity in Deccan and the South

  • Hyderabad: Viceroy of Deccan Chinquilich Khan had founded the Hyderabad state (1724), but instead of punishing him, the weak Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah granted him the title ‘Asaf Jah’ (1725)- thus Hyderabad became practically an independent state whose rulers recognized the Mughal emperor as their namesake sovereign. After death of the first Nizam, there were constant family feuds for successions. British were involved behind the curtains, and ultimately signed the treaty of friendship at Masulipatanam (1768). Thus, Hyderabad became a puppet in the larger schemes of the East India Company.
  • Carnatic Region: From Chanda Sahib to Muhammad Ali- puppet rulers of Carnatic state were installed, toppled or assassinated by the British and French generals (1749-52).
  • Mysore state: gained prominence as Haidar Ali trained and modernized its troop with the help of French (1755). Needless to say, Mughal writ didnot run over this region while British and French fought for its control.
  • Marathas agreed to protect Mughal emperor Ahmad Shah from internal and external enemies, in-lieu of revenue from certain provinces of North-west. But the Marathas were defeated by Ahmed Shah Abdali in the third battle of Panipat (1761). Nana Saheb Peshwa died upon hearing this news. The succession disputes weakened Peshwas’s hold over Maratha confederacy. Consequently, Peshwa, Holkar and Scindia fell prey to the scheming Europeans.
  • I’ve written years in bracket only to give a chronological glimpse for your personal understanding. Otherwise, in the real exam, it’s difficult to recall even the exact year of third battle of Panipat!
  • Anyways, now we’ve sufficient examples to illustrate the ‘fragmented polity’. But we’ve not yet touched why it was a ‘spectre’ (harrowing experience)? Let’s start:

Body#3: Why it was a ghastly spectre?

  • Frequent wars of succession / invasion by foreign and neighboring rulers resulted into large scale death of ordinary soldiers. Masses suffered hardship as a result of heavy taxation, inflation, trade embargos, mass-murder and mass-raping by the invading armies.
  • To finance their economic and military expansion, the regional rulers would loot the standing crops in neighboring provinces, and lay siege on the prosperous cities. This had stymied the growth of agriculture and trade despite the entry of multiple trading companies from Europe.
  • Mughal emperors used to supervise and transfer Jaagirdaars to keep a check on their oppressive and corrupt practices. But in the 18th century, these Jaagirdaars would openly defy transfer orders of the Emperor, and extract exorbitant amount of revenue from local peasants for their own lavish lifestyle. [ऐयाशी के लिए स्थानिक लोगो का शोषण करते थे.]
  • In some regions, “Ijaradari” system was implemented, wherein revenue collection rights were tendered out to the highest bidder. One could only imagine the type of exploitation and malpractices such Ijaredaars indulged in. [यद्यपि मुखर्जीनगर के भाड़े के मकानों में रहेने वाले उम्मीदवार उन्हें imagine कर ही सकते है- अपने मकान मालिक के स्वरूप में!]


  • Indeed, Indian subcontinent in the middle of the eighteenth century was marked with political fragmentation and regional instability.
  • The ruler of Delhi was no longer the ‘de-facto’ ruler of India. For a large number of Indians, ‘right to live’ transformed into ‘struggle for survival’, and the ‘freedom of trade’ transformed into ‘ransom and robbery’- all because of the bickering among regional rulers. All these created ripe opportunities for the British to takeover India and indulge in large scale ‘drain of wealth’.

This is almost 900 words answer, but in real exam, you can’t recall all points, so automatically it’ll compress down to 150 words.


  1. Chapter on Later Mughal Period in भारत का इतिहास, क्रिश्ना रेड्डी | Indian History by Krishna Reddy
  2. First Chapter in From Plassey To Partition by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay