Aurangzeb’s death in 1706 set off the rapid decline of the Mughal Empire. His successors were weak and increasingly became mere tools in the hands of the nobles. Taking advantage of this the Rajputs, Sikhs and the Afghans openly defied the authority of Mughal emperor.
Even more disturbing was the fact that the assertion of independence had spread to other parts of the empire. The governors of Hyderabad, Bengal and Avadh established independent kingdoms and the Marathas reorganized under a new system of government that of the Brahman ministers the Peshwas.They were gradually extending their control towards north India.
At the time of foreign invasions such as those of Nadir Shah (1729) and Ahmad Shah Abdali (1747-61) further weakened the empire. The rising power of the Marathas was temporarily checked by their defeat at the hands of Ahmad Shah Abdali in the third battle of Panipat in 1761. The Mughals were now reduced to the area around Delhi. They continued to rule in name until 1857.Real political power was shifted to the hands of the new kingdoms.
Causes of decline of Mughal Empire
Although the Mughal Empire began breaking –up in the 18th century, the causes of its decline can be traced back much earlier.Aurangzeb’s long reign of constant and uninterrupted fighting was not only a big drain on the exchequer but it also led to the negligence of administration. Politically he made number of mistakes which undermined the strength of the Mughal Empire.
The empire was also met with financial troubles. There was neither enough money nor jagirs to assign to various officers. This led to rivalry among the nobles for the possessing the existing jagirs.They tried to extort the maximum income from their jagirs at the cost of the peasantry. Attempts were made to transform existing offices and jagirs into hereditary ones.
The officers invariably reduced their expenditure by not maintaining their full quota of troops thus weakening the empire’s armed strength. The condition of the peasant had also gradually worsened. Higher revenue demands, a greater level of exploitation by jagirdars because of frequent transfers tried to extract as much as possible during their tenure as Jagirdar.
The practice of farming the land revenue to the highest bidder after the death of Aurangzeb increased peasant discontentment. The rebellions of the Satnamis, Jats, and the Sikhs were indicative of this. The Zamindars too became rebellious and withheld revenue. The Mughal Empire might have continued to exist for a long time if its administration and armed power had not broken down.