The Deccan policy of the Mughals was guided by a number of factors like the strategic importance of the region, the administrative and economic necessities of the Mughal empire, etc. Babar had little time to spare in regard to the Deccan, still his conquest of Chanderi in 1528 brought him close to the northern borders of Malwa. Humayun also could not devote much time to the Deccan due to his preoccupations in Gujarat, Bengal and Bihar. It was only Akbar who made efforts to extend Mughal suzerainty over the Deccan states.
After the conquest of Gujarat in 1572-73, Akbar decided to extend the Mughal influence in the Deccan so as to protect the trade routes to the ports of Gujarat and to control the Portuguese who had emerged as a power in the west coast.
Akbar’s first contact with the Deccan was in 1561 after the conquest of Malwa. Then followed the Mughal defeat at Bijagarh, Akbar’s march to Mandu and subjugation of Khandesh as a vassal state. A combination of military offensive and diplomacy helped Akbar get Ahmadnagar into the Mughal fold by 1600.
Meanwhile, the Asirgarh fort of Khandesh was captured by Akbar in 1601, and the other sultanates tried to make peace with Akbar. When Akbar returned to Agra. Malik Ambar, an Ahmadnagar noble utilized the opportunity to install a boy of the royal family as ruler so as to revive the Nizam Shahi rule and began guerilla warfare against the Mughals. Abandoning the policy of confrontation, Akbar then reverted to diplomacy.
Jahangir tried to follow Akbar’s policy in the Deccan, but could not do so because of his preoccupations elsewhere as also due to the rivalry and quarrel among the Mughal generals who did not implement his plans. Moreover, they had a formidable adversary in Malik Ambar who was superior to them in military skill.
It is believed that in 1616 Malik Ambar in collusion with the Khan Khanan (deputed by Jahangir to the Deccan) arranged a make-believe victory by Khurram over the enemy, for which Jahangir gave him the title Shah Jahan. Anyway, whatever territory the Mughals gained this time, Malik Ambar recovered it all by 1619. After Shah Jahan’s revolt against him, Jahangir deputed Mahabat Khan to deal with it; Malik Ambar defeated him and then allied with Shah Jahan.
But Shah Jahan then submitted to Jahangir and Malik Ambar stopped the hostilities. Ambar died in 1526 when his son Fath Khan took over as peshwa and, due to his arrogance, created dissensions among the nobels. During Jahangir’s reigri there was no territorial gain by the Mughals in the Deccan due to court politics, differences among the Mughal generals and above all taking of bribes from the Deccanis by the high Mughal officials.
After Shah Jahan’s accession to the throne, the Mughal governor of the Deccan, Khan Jahan Lodi revolted and joined Nizam Shah. However, Malik Ambar’s son, Fath Khan killed Nizam Shah, installed his son Hussain on the throne and accepted Shah Jahan’s suzerainty in 1632. But at the instigation of Bijapur, Fath Khan opposed the Mughals when Mahabat Khan captured the Daulatabad fort for the Mughals and sent Hussain Nizam Shah as a prisoner to Gwalior in 1636. Fath Khan switched over to the Mughals and was assigned a jagir.
Shahji Bhonsle, a Nizam Shahi noble then revived the kingdom by placing a boy of the royal family, Murtaza, on the throne. Shah Jahan had to come to the Deccan to deal with it. He defeated Shahji who fled to Bijapur. Shah Jahan then attacked Bijapur and defeated the ruler, Adil Shah, who signed a treaty with the Mughals in 1636.
According to the treaty the Nizam Shahi rule came to an end and its territory was divided between the Mughals and Bijapur. For the next twenty years, Mughal-Bijapur relations remained generally cordial and peaceful. In 1656, the Bijapur ruler died, and prince Aurangzeb wanted to conquer Bijapur and obtained Shah Jahan’s permission. But Dara Shikoh prevailed upon Shah Jahan to stop the conquest and Aurangzeb had to stop the operations. The Mughals made Golconda a vassal state in 1636. The issue of arrears in the payment of tributes was raised by Shah Jahan in 1656, advised Aurangzeb to besiege the Golconda fort. Here also, at the intervention of Dara, the siege was lifted when Golconda ceded some areas. The campaign in the Deccan did not bring any positive benefit to the Mughals but paved the way for the annexation of the states there in time to come.
When Aurangzeb ascended the throne, the situation in the Deccan was complicated due to the growing power of the Marathas and the unwillingness of the sultanates to honour the treaties which Shah Jahan concluded with them in 1657.
Raja Jai Singh with help from prince Muazzam was able to conclude the treaty of Purandar with Shivaji in 1664, but his subsequent two attempts to conquer Bijapur ended in failure. The Bijapur ruler’s death in 1672 and the accession of his minor son, Sikandar, to the throne made it favourable to the Mughals to continue with their policy of expansion. Hostilities were resumed in 1676, and Daler Khan replaced the Mughal general Bahadur Khan in 1680.
The precarious peace between Bijapur and the Mughals was disrupted when the latter asked Bijapur to help them against Sambhaji. As Bijapur did not comply, military action was started in 1685. Sikandar Adil Shah surrendered in 1686, and the Adil Shahi kingdom was annexed to the Mughal empire. Aurangzeb was not too pleased with Golconda because the ruler had employed brahman ministers. Also, the Mughals came to know of Golconda’s military help to Bijapur during the Mughal’s military operations in 1685.
So Prince Muazzam was ordered to attack Golconda, and in the battle of Malkher in 1686 the Qutb Shahi forces were routed. The ruler took shelter in Golconda fort and surrendered after a siege lasting for eight months in 1687. Golconda was then annexed to the Mughal empire, thereby ending the Qutb Shahi dynasty.
The Mughal emperors, till the reign of Shah Jahan, remained satisfied with forcing the sates of the south to accept their suzerainty and did not insist on annexing them. Aurangzeb, however, attempted to annex them to the Mughal empire.
Though he succeeded in his designs, his success was short-lived. Very soon the Deccan was to become his graveyard. His period thus witnessed not only the successful completion of the Deccan policy but also its failure, for the economy suffered and the centralized administration could not control such a vast area effectively.
“Thus by the end of 1689, Aurangzeb was the unrivalled lord paramount of Northern India and the
Deccan alike……. All seemed to have been gained by Aurangzeb now; but in reality all was lost. It was the beginning of his end. The saddest and most hopeless chapter of his life now opened. The Mughal empire had become too large to be ruled by one man or from one centre… His enemies rose on all sides; he could defeat but not crush them forever.
Lawlessness reigned in many parts of Northern and Central India. The administration grew slack and corrupt. The endless war in the Deccan exhausted his treasury. Napoleon I used to say, It was the Spanish ulcer which ruined me. The Deccan ulcer ruined Aurangzeb” (Jadunath Sarkar in Studies in Mughal India).
Agreeing with J.N. Sarkar’s view that the Deccan was to Aurangzeb what Spain was to Napoleon I, Dr Meera Singh, however, says that “to charge Aurangzeb with the motive of annexing Deccan states from the very beginning is a misinterpretation of facts, for had he been earnest to incorporate the Deccan states, he need not have waited for twenty- three years to decide the issue and could easily have done so in 1658 AD.” In view of this she puts forward three fundamental factors which, in her opinion, conditioned Aurangzeb’s Deccan policy:
1. the limited Mughal financial resources in Deccan;
2. the Mughal relations with the Deccan states;
3. the rise of the Marathas.
The limited Mughal financial resources in the Deccan had adversely affected Mughal policy in Deccan since Jahangir’s time. The Mughal governors was obliged to maintain additional military contingents without any hope of receiving financial help from the emperor.
Further, the revenue collected (Hasil) was far less than the revenue expected (Jama) in the province. Under Aurangzeb, when Raja Jai Singh appealed for additional subsidy against Bijapur, he was sanctioned the required amount reluctantly and on the condition that the amount granted would be duly recovered.
The failure of the expedition led Aurangzeb to refuse to compensate Jai Singh the sum of a crore of rupees, which the latter had spent from his own income. Deccan governors, like the Marathas, sought to alleviate the financial crisis by raiding the neighbouring territories. This was one way of augmenting their meagre finances; but it also created greater lawlessness.
As regards the second factor, once the Deccan states realised the seriousness of the Mughal threat, they allied themselves with their rivals, the Marathas. Although plagued by mutual distrust, the Deccan states and the Marathas were unified in the face of what they perceived as foreign opposition in the form of the Mughals. The problem was compounded by the strategic placement of the Marathas.
Shivaji’s Swaraj was an uneven terrain where every hill was a natural fort, and it comprised the region that belonged to the Mughals and Bijapur. Its unevenness made it a natural ground for guerrilla tactics. Consequently, the Mughals failed to isolate the Marathas or the Deccan states as they had effectively isolated Mewar.
With regard to the above, Aurangzeb was left with three alternatives.
One was to maintain the status quo in Deccan, so long as the state paid their tribute regularly and did not shelter any Mughal adversary. The Marathas too could be left in peace provided they restricted themselves to the south and did not raid Mughals territory. Aurangzeb initially adhered to this policy and would have continued to do so but for the rapid decline of Bijapur and the meteoric rise of Shivaji, which endangered Mughal interests in Deccan. Matters came to a head when the fugitive Prince Akbar was granted asylum by Shambhuji. Aurangzeb then replaced the policy of non-intervention in Deccan for that of a policy of annexation.
The adoption of a forward policy which was propagated by Jai Singh in 1660 AD, was the second alternative. Jai Singh advocated the conquest of Bijapur with Shivaji’s help, rather than attacking the Deccan states and the Marathas simultaneously.
Once isolated, Shivaji, it was felt could be eliminated with ease. With this aim in mind, overtures of friendship were made to Shivaji and the treaty of Purandhar signed. A powerful section of Mughal courtiers consisting of Diler Khan, Jaswant Singh and Jahanara, did not approve of the policy, however.
Under-estimating Shivaji’s ability, these courtiers refused to ally with a petty zamindar and raider, and put an end to Jai Singh’s efforts to secure the support of the Marathas. The absence of an alternative strategy towards either the Marathas of the Deccan states, led the Mughals to waste a decade from 1666 to 1676 AD in half-hearted attacks against Shivaji and in encouraging intrigues at the Bijapur court.
Securing Bijapur’s support to help defeat Shivaji, was the third alternative left to the Mughals. Yet there were no concrete efforts made to achieve this aim.
The third factor in influencing Aurangzeb’s Deccan policy was the meteoric rise of the Marathas under the dynamic leadership of Shivaji in the seventeenth century. The Maratha-Mughal contest lasted nearly a quarter of a century, and ended in disaster and humiliating defeat for the Mughals.