The agrarian crisis of the Mughal Empire, which ultimately proved to be one of the most important causes for the decline of the Mughal Empire, was brought about by a number of factors, particularly by the evils of the jagirdari system.
The jagirs were divorced from any rights to land and were essentially assignment of revenue. The tendency in the imperial revenue department was to pitch the revenue demand at the highest possible rate so as to secure resources for the military operations of the empire.
With the passage of time the revenue demand kept on increasing. There was also conflict between the interests of the imperial administration and those of the individual jagirdar. A jagirdar whose assignment was liable to be transferred any moment and “who never held the same jagir for more than three or four years could never follow a far-sighted policy of agricultural development”.
In the seventeenth century the belief had become deep-rooted that the system of jagir transfers led inexorably to reckless exploitation of the peasantry. Moreover, the jagirdars imposed and realized numerous other taxes from the peasantry. Frequently, “the peasants were compelled to sell their women, children and cattle in order to meet the revenue demand”.
With the passage of time the oppression increased, the cultivation declined and the number of absconding peasants grew. During the early years of Aurangzeb, Bernier records that “a considerable portion of the good land remains untilled for want of labourers, many of whom perish in consequence of the bad treatment from the governors, or are left with no choice but to abandon the country”. Beyond a point there was no choice left to the peasant but that between starvation or slavery and armed resistance.
The flight of the peasants from their land was a common phenomenon. Some peasants abandoned agriculture altogether. The classic act of defiance on the part of the peasants was the refusal to pay land revenue. The ties of caste played an important role in rousing peasants to act collectively in defence of their interests.
Religion also united the peasantry to fight for their common ideals. The inspiration for the two powerful rebellions of the Satanamis and the Sikhs against the Mughals came from a common religious faith.
The discontent of the zamindars against the Mughals provided a leadership to these agrarian uprisings. The peasants and zamindars thus frequently joined hands in their struggle against the Mughals.
The Jat and the Bundela rebellions, the Satanami uprising, the rise of the Sikh and the Maratha powers, were all caused by agrarian tensions. The whole empire was so full of contradictions that conflicts were inevitable.
There were conflicts of interests between the various groups of landed class. Whenever the local intermediary or chieftain rose in rebellion he was able to muster behind him a very large section of primary zamindars as well as the tenant-farmers against the imperial government. All these factors ultimately led to the collapse of the whole system.