Murshid Quli Khan As The Governor Of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa

Truly, Aurangzeb was the last powerful mughal emperor. Because, after his death, due to lack of worthy successors, the Mughal empire gradually grew weaker and by seizing this opportunity anti-Mughal powers, such as the sheikhs and the Marathas gradually grew stronger. As a proof of the weak central governance of the Mughal, many independent Nawabs rose within the empire, such as the Nawabs of Sindh, Ajodhya and Bengal, who acknowledged the Maghal rule nominally but were completely independent in decision making. Among those regions Bengal was the most prosperous in terms of trade and commerce, production and population, where Murshid Quli Khan first began the rule of Nasiri dynasty. 

Murshid Quli Khan was born in a poor Brahmin family. His name was Shurjo Narayan Mishra. He was bought in Iran In 1670 by Hazi Shafi, a mughal officer of noble rank and was converted to islam and was named Mohammad Hadi. After the death of Haji Shafi in 1696, Mohammad Hadi came to Berar province in India and started to work under diwan Hazi Abdullah Khurasani. His expertise in collecting revenues attracted Emperor Aurangzeb’s attention and he sent him to Dhaka appointing him as the diwan of Bengal.   

At that time Azim-us-shan was the subahdar of Bengal. He was the son of the future Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah and the grandson of Aurangzeb. Azim-us-shan was spending a large portion of the revenues earned from Bengal to fulfil his ambition and luxury. But after becoming the Diwan, Murshid Quli khan stopped giving him extra money. So friction ensued between Murshid Quli khan and Azim-us-shan. At one stage, Azim-us-shan planned to kill Murshid Quli Khan. At that time (some of the) soldiers’ salaries were due. Azim-us-shan convinced the soldiers that Murshid Quli Khan was responsible for their non-payment. The infuriated soldiers surrounded Murshid Quli Khan and tried him out with their queries. Azim wanted to kill Murshid Quli amidst this agitation. But clever Murshid Quli Khan sensing Azim’s plot threatened Azim-us-shan that the emperor would know every information and would subject Azim to dreadful punishment, if he (Quli) were killed. Azim became afraid of this and came to the agreement that he would take responsibility for Murshid Quli Khan’s security. 

After getting out of this alive, Murshid Quli could not feel safe in Dhaka anymore. So he wrote a letter to Aurangzeb explaining everything. After knowing everything Aurangzeb appointed Azim-us-Shan as Bihar’s subahdar and appointed Azim’s underage son Farrukhsiyar in his position. As Farrukhsiyar was a minor, Murshid Quli carried out all his duties. Meanwhile, Murshid Quli Khan moved his diwani office to Mukhsudabad from Dhaka. His logic in this regard was that Mukhsudabad was situated in the central part of Bengal and it would be easier to collect revenue as well as to keep an eye on the European traders. 

In 1703, Murshid Quli Khan went to Bijapur to meet Aurangzeb as well as to give the revenue which was collected from the province. Captivated by Quli’s efficiency, the emperor appointed him as the subahdar of  Odisha and also made him the diwan of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. Besides, he got the title of Murshid Quli and the permission to change the city name Mukhshudabad to Murshidabad. 

While Murshid Quli was working to better Bengal’s economy, a great adversity befell Mughal empire. Emperor Aurangzeb died on march 3, 1707. Without nominating a successor, he divided his empire between his two sons - Mohammad shah Azam and Bahadur Shah 1. But, both of them were planning to become the sole successor of the empire, in order to be so, Shah Azam quickly occupied the capital Agra. On the other hand, Bahadur Shah reached on the outskirts of Agra with an enormous army that was built as part of his long term plan. Bahadur Shah wrote a letter to Shah Azam stating that Azam should be content with Southern India as per their father’s wish. In addition, he agreed to give Gujrat and Azmir to Azam. But, Shah Azam rejected that proposal. So, war became inevitable. The two forces confronted each other at Jajau. Shah Azam and his sons were killed in the war. Bahadur Shah ascended the throne as the new Mughal emperor. His sons, especially Azim-Us-Shah played a pivotal role in the war as the commander of the vanguard battalion. Consequently, Azim returned to Bengal as subahdar( governor). Hence, Murshid Quli’s position became somewhat weak.

Few months later Bahadur Shah transferred Murshid Quli to the Deccan highlands (southern India) at Azim-Us-Shan’s instigation. But without Murshid Quli chaos ensued in different parts of Bengal and Azim failed to repel that. As a result, Azim was compelled to bring Murshid Quli back to Bengal in two years. Using his power and intelligence, Murshid Quli made Bengal stable again in no time.

At this point, Azim-Us-Shan tried to repair his relationship with Murshid Quli. Azim tried to occupy the throne after Bahadur Shah’s death in 1712. But he was killed by drowning in the Robi river that year and Jahandar Shah occupied the throne. On the other hand, Azim-Us-Shan’s son Farrukhsiyar was hell-bent on avenging his murdered father and occupying the throne. Murshid Quli earnestly helped Farrukhsiyar with money, soldiers and advice. After defeating Jahandar Shah in Agra in 1713, Farruksiyar became the ruler of the Mughal Empire. But he did not forget Murshid Quli’s aid in his time of adversity. So, as a token of his gratitude, he appointed Murshid Quli naib-e-nazim (deputy governor). Within a year, Murshid Quli was declared the Subahdar of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.

Murshid Quli was very strict about revenue collection. In fact, Bengal was the Mughal’s biggest source of income. Murshid Quli Khan took necessary steps to reform the revenue system. He introduced a new revenue system based on land surveys. This revenue system was known as malzamini.

Murshid Quli Khan restrained the irregularity, negligence, laziness, and expensive lifestyle of the Zamindars (feudal landlords who collected fixed revenue from the peasants on behalf of the government). He divided the entire Bengal in thirteen chakla (administrative divisions) and appointed an Amin(surveyor) in each of the Chakla. He assigned ijaradars (leaseholders) to collect revenue instead of the zamindars. He only appointed leaseholders (ijaradars) from a group loyal to him, from whom due collection was easier. Later, these leaseholders aka revenue farmers, based on bloodline, obtained the right to become zamindars from the period of lord Cornwallis. Arab, Persian and Armenian businessmen became active in Bengal. From the seventeenth century various companies started to buy thread, silk and other products originated from those. They imported gold and silver to buy those. As a result, the treasury started to fill up with an abundance of foreign currency. 

As this business started to expand, currency traders, pawn-brokers, money lenders, shopkeepers and brokers thrived quickly in the usury/banking business.

Murshid Quli’s innovative revenue policy saved the subjects from dual governance. The torture of the ruling was stopped. The advancement of trade and commerce was secured. As a result, people’s ability to pay taxes increased. Consequently, Murshid Quli was able to send to Delhi eleven and a half million rupees including gold coins under the guard of 300 infantry and 500 cavalry soldiers.

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