Causes of the Revolts of Senior Nobles of Akbar 1562-67

An Attempt to Assassinate Akbar, Jagan, Bhawani Kalan & Madhav, 1564, Akbarnāma, V&A Museum, London

In May 1662 a senior Turani noble Mirza Sharfuddin revolted against Akbar. This is important to note as this revolt set the pattern for a number of revolts that took place during the subsequent period of 3 years. In 1564 an attempt to assassinate Akbar was made outside the Madrasa of Maham Anaga by a man associated with Mirza Sharfuddin. In all these revolts, one finds nobles concerned took initiative in starting hostilities against the central authority without ostensible or immediate provocation from the other side. These revolts may thus be interpreted as the manifestation of the disaffection of a powerful section of nobility against Akbar. One could also say that they are a manifestation of a wide struggle between Akbar and an influential section of his nobility.

That these revolts in a short period of three years were not ordinary revolts but a reflection of a deep conflict growing, is borne out by their unusual frequency: in 3 to 4 years period, 5 or 6 major rebellions covering the entire empire and its different regions is not something to be regarded as part of an ordinary process.

Turani Revolts?

All those involved in these revolts were Turanis: it was basically a struggle between the central authority and the Turani nobles entrenched in different regions and important positions. The only exception to this was the revolt of Asif Khan.

Let us also remember that in each and every revolt, the initiative was taken by rebel nobles: These revolts were not a result of any specific complaints but a result of general alienation and disaffection of a particular section of the nobility. Again, from the history of these revolts, it also seems that throughout this time, Akbar was defensive, trying to save his neck, though Abul Fazl paints him to be composed and secure. Though he had given concessions to these rebellious groups and was defensive under the heavy pressure when Abdullah Khan Uzbek rebelled – he tried to dissuade him through negotiations via Munim Khan. Even in the case of Ali Quli, Akbar knew six months in advance but he did nothing. Instead he sent emissaries to negotiate but to no avail.

Turani vs Irani?

Another feature of these revolts was that amongst the Turanis, the dissatisfaction was much more widespread than what was reflected in the act of actual defiance of the nobles. Even those who co-operated with Akbar, by and large, were also not very happy with him. A lukewarm attitude was followed by them. We find that during Mirza Sharafuddin’s revolt, when expedition was sent to suppress him, the Turani officers included in this expedition did not fully co-operate with some of the Irani nobles whom Akbar had appointed as the commander of the army. For example, Abul Fazl tells us that during this campaign, some of the Turani nobles turned against their own Irani commanders and killed them. It was in this manner that Ahmad Beg and Sikandar Beg were killed. Similarly were killed Husain Quli, a nephew of Bairam Khan and his younger brother.

Abul Fazl also states that there was wide spread dissatisfaction among ordinary Turani nobles that the expeditions were being commanded by the Iranis.

Another case of Turani dissatisfaction was the attitude adopted by Munim Khan, who was still a formal wakil. We know that after Asif Khan deserted his post, command of the army against the Uzbeks in the east was given to Munim Khan. When he took up the command a problem arose: While the Irani officers in the government adopted a belligerent attitude – they were in favour of a military solution to the conflict – the attitude of Munim Khan was different. He persisted that as far as possible, direct hostility be avoided. He had called Ali Quli Khan to negotiate and Akbar had agreed. When negotiations dragged on for months, the Khurasanis alleged that he was by talking; employing a delaying tactics and that he was in sympathy with the rebels. It was alleged that his co-operation with Akbar was slightly tainted and was in fact taking side of the other party in negotiations.

Abul Fazl also quotes that on one occasion when Ali Quli Khan was staying at Muhammadabad near Ghazipur, Akbar tried to surprise him there. Akbar was at Ghazipur. He ordered the royal forces to capture the rebels. Munim Khan deliberately delayed the march from Ghazipur by a few hours and sent message to Ali Quli to leave Muhammadabad and he was saved from being captured. Abul Fazl says, this came to Akbar’s notice immediately but he did not take any action against Munim Khan as he did not mean any harm to the person of Akbar but thought that the proper course would be reconciliation.

So one can say, that, the behaviour of Turani nobles in general was such that dissatisfaction amongst them was almost universal.

As a corollary of the Turani revolts, it is quite understandable for Akbar to depend increasingly on non-Turanis – particularly the Irani nobles. Thus we find that during this time all important offices in the central government were held by the Khurasani officers.

In 1564 Muzaffar Khan was appointed wakil-i kul. The central government at this time was controlled by a set of Irani officers including persons like Khwaja-i Jahan (Khwaja Amina), Muizzul Mulk, Khwaja Ghiyasuddin (Asaf Khan) etc. A few Turanis who were allowed to continue were however not given much power: for example Munim Khan was without much power or influence.

Similarly in appointment to high positions and high commands in the army, it was the Iranis who were preferred over Turanis.

In the 1563-64 expedition against Mirza Hakim and Abul Ma’ali, Iranis were appointed. Against Ali Quli, an Irani, Abdul Majid was sent as commander.

So a feeling of rivalry between the Turanis and Khurasanis was bound to develope.

The initial cause for this dissatisfaction, as we have seen, was the drastic measures initiated by Akbar to eliminate the influence of Maham Anaga’s influence: this is borne out by Mirza Sharafuddin’s rebellion.

But then Maham Anaga died 40 days after Adham Khan’s execution. Still in these rebellions different factions of Turani origin kept on participating. So factors which led to this situation were much deeper than just measures against Maham Anaga faction.

Economic and Administrative Reasons

Some tentative explanations which can be put forward for explaining this phenomenon is as follows:

The scrutiny of the jagirs of the nobles with the aim of ascertaining the arrears of the khalisa revenues was perhaps a very important factor leading to the general dissatisfaction of the more powerful groups of nobility.

At this time, the nature of jagirs was different from that which was given in the latter half of Akbar’s reign, or the jagirs as we find under Jahangir and Shahjahan. At this time entire sarkars would be placed under the control of a particular officer and the revenues of the same sarkar would be given under his jurisdiction with the only condition that a fixed portion of the revenue be treated as khalisa revenue which the noble after collection had to deposit in the central treasury. The jagirs and administrative charges were concomitant and the khalisa revenue was specified only in quantity and not in terms of parganas or mahals. The responsibility of its collection was on the jagirdar: and thus he was having the opportunity to usurp them if he wished so. That is why the scrutiny would be needed: the total collection from the region was placed under his charge as his administrative-cum assignment charge.

Secondly the problem was further accentuated owing to the existence of inflated jama’. Ain-i Nuazdeh sala shows inflated rates. Natural consequence of inflated jama’ would be considerable hardship to the nobles. The actual income would be much less than that indicated on paper. Thus to collect the revenues that would be assigned to them in the form of jagirs given against individual parganas and mahals, these nobles would have the tendency to usurp the khalisa revenues which was also their responsibility. It was unavoidable thus that the noble would fail to deposit khalisa share to the state. So if the aim of the state would be to calculate khalisa arrears, everyone would feel panicky and threatened. They would also feel the hardship involved in this endeavour.

In addition, from 1564 onwards, Akbar had adopted an administrative policy which was again bound to create discontent amongst the Turani nobles who were the most established and powerful group of nobles at this time.

One of the policy matters of Akbar after 1564 was the dispersal of the nobles belonging to the same clans to different areas and sarkars. So a deliberate policy was initiated, of not allowing nobles of the same clan to have jagirs in contiguous areas. Till this time the established practice was that a senior noble would be assigned a jagir, say in Punjab; others of the same clan would be given territories around it. The entire military command of that area would be thus with this senior officer. This was a great leverage for the senior officers with the central authority. There were many such clan clusters during this time. For example, the nobles of the Atka Khail led by Shamsuddin Muhammad Atka had their jagirs concentrated in the Punjab region till 1567. Similarly the Uzbeks were concentrated in the Awadh and Jaunpur region. The Qaqshal clan was in and around the sarkar of Kara Manikpur. The Mirzas were concentrated in the region of Sambhal.

This was a general pattern till 1564, when onwards Akbar followed a deliberate policy of breaking these ties and concentrations. Incidentally all these clans named above were Turani tribes and clans. The Atkas were a Turkish clan.

That such a policy was deliberately followed and that it was not liked by the nobles, isa got from Bayazid Bayat, who records a conversation which took place between Akbar and Munim Khan. The import of this conversation was that Akbar boasted of scattering Atka Khail all over the empire deliberately. Perhaps this policy was being pursued over a long period since Akbar took effective control of running the administration in his hands. And perhaps this became yet another factor which provoked the Turani nobles to rebel one after the other. Atleast some like Munim Khan and Majnun Khan Qaqshal nursed this as a grievance against Akbar.

Bifurcation of Military & Administrative Responsibilities

Another point is that from 1564 onwards, Akbar’s policy was to exclude important military officers from the working of the central government altogether. They were given charges of different regions and not allowed to stay and interfere in the working of the local administration. This job was handed over by Akbar to a set of Khurasani officers who had no following of their own: their only qualification was that they were competent persons in respective fields and were always prepared to implement policies imposed by Akbar without bothering about the consequent reaction of the nobility.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi