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Ahmed Shah Abdali – Modern Indian History

Ahmed Shah Abdali - Modern Indian History

The Downfall of the Mughal Empire and British Hegemony


Following Muhammad Shah’s death in 1748, the Mughal Empire plunged into bitter internal struggles and civil wars among power-hungry and unscrupulous nobles. The situation worsened as the north-western defenses weakened, leading to devastating invasions by Ahmed Shah Abdali, a formidable general who had assumed authority over Afghanistan after Nadir Shah’s death.

Abdali’s Invasions and Maratha Defeat

Between 1748 and 1767, Ahmed Shah Abdali launched repeated invasions, plundering northern India, reaching as far as Delhi and Mathura. In the decisive Third Battle of Panipat in 1761, Abdali dealt a significant blow to Maratha ambitions, thwarting their attempts to control the Mughal Emperor and dominate the country.

Decline of Abdali’s Kingdom

Despite his victories, Abdali and his successors failed to establish a lasting Afghan kingdom in India. They were unable to retain control over Punjab, losing it to Sikh chiefs in the aftermath of invasions and internal conflicts.

Mughal Empire’s Diminished Territory

By 1761, the Mughal Empire had ceased to exist as an all-India entity, contracting to the status of the Kingdom of Delhi. Delhi itself became a scene of daily riot and tumult, reflecting the diminished influence and control of the Mughal rulers.

Read Also: Muhammad Shah

Shah Alam II’s Struggles

Shah Alam II, ascending the throne in 1759, faced the challenges of a fractured empire. Despite his abilities and courage, the Mughal Empire was beyond redemption. Fearful for his life, Shah Alam II spent years wandering away from his capital.

War Against the East India Company and Defeat

In 1764, Shah Alam II, along with Mir Qasim of Bengal and Shuja-ud-Daula of Avadh, declared war on the British East India Company. The Battle of Buxar in October 1764 ended in defeat for the coalition, solidifying British influence. Shah Alam II lived as a pensioner in Allahabad under British control.

Maratha Support and British Domination

In 1772, Shah Alam II left British protection and returned to Delhi under the Marathas’ safeguard. However, the British occupied Delhi in 1803, marking the beginning of a period where the Mughal Emperors served as political fronts for the British until the dynasty’s final extinguishment in 1857. The downfall of the once-mighty Mughal Empire paved the way for British hegemony over India.

Read Also: Nadir Shah’s Invasion (1738–39)

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