Shah Alam II

Introduction

Shah Alam II, also known as Ali Gauhar, was the son of Mughal Emperor Alamgir II. He was born on June 25, 1728. His mother was Nawab Zinat Mahal Sahiba.

After the murder of his father, Ali Gauhar managed to escape became the next Mughal Emperor under the title Shah Alam II. He was the eighteenth Mughal Emperor.

Shah Alam II tried to defend the glory of the Mughal Empire. He (along with allies) also fought the Battle of Buxar with the British Army. The period of his reign is from December 1759 to November 1806.

Throne of Delhi remained vacant

Shah Alam II appointed Shuja-ud-daula his wazir. But as Delhi was in the hands of Imad-ul-Mulk who was bitterly hostile to him, and a long struggle was about to take place between the Marathas and the Afghan invader Ahmad Shah Abdali, Shah Alam did not venture to proceed to the imperial capital to take his seat on his ancestral throne. He continued to reside in the eastern provinces for over twelve years, during most of which time the throne of Delhi remained vacant.

In 1761, the Third Battle of Panipat was fought between the Maratha Empire and the Afghan King, Ahmad Shah Afdali. The Marathas lost the battle. The Third Battle of Panipat shattered the dream of a Maratha empire for the whole of India.

Ahmad Shah Abdali nominated Shah Alam II as emperor and Imad-ul-Mulk as wazir. He delivered charge of Delhi to Najib-ud-daula and confirmed him in the rank and title of Amir-ul-Umra. The Abdali’s attempt to conclude a peace with the Peshwa and Suraj Mal failed and he left Delhi for Kabul on 20th March, 1761.

The emperor Shah Alam II being away in Bihar, the throne of Delhi remained vacant from 1760 to 1771. During most of this period (1760-1770) Najib-ud-daula was in charge of the administration of the capital city and the dwindling empire.

Shah Alam druing 1760 – 1770

During the period of Najib’s dictatorship at Delhi, the emperor Shah Alam was in exile in Bihar where he made three unsuccessful attempts to conquer that province from the English who had set up Mir Jafar as Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. His first siege of Patna which terminated in April 1759 was undertaken in his capacity as the crown prince. The second invasion of Bihar took place in 1760 after he had crowned himself emperor. He besieged Raja Ram Narain, the deputy governor in Patna, but an English army under Knox came up by repeated marches and compelled the emperor to raise the siege (30th April, 1760) and retire to the bank of the river Yamuna.

Battle of Buxar

Shah Alam could not, however, proceed to Delhi as he found himself powerless to take the administration from the hands of Najib-ud-daula, who was now ruling over Delhi as a Dictator. The Battle of Buxar was fought on 22nd Octbeber, 1764 between the British and the combined army of Shuja-ud-daula, Mir Qasim (the Nawab of Bengal) and Shah Alam II. The allies were defeated by the British East India Company. After the defeat, Shah Alam II was willing to make peace with the victors. After Shuja-ud-daula’s flight they lodged the emperor at Allahabad where on 19th August, 1765. Shah Alam II conferred the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa on the British East India Company.

March towards Delhi

The emperor remained under the English guardianship from 1760 to 1771. But all the time he was very eager to go to Delhi, for in spite of settled income from the annual tribute of twenty-six lakhs of rupees from Bengal he felt it humiliating to continue to reside under the foreign domination. So when the Marathas returned to Northern India in the beginning of 1770, the emperor opened negotiations with them and with their assistance proceeded to Delhi, where he reached on 6th January, 1772.

Difficulties at Delhi

Shah Alam’s task was a difficult one. He found the Delhi treasury empty and the imperial family reduced to poverty and starvation. He had promised to pay forty lakhs of rupees to the Marathas as the price of his restoration. To get the money for fulfilling these obligations an expedition was organized against Zabita Khan, who was besieged in Pathargarh, but the money obtained from him and others was not adequate enough for the payment of Maratha dues and the latter attacked Delhi. A battle took place between the Maratha army and the Mughal emperor’s troops in which the latter was defeated (January, 1773). The emperor had to grant Kora and Allahabad to the Marathas.

Struggle with Ghulam Qadir Rohilla

During the absence of Sindhia from Delhi there were intrigues against him and he was thrown out of court. Ghulam Qadir Rohilla, son of Zabita Khan and grandson of Najib-ud-daula, succeeded in getting himself appointed Mir Bakhshi in September 1787. He turned against the emperor, obtained possession of his palace and deposed Shah Alam on 30th July, 1788. Ghulam Qadir blinded the emperor. The blind old emperor sent frantic appeals to Mahadji Sindhia to return to Delhi and impose condign punishment on Ghulam Qadir.

Sindhia recovered Delhi city and fort early in October. Ghulam Qadir fled and was hunted, captured and put to death. Shah Alam II was thus avenged. Shah Alam II awarded Mahadji Sindhia with Agra Fort, Mathura and Vrindavan.

Arrival of British and last days

Early in 1792 Mahadji Sindhia quitted Northern India in order to pay a visit to the Peshwa in Poona. He died there on 12th February, 1794 and the court of Delhi again became a scene of helplessness and intrigue. In September 1803 the imperial city was captured by Lord Lake from Mahadji Sindhia’s successor Daulat Rao Sindhia. Shah Alam now became a pensioner of the British. He died in November, 1806.

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