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Conflict and Cooperation in Anglo-Mughal Trade Relations during the Reign of Aurangzeb Author(s): Farhat Hasan Reviewed work(s):

Source: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 34, No. 4 (1991), pp. 351-360 Published by: BRILL Stable URL: . Accessed: 19/12/2011 05:21
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Since Stewart') and Jadunath Sarkar2), studies on the English East India Company's relations with the Mughals have, with varying degrees of emphasis and reservations, repeated the story narrated in the English sources3). The English settlements, it is said, were based on an "agreement" with the imperial court whereby they were assured of free movement of their merchandise, protection of their factories and trading operations and concessions in levies and cesses. During the reign of Shahjahan this "agreement" reached a new footing when he exempted the English from the realisation of customs duty, and provided them immunity from road-tolls, transit dues and other illegal cesses. However, bureaucratic corruption and central government's inactivity stood in the way of the benefits accruing to the English from these concessions. It is further asserted that the government officials having no long-term interest in the region they governed temporarily, treated these foreigners as "milch cows", those which had been unabashedly levying illegal ceases-including specifically exempted for the English, like the customs leviesforcibly purchasing their merchandise at ridiculously low prices, and
1) Charles Stewart, History of Bengal, Calcutta, 1910. 2) Jadunath Sarkar, History of Aurangzeb, London, 1924, Vol. V. 3) See, e.g., W.H. Moreland, From Akbar to Aurangzeb, London, 1923; Anjali Chatterjee, Bengal in the Reign of Aurangzeb, 1658-1707, Calcutta, 1967; Sukumar Bhattacharya, The English East India Companyand the Economyof Bengal 1704-1740, Calcutta 1969; and Phanindranath Chakrobarty, Anglo-Mughal Commercial Relations, 1704-1740, Calcutta, 1968.



hiking the price of their purchases by creating monopolies, until the English could take no more. Their appeals to the emperor fell on deaf ears leaving them with no alternative but to take recourse to blockading the Red Sea-Surat trade and the haj#traffic. The Mughals would retaliate by pillaging their factories, imprisoning their agents, and ultimately, by open recourse to arms. A delicate "balance of terror" would, however, prevent any side from enjoying a clear victory; negotiations and contracts would create a temporary lull until the entire phenomenon would start all over again. While, indeed, this simplistic picture is not drawn in thin air, it needs to be re-examined given its easy bias in favour of the English, which is obvious in view of the fact that it is exclusively drawn from the English sources. What is attempted below is a re-examination of the above picture of Anglo-Mughal relations from the available Persian documents4) and scattered references in Persian historical works5). An effort has also been made, however bold it may appear, of viewing the relations from the Mughal stand-point. The dearth of information in Persian sources has obviously been a considerable constraint in setting limits to this study. One major basis of contact between the Company and the Mughal officials was the realisation of customs-dues. This was an issue which besides causing frequent hostilities between the two also, often, drew the former to the imperial court. The English sources give us the impression that before the accession of Aurangzeb, the Company was enjoying, except for occasional harassment by the Mughal officials, the privilege of customs-exemption by virtue of thefarman of emperor
4) The bulk of these documents are to be found in the British Museum Collection, Addl. 24039. Some important documents are also available in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS. Fraser 228. 5) Chief ones being, Khafi Khan, Muntakhab-ul Lubab, ed. Maulvi Kabiruddin and Ghulam Qadir, Calcutta, 1868-70; Mamuri, Shahjahannama,B.M. Or. MSS. 1671; Inayatullah Khan, Kalimat-i Taiyibat, ed. S.M. Azizuddin Husain, Delhi, 1982; and Akhbarat-i Darbar-i Mualla (News-letters from the Imperial Court, Aurangzeb's reign), 45 R.Y.; microfilm copies available at the Research Library, Aligarh Muslim University (MF. 259).





Shahjahan. It is now clear from the evidence put forward by Susil Chaudhury that the English claim was unfounded; all that Shahjahan'sfarman of 1650 intended was to exempt them from the realisation of transit dues and other illegal cesses6). Yet not only was the English claim accepted by the Mughal officials in Shahjahan's own life-time 7) but, more significantly, even after Aurangzeb's accession. In February 1660 Mir Jumla, Governor of Bengal, issued a parwana ordering the officials of Bengal and Orissa not to obstruct the Company on account of customs levies (hasil) since these stand "exempted by virtue of the exalted farman of Shahjahan" 8). Orders (parwanas) with similar contents were issued later by Ihtisham Khan, nazim of Orissa, on 12th August 16619), by Daud Khan, Governor of Bengal (during the brief period between the transfer of Mir Jumla and the assumption of office by Shaista Khan), on 25th August 166310), and by Shaista Khan on 23rd March 16641") and 30th August 166412), with the only difference that in these documents the case in favour of the English has been bolstered not just by grant of the imperialfarman but also by the nishan of Shah Shuja and the parwana of Mir Jumla. These documents are remarkable in two major respects. One, they validate their instructions by virtue of an imperialfarman which was
6) One could suspect the assertion of Chaudhury (Trade and CommercialOrganisation in Bengal, 1650-1720, Calcutta, 1975, pp. 28-32), despite some corroboration from stray references in English sources, on the basis that thefarman noticed by him could be different from the one English were referring to. My own findings, however, allow for lesser doubt in this respect. In attempting to calender the Persian documents relating to the English East India Company, I have come across as many as five farmans of Shahjahan issued at different periods of time ranging from 1627 to 1656, none of which grant this vital concession to the English. (See my M.Phil Dissertation, 'Mughal Records on the English East India Company', Aligarh, 1987). 7) See, e.g., the nishan of Shah Shuja issued on 16th April 1656 (B.M. Add. 24039, f. 7) and the parwana of Mirza Mohammad Hayat, deputy subedarof Orissa, issued on 15th November 1658 (Ibid., f. 10). 8) B.M. Add. 24039, f. 8. 9) Ibid., f. 11. 10) Ibid., f. 13. 11) Ibid., f. 12. 12) Ibid., f. 14.



either never granted or had, even by the most compromising interpretation, nothing to do with the concessions that were claimed by the English. Secondly, in these parwanas the bonafides of Shahjahan's decrees remains undisturbed despite the legal convention that a privilege extended by a preceding Mughal emperor, to remain effective, required to be reconfirmed by the new emperor. That such a confirmation was not provided by Aurangzeb in the case of customsexemption becomes evident from Aurangzeb'sfarman of 7th August 166713). This farman orders that whereas the customs-dues for the Dutch and the Portuguese, "with a view on the well-being of the said peoples", had been reduced from 3 Y2 to 2 %, a similar concession should be made available to the English: "Since the entire attention of the justice-loving court is directed towards the affluence and contentment of the common people, in consonance with the petition of the English, from the customs (mahsul) rate of Rs. 3 (3%), rupee 1 (1%), has been exempted; mahsul has, thus, been fixed at Rs. 2." While, indeed, the edict is addressed to the officers of Surat, there appears no justification in the contention of the English that the province of Bengal lay beyond its purview, so that the privilege of customs exemption in that province remained uneffected. For one, the farman carried specific instructions for the officials of Bengal, Akbarabad and "other towns and cities" (digar balad or amsar). They are ordered, for example, to consider the realisation of rahdari(road tolls) and other transit dues from the English as forbidden; nowhere in these instructions are they told to consider the customs-duty as exempted and its realisation, illegal. Furthermore, it seems, the English were themselves aware of the fact that the jurisdiction of the farman was not restricted to Surat but was applicable to the whole of Mughal India. Expressing this apprehension, wrote a Bengal factor in 1668: "The coppie attested by this kinge phirmaund, which your worship lately procured, having perused, and though (wee) find it much in
13) Ibid., f. 15.





favour to our buisynesse in your parts (in Surat), respecting what cuscome formerly paid etc. abuses, yett therein being mentioned the paying of 2% wee dare not produce it, either to the 'Nabobs view or Governous, unlesse Shausta Ckaun should proceed in demanding and exacting; cohen it may bee much advantadgious. Wee doe not apprehend that hee will dare to exact any, considering our long enjoyed priveledges to the contrary: given by the Prince and since confirmed by severall Nabobs; yet hee being acquainted that said are not confirmed by the king, hee makes use of the latter as a pretence to necessitate us to give him a visite, with some considerable present which is his onely drift, and accordingly hee underhand gives his Governor power in all places that wee have business to molest it" 14). Rightly has Sir Jadunath Sarkar pointed out:

"Payment of duty on the goods landed at Surat could by no exercise of ingenuity exempt from duty a different cargo that had come from Home or China not through Surat but directly to Bengal and which therefore could not have paid duty at Surat. The English traders had no reason to claim exemption from a law of the land, which the merchants of all other nations had to obey" 15). Yet, it seems, the Mughal officials upheld the contention of the English and continued to exempt the Company from customs-duty. Thus, in Orissa, Tarbiyat Khan, on 25th March 166816), and following him, Rasheed Khan, on 5th July 1674, issued parwanas ordering their officials not to levy customs-duty on its shipments (asbab-i In Bengal, Shaista Khan issued a parwana on 22nd June jahazat)17). 1669 ordering the officers of Bengal and Orissa that, "Whereas, the English representative (wakil), 'Mister' William Blake has, presently, petitioned that the customs-duty (hasil) on the baggage and merchandise that the English Company purchases and sells in Bengal and Orissa, is exempted by virtue of the exaltedfarman (of Shahjahan), the sanad of the late Khan-i Khanan (Mir Jumla) and the parwana of this person. Despite the exemption, certain persons obstruct
14) W. Foster (ed.), The English Factoriesin India (henceforth EFI), 1668-69, p.

166. 15) Jadunath Sarkar, TheHistoryof Aurangzeb, Vol. V, Calcutta, 1924, p. 322. 16) B.M. Add, 24039, f. 17.
17) Ibid. , f. 22.



their merchandise on account of the customs-dues. It has, thus, been decreed that, in the event of this being true, in accordance with the imperial order and the aforesaid sanads,the baggage and merchandise of the English Company should not be detained or obstructed on account of the customs-dues, at the time of the ingress and egress of their goods" 8). In 1672 Shaista Khan issued another parwana with similar contents, this time on the representation of Capt. Walter Clavell19). It emerges quite clearly from the above description that the commercial activities of the Company benefitted immensely from the cooperation of the Mughal officials. These officials, in an effort to encourage the English to enhance their investments in their regions as also to protect and promote their own private trading interests, even went to the extent of buckling the imperial edicts to suit the interests of the English. Joseph Hall, the Chief of the Balasore Factory, was referring to this when he wrote in 1669 that the Company would enjoy their privileges only until the "Nawabs and the governors" remain "blinded" and "they are willing to believe what the English affirm"20). Could it, therefore, be suggested that between the Company's servants and the Mughal officials there existed an undefined and nebulous alliance which, though not without its own contradictions, safeguarded and fostered each other's interests. The motives of the English in reaching out for this alliance are obvious, but the motives of the Mughal officials are also not difficult to discern. The Mughal nobles, during this period, as is now being increasingly realised, were investing large sums of money in trading activities "either by engaging in trade directly or by making advances to merchants" 21). Tavernier informs us: "On arrival for embarkation at Surat, you find plenty of money. For it is the principal trade of the nobles of India to place their money on

18) 19) 20) 21)

Ibid., f. 19. Ibid., f. 20. Cited from Susil Chaudhury, op. cit., p. 32. M. Athar Ali, TheMughalNobility Under Bombay, 1966, p. 154. Aurangzeb,




speculation for Hormuz, Bassora and Mocha and even for Bantam, Achin and Phillipines" 22). The trading interests and overseas investments of Mir Jumla, Shaista Khan and Prince Azimush-Shan are too well known to be repeated here 23). If, however, the reasons for the two coming together were overwhelmingly mercantile, this cooperation was punctuated with phases of conflicts marked by clash of interests and open hostilities. Led away by the bias of the contemporary English sources, the modern historians, it seems, have almost overlooked the cooperation and over-emphasised the conflicts. The latter half of Aurangzeb's reign, perhaps, saw a growing pressure on the alliance resulting from determined efforts on the part of the imperial court to raise resources from cesses on trade and commerce and to organise the Mughal mercantile taxation system. Thus, in 1670, despite Shaista Khan's intercession, Malik Qasim, the port officer (Shahbandar) Hugli and Malik Zainuddin, the port-officer of of Balesar refused to treat the goods of the English as customs-free, and insisted on levying the duty of 2% in accordance with Aurangzeb's farman of 1667 24). In fact, such was their insistence that Shaista Khan had to refer the matter to the imperial court. The reply of the imperial wazir, Asad Khan, clearly states the position of the imperial court. It stipulates that, in consonance with the imperialfarman, those goods, and only those goods, which have paid their customs-dues at Surat, should not be asked to pay their customs again (mahsul-i takrar)in Bengal and other provinces of the empire 25). If any doubts remained they would have been-though they were not-settled by of 168026). This farman raised the customs-duty Aurangzeb'sfarman
22) Tavernier, Travels in India, tr., V. Ball, London, 1889, Vol. I, pp. 37-38. 23) See Jagdish Narain Sarkar, The Life ofMirJumla (2nd ed.), Delhi, 1979, pp. 196-201, 263-68; Susil Chaudhury, op. cit., pp. 35-36; and Om Prakash, The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal, 1630-1720, Oxford, pp. 29-33. 24) See Shaista Khan's parwana, dated 30th July, 1670; B.M. Add. 24039, f. 9. 25) Ibid., f. 24. 26) Ibid. , f. 28.



on the goods of the Company from 2 to 3Y2%, the enhancement being a result of the re-imposition of jizzja in 1679. Though the farman, as is apparent from its text, commands the Mughal officials to desist "at all other places" (places other than Surat) from realising any cesses and levies on goods that had paid their customs-duty at Surat, the English, by an erroneous or perhaps deliberately misleading rendering of the document, contended that while it raises the customs levies to 3 /2 % at Surat, it also exempts this and other levies "at all other places", including Bengal27). Thus, the English contended that the goods entering Bengal through Hugli or Orissa through Balesar were, by virtue of the farman, exempted from the customs-dues. More significant than the Company's wishful reading of thefarman was the inability of the Bengal officials either to accept the Company's version or to twist it on their own, as they had done before, to accommodate the English interests. Shaista Khan's parwana of 30th November 168028) and of Haji Shafi Khan, the diwan, dated 6th June 168129) are more in the nature of reiterating the imperial order of 1680 than seeking to buckle it. Instead of treating all goods of the Company entering Bengal as customs-free, these parwanas clearly stipulate that only those goods which have paid their customsdue at the port of Surat should at no other place be asked to pay these duties again. Furthermore, these parwanas also instruct the portofficers to desist from taking Rs. 3000 from the English which they were paying in lieu of customs-exemption. Clearly, therefore, under 'pressure from above', the nobles on the side of the English were finding it increasingly difficult to promote the interests of the Company causing severe tensions on the alliance between the two and ultimately resulting in the outbreak of Anglo-Mughal war of 1686.
27) For details about the controversy, see C.R. Wilson, The Early Annals of the English in Bengal, Delhi, Reprint, 1983, Vol. I, pp. 78-79; Jadunath Sarkar, A History ofAurangzeb, Vol. V, p. 322; and ZU Malik, 'Mughal Official Documents Concerning the English Trade in Bengal,' Proceedingsof the Indian History Congress, 1969.

28) B.M. Add. 24039, f. 32.

29) Ibid., f. 33.




If imperial determination to raise revenues from trade and commerce became one major factor for the outbreak of Anglo-Mughal hostilities, another, no less important factor, yet scantily treated, was the growing risks to overseas trade and hajj traffic caused, perhaps, as much by the proliferation of piratical activities on the Indian ocean, a concern reflected in Fathiya-i Ibriyaof Shihabuddin Talish30), as by a shift from the "policy of peaceful negotiations" to a "policy of force" on the part of the Company. At the end of February 1660, the Bengal factors received instructions to "pursue a policy of force, of playing the fox and the lion"31). Towards the beginning of 1686 the Court of Directors in London obtained a charter from James II allowing them the right "of employing troops and fleets alike against native princes and European Interlopers" 32). Meanwhile, the Bengal factors made clear their intentions saying that they were left with "no remedy either to desert our trade or we must draw the sword his majesty hath entrusted with to vindicate the right and honour of the English in India" 33). To combat the resultant insecurity on the high seas Aurangzeb took several measures, including a vainful attempt to set up a fleet of battle ships34). He also demanded from William Norris, as the price of afarman for the New Company's factories, that he should give an undertaking to clear the pirates from the seas35). All these measures were of no avail. The power of the Mughals
30) Talish, while providing a detailed account of the Mughal offensive against the pirates of Arracan who, he tells us, worked hand-in-hand with the Portuguese pirates, also refers to Aurangzeb's offer to the Dutch whereby in return of their providing protection to Indian ships and convoys going to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, he would remit the customs-duty in their goods reaching the Mughal ports (Fathiya-i Ibriya, Bodleian Library, Oxford, ff. 116, 150-51). 31) EFI, 1660-64, pp. 392-93. 32) W.W. Wilson, A History of British India, Longmans, 1900, Vol. II, p. 303. 33) The Diary of Sir William Hedges, ed. R. Barlow and Col. H. Yule, Hakluyt Society, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 51, 53. 34) Manucci, Storia Do Mogor, tr. William Irvine, Calcutta Reprint, 1966, Vol. II, p. 42. 35) Harihar Das, The Norris Embasy to Aurangzeb (1669-1702), Calcutta, 1959, pp. 324-25. For the warm reception accorded to Norris, see Akhbarat, 45 RY, ff. 85,

106 and 120.



remained confined to the Indian peninsula alone where as yet the English could not in any way match their might. Thus, in 1686, in retaliation to the Company's embargo on Red Sea trade and their pillaging of Indian ships, including the emperor's own, Aurangzeb launched a vigorous offensive against the English settlements. Khafi Khan, stating the Mughal point of view on the hostilities, refers to the English as "pirates" who raised greater resources from destroying and looting ships than from trade and commerce36). In the hostilities of 1686-90, the Mughals succeeded in imposing a crushing defeat on the English and in driving them out of their settlements. Yet, in 1690, on the submission of the "most humble and repentent" supplication (arzdasht)37),the emperor decided to recall them back. Perhaps, their recall and restoration had less to do with the humble phrasing of their supplication, as with the fact that their trade settlements which they had deserted were the only checks in Aurangzeb's hands against their high-handedness on the high seas. To sum up, thus, the Mughal sources call for some modification in the so far received view of the relations between the English East India Company and the Mughals. Contrary to the prevalent picture of perpetual hostilities between the Company and the officials, our sources encourage us to view the seventeenth century as a period in which there existed a nebulous, undefined and, perhaps, a growing alliance between the two. However, it seems, during the latter part of Aurangzeb's reign acute tensions were placed on this alliance owing largely, among other factors, to Aurangzeb's serious attempts to raise revenues from trade and commerce. The problem was further complicated by the growth of piratical activities towards the close of the seventeenth century, in which the English, indeed, had no less important a role to play. In the resultant hostilities perhaps, this nascent alliance would have been totally severed but for the vulnerability of the Mughals on the high seas which left them with no option but to allow the English back, even after thoroughly routing them, in 1690-91, and restore to them their factories.
36) Khafi Khan, op. cit., p. 427. 37) B.M. Add. 24039, f. 34.