THE THIRD AND THE FINAL PARALLEL between the Mughal and the Nehru dynasty belongs to the realm of administration. It is here that the poisonous flower opens its petals in full bloom. The nucleus is the dynasty, the petals are the dynasty’s protection. That’s as far as the analogy takes us. In the Mughal and Nehru dynasty scheme of things, the petals are attached but can be replaced or detached or re-attached based on whim, cunning, ruthlessness, utility, servility and dispensability.
Under the Mughal dispensation — modelled after Islamic “statecraft” — the Sultan was heir to his officers at all levels. In practical terms, this meant that official positions and the fortune derived therefrom could not be passed on generationally. A Mansabdar’s son could not automatically become a Mansabdar after his father’s death. And the father’s death could occur for any reason ranging from rebellion, embezzlement or even beaming a wrong glance at the Sultan. The Mansabdar would be stripped of his rank and his whole family would be literally thrown on the streets—his begums would become slaves and servants overnight, his children would be blinded or sold or slaughtered. But if the Mansabdar somehow managed to remain unharmed and died peacefully and the Sultan recognised his service, life would be slightly better for his progeny. In Mooreland’s words, “the most that could be hoped for was that enough would be left for the maintenance of the family, and that the sons would be given a start in consideration of the father's services.”
The Nehru dynasty followed a modified version of this system. If you dig out newspaper archives for about six decades, several common themes emerge. A notable theme is the manner in which civil servants of varying seniorities were made to “disappear.” Offhand, I recall an infamous case of a UP-based senior IPS officer who in the 1970s or 80s went out of his home one night and was never found again. Likewise, judges who dared to go against the Nehru dynasty were harassed and punished in creative ways.
On the other side, pliant and loyal bureaucrats and judges were guaranteed generational rewards. The case of the notorious Chief Justice A.N. Ray is a study in judicial infamy. At the height of his servility, he would frequently telephone Indira Gandhi’s personal secretary to “seek advice” even on mundane matters. That precedent has ever since grown into a hydra-headed monster. Indira Gandhi explicitly asked for a “committed judiciary.” Sonia Gandhi got it without asking, got it without even being Prime Minister. We witness the same phenomenon in a more pervasive fashion in the bureaucracy. At least two generations of the progeny of judges and bureaucrats have had their careers made when they were still in the womb. The pelf of Nehruvian loyalty.
NOW WE COME TO ADMINISTRATION PROPER. The first element in this area was economic administration.
One of the distinctive features of Akbar’s revenue administration was the minuteness of the organisation he maintained. Credit for envisioning and implementing this system should ideally go to Raja Todarmal and Birbal to an extent. Anything in his empire — living and non-living — that had the potential to yield money was identified and milked dry.
The only parallel to this Akbaresque system in recent history is Indira Gandhi. A former chief minister of Karnataka was once questioned by the media about his role in officialising corruption in the state. His answer: I am helpless. That woman (Indira Gandhi) in Delhi knows the minute details of every ministry and department and the precise amount that she could squeeze from them for “party funds.”
The other similarity in the realm of economic administration is perhaps one of the most brutal fount of all forms of oppression. In the Mughal empire, administrative position and influence emanated from landholding. The Sultan typically distributed jagirs of various sizes to his bureaucrats. They in turn had to deposit a fixed sum from the revenue yielded by the jagir to the empire’s treasury. However, an officer possessing a large jagir could deposit a small sum simply because the land itself would not yield much. History has ample evidence that shows that murders and intrigues were executed among bureaucrats vying for lucrative jagirs. In plain language, a booming jagir was akin to a lifetime income guarantee scheme. The bureaucrat had to simply secure his position for life and do no other work. Such a system obviously birthed and sustained corruption and oppression on an industrial scale. The bureaucrats routinely sent false accounts of revenue to the Mughal treasury. Actually, the fraud began right at the time of the allotment of the Jahgirs. Those who sought profitable Jahgirs first “booked” a powerful courtier in Agra and got their allotment. The courtier would then receive a perpetual cut from the revenue that the Jahgirdar concealed from the Sultan.
The Nehruvian similarities are eerie. As I have remarked several times in The Dharma Dispatch, the Congress government is basically a nationwide ecosystem of dalals. There is a broker at every level: from deciding ministerial berths down to the appointment of the last lowly clerk. But this variant of hunger is insatiable. Which brings us to the next parallel.
In 1611, William Hawkins, a high official of the East India Company was appointed as a Commander of 400 directly by Jahangir. This powerful position also got him the prized Jahgir of Lahore. Jahangir’s courtiers were inflamed. In his Voyages, Hawkins narrates his extremely bitter experiences with Jahangir’s crafty Vazir: “[The Vazir] continually put me off with grants in places where outlaws reigned, and when I was given a jagir at Lahore, I was soon deprived of it on some pretext.”
This mirrors the bureaucracy that the Nehru dynasty created. A well-known system where corrupt babus gang up against an honest officer (or at any rate, someone who is outside their closed clique), make his life miserable and eventually drive him out.
In order to flesh out this point in greater detail, we can look at Mooreland’s description of Akbar’s babudom: “In order to rise, an officer needed readiness of speech, plausibility, and the capacity for carrying on, or at least withstanding intrigue... Akbar, like other rulers, was surrounded by men of this type. They preferred to remain at Court, and a province or a jagir served mainly to replenish their resources; they were less concerned to promote the prosperity of their charges than to keep things quiet, to see that complaints did not reach the Emperor's ears, and meanwhile to amass, or to spend, as much wealth as could be collected under these conditions.”
REPLACE “AKBAR” WITH the Nehru clan, and “men of this type” with the “Lutyens gang” in the foregoing description and see how it fits perfectly like a glove. We have a wealth of history dating back to seven decades that proves this point. The sickening system of postings and transfers, the depraved buying and selling of bureaucratic positions, the brazen trading of official favours that used to routinely occur in the closed clubs of Lutyens Delhi… these are the Nehruvian equivalents of the Mughal durbar. If “journalists” like Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi could lobby for ministerial appointments and act as scribes for various Congress-friendly lobbies, how different is it from the Mughal system of courtiers? There is a reason why such tremendous furore erupted from the entitled Nehruvian durbaris when the Modi government cracked down on the Delhi Gymkhana Club.
Mooreland’s other characterisation of the Mughal courtiers is also worth exploring further: “They preferred to remain at Court, and a province or a jagir served mainly to replenish their resources.” Several variants of the Nehru dynasty’s courtiers and its extended family of toadies belong to this category.
The first includes the powerful office bearers of the Congress party who hold no constitutional position. The late Ahmed Patel’s name comes to mind. The frightening clout he wielded both on the government and the party is too well-known to repeat here. In the journalistic annals of Indira Gandhi’s period, such office bearers were described variously as “[fund] collectors” and “executioners.”
The second includes influential civil servants who remained anchored in Delhi and acted as the Nehru family’s water-carriers and troubleshooters. Some were even adept at image management — dropping hints to friendly media and sending deal-feelers to unfriendly media.
To understand the third category, we need to turn to Jahangir’s regime. Unlike Akbar, Jahangir believed in frequent transfers of his officials. But in practice, this translated into increased exploitation of the people by these officials — make hay while the sun shines. Thus, if the Nehruvian bureaucrat accidentally landed a “plum posting” and was uncertain of his longevity there, he would loot on a far more epic scale than his predecessor.
The fourth and the final category in the Mughal administration was a generic post titled Ahadis. The Sultan or his immediate family chose Ahadis with great care and caution. They were essentially positions of extreme trust. Some Ahadis managed the Sultan’s gigantic household. Some guarded the harem, others took care of the fruits and vegetables department, some dressed the Sultan or his family members, others guarded his archives, and the most trustworthy of them took care of the kitchen. The name of Pratibha Patil instantly comes to mind. To the nation’s eternal disgrace, she was gifted India’s Presidency by the Italian daughter-in-law in recognition of her long years of culinary service.
Arguably, the worst parallel between the Mughal and the Nehru dynasty is the manner in which both ran India to the ground chiefly through maladministration. Mooreland once again gives us a tragic but lucid assessment:
For just one facet of the answer to Mooreland’s question, we can take a random incident that occurred in April 2021. Remember that haughty IAS officer who barged into a wedding in Tripura and physically vandalised the venue and behaved in a manner that shames even hardened goons? He is a creature of the oppressive Nehruvian bureaucracy. Remember also that the wedding party was by no means poor but like millions of Indians, they too had the subconscious fear that higher bureaucracy inspires. The Subedar, the Mansabdar, the Jahgirdar and the Qazi inspired the same kind of fear in the Mughal period.
THE DEEPER WE DIG, THE MORE ODIOUS THE PARALLELS. The sheer volume of material that we have is enough to compile a thick tome showing how the Nehru dynasty inherited the worst elements of the Mughal dynasty and oppressed Indians in an era of “freedom” far more effectively than centuries of foreign rule had ever done.
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