Alivardi Khan on Governance

In Operation Red Lotus, Parag Tope wrote about the forgotten Azamgarh proclamation in which the Indian leaders of 1857 promised a triad of invaluable freedoms : political, personal, and economic. The review was getting too long and I had to leave this piece, about life in 1700s, which I found in Madhusree Mukherjee’s Churchill’s Secret War.

In the early 1700s, a far sighted diwan named Murshid Quli Khan reformed administration. Sixteen powerful zamindars, or overseers, and about a thousand minor ones, ran the province under his watchful eye. The zamindars, who called themselves rajas if they were Hindus and nawabs if they were Muslim, maintained armies, collected taxes and ran the courts, police, postal services, and often the schools. Villagers owned the lands they tended, and not even bankruptcy could evict them. Tax-exempt fields attached to the temples and mosques aided the poor, whereas those who excavated ponds or made other improvements earned tax remissions. Agricultural taxes — a fifth of the harvest — could be paid in kind, without resort to money lenders. The state, recognizing farmers, spinners, weavers, and merchants as the source of its wealth, tried to protect them. “The money in the hands of the people of the country is my wealth which I have consigned to their purses,” explained Alivardi, a ruler in the mid-eighteenth century, cautioning his grandson Siraj-ud-daula to abstain from extortion. “Let them grow rich and the state will grow rich also.”

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