By the 1750s the Mughal empire was but a pale shadow of its former glory. No longer the Great Mughal, of Bernier's day, except in a strictly ironic sense, the emperor was now a passive non-entity prisoner in his own palace, and subject entirely to the will of the wazir who callously disposed of him when he ceased to be useful. He had deposed and blinded one emperor, the next he would kill, and the heir apparent, Al Gauhar (soon to become Shah Alam II) was forced to flee the capital for fear of his life. In the course of his wanderings, the fugitive prince ran into Jean Law, the author of this memoir.
Law too was a fugitive of sorts. Expelled from Bengal by the English at the start of the Seven Years War in Europe, and accompanied by a small armed detachment of about 300, men and 10 light guns, Law had, instead of surrendering retreated inland, up the Ganges, in the vague hope of finding an ally who, tempted by the wealth of Bengal and aware of the dangers posed by the revolution which the English had affected by the battle of essay, would agree to drive the English out of Ben: a and reinstate the French in their trading posts and settlements. But everywhere he was met with only polite words and indifference. No one, neither Shuja Daulah, nor the wazir, cared to look at the larger picture, they were intent only on immediate and short-term gains instead of taking steps to nip the evil in the bud, they were happy enough to accept the gifts brought by the emissaries from Bengal, gifts that were intended only to ensure inaction on their part. When at last Shuja ud-Daulah bestirred himself it was only to despoil his relative Mahmud Quli Khan of his province of Allahabad. Law's Memoir is a scathing indictment of the Indian nobility of the time. The sentiment of patriotism was foreign to them, even loyalty to the emperor, their nominal master, was on matter of convenience. The prince now emperor as Shah Alam II, was betrayed by everyone, by his new wazir Shuja-ud Daulah, and by his generals Kamgar Khan and Raja Pahalwan Singh. 'They all regarded treason as a game and a highly honorable one if successful. The surrender of the Prince was not inconceivable and could we serve as the seal of a treaty.' The picture which he paints is one of unrelieved gloom and hopelessness. Only Law remained loyal to the last, but perhaps he had little choice.
G S. Cheema was born in Ranchi in 1949. A career civil servant he retired from the Punjab cadre of the Indian Administrative Service in 2009. His first book, The Forgotten Mughals, was published in 2002. This was followed by Our History Their History: The Contrasting Historical Narratives of East and West in 2012. He lives in Chandigarh which is also the city where he received his higher education.
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