Saturday July 20, 2024

Emperor Jahangir and the veneer of justice

By Mubarak Ali
December 10, 2018

When the Iranian faction gained influence during the Abbasid period, they restored ancient Persian court ceremonies that were part of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Sassanid kings became models for Muslim rulers. Of these, Anu Sherwan was popularised as a just ruler.

Thereafter, justice became an important characteristic of their reign of Muslim rulers. Historians also emphasised that justice was the only quality to maintain peace and prosperity in the country. When he seized the reins, Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1605-1627) was keen on following this practice. The emperor’s first order, which was implemented in 1605, was to fasten the chain of justice “so that if those engaged in the administration of justice should delay or practice hypocrisy, the aggrieved might come to this chain and shake it so that its noise might attract [the emperor’s] attention”.

Maulana Shibli, an historian and poet, composed a poem titled ‘Adl-e-Jahangiri’ (The justice of Jahangir). In this poem, he narrated an fictitious incident about a passer-by who accidentally looked at Empress Nur Jahan while she was walking on the roof of her palace. She was infuriated by his audacity, pulled out a pistol and shot him dead. She was charged with murder and appeared in the court of a qazi. To cut a long story short, the qazi was convinced by her arguments and acquitted her.

Jahangir did not interfere with the trial proceedings and was ready to accept the judgment. It was only when she was released that he told her that in case the qazi had called for her execution he wouldn’t be able to do anything to overturn the sentence. Although Shibli tried to propagate Jahangir’s image as the just ruler, it would be wrong to attribute this title to him.

Jahangir was also known as Prince Saleem. On his birth, Akbar (1556-1605) was very happy to finally have a successor to the throne. He loved him dearly and called him Sheikho. During the final years of Akbar’s reign, Prince Saleem aspired to become emperor. Surrounded by sycophants and flatterers, he planned a revolt against Akbar.

Jahangir was brutal and intolerant against his opponents. In one instance, he meted out an inhuman punishment to a person he was angry with by skinning him alive. When Akbar received the news, he was shocked. He wrote a letter to his son to condemn his behaviour. “Sheikho, I [have never] skinned [a bird] alive in my life and you have treated a human being in [this manner]”.

Jahangir committed another crime when he conspired against Abul Fazl, a close friend and adviser of Akbar. He asked the raja of Bundela to kill Abul Fazl on his return from the Deccan. Abul Fazl was killed after a brief battle.

Upon hearing about the death of Abul Fazl, Akbar was shocked and repeatedly said: “Sheikho, what have you done?”. The emperor struggled to come to terms with Abul Fazl’s demise and couldn’t eat for two consecutive days.

However, there was no other heir to the Mughal Dynasty except Jahangir as Akbar’s other sons had died. Therefore, Jahangir was repeatedly pardoned despite his disobedience. When he visited Akbar on his deathbed, the latter forgave him and urged his nobles to recognise him as his successor. Jahangir then left the Agra Fort. He stayed at the house of Sheikh Farid and waited for the news of Akbar’s death.

When Jahangir succeeded to the throne, the first problem he faced was the rebellion of his son Khusro who wanted to succeed his grandfather. Jahangir left Agra suddenly, recruited soldiers and marched towards Lahore. Jahangir was greatly disturbed and followed his son in order to crush the rebellion. On his way to Lahore, he met two nobles who favoured Khusro’s cause. To punish them, Jahangir ordered that one of them should be sewed to the skin of an ass and the other to the skin of an ox.

During his journey, he also encountered Guru Arjun Dev who had blessed Prince Khusro when he met him. Jahangir ordered him to be killed. This created hostilities between the Sikhs and the Mughals.

When Jahangir reached Lahore, he crushed Khusro’s rebellion and took revenge against the rebels. Khusro was blinded. The emperor ordered that gibbets should be constructed outside Taxali Gate to hang Khusro’s followers. These were the circumstances under which Jahangir became emperor. Since Akbar laid the foundation of his empire on a solid basis, Jahangir continued to rule without any problem.

He visited Kashmir in the summer due to the pleasant weather. During one of his visits to Kashmir, an elephant slipped from a mountain, fell down the valley and screamed. Jahangir enjoyed the echo of its voice and ordered that one or two more elephants should be pushed from the mountain. This indicates the intensity of the emperor’s brutality.

Jahangir would often lose his senses when he was inebriated. Thomas Roe, an English diplomat, wrote in his memoir that the emperor once took a sip of wine and couldn’t control himself. Jahangir also recognised this weakness and used to tell everyone that he needed nothing but a glass of wine and a piece of meat. He died an alcoholic who was unable to look after the affairs of the state.

Maulana Shibli’s poem may be a good piece of literature, but there is no historical evidence that suggest that justice was upheld during the reign of Emperor Jahangir. This is the difference between poetry and history. Historical events are distorted in poetry and spread propaganda about rulers. However, the task of an historian is to present the true image of rulers and the ruling classes.

The writer is a veteran historian and scholar.