The lesser-known Mughal ruler who was the third-longest serving monarch in the dynasty

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New Delhi: Shah Alam II is not a much-talked-about Mughal Emperor and understandably so. Unlike his illustrious ancestors who ruled over much of the Indian subcontinent, Shah Alam II was an emperor only on paper. After the death of Aurangzeb in March 1707, the Mughal Empire began to witness a perpetual state of decline with rulers ascending and descending the throne frequently. Amid that chaos, despite having nominal powers, Shah Alam II managed to hold on to the crown and throne for a staggering 45 years and 339 days, making him the third-longest serving Mughal monarch after Akbar and Aurangzeb.

The prince who fled from Delhi

The birthname of Shah Alam II was Ali Gohar was born on June 25, 1728, to Prince Aziz-ud-Din, son of the deposed Mughal Emperor Jahandar Shah. He grew up in semi-captivity in Red Fort with his father. By the time his father ascended to the throne as Alamgir II, he was already 55 years old with no experience in administration and warfare. All the powers of the empire were in the hands of his vizier, Imad-ul-Mulk. During the reign of Alamgir II, Ahmad Shah Durrani invaded India, captured Delhi and plundered Mathura. On the other hand, the Maratha Empire dominated the northern India.

During his father’s reign, Ali Gohar was appointed to high posts in the empire and made the crown prince. However, both his father and Gohar had a strained relationship with Imad-ul-Mulk. Alamgir II would be eventually killed by the vizier and replaced by Shah Jahan III while Gohar had to flee Delhi to save his life.

An emperor only on paper

Ali Gohar would later become the Mughal Emperor but only thanks to Ahmad Shah Durrani. Mughal officials like Najib-ud-Daula forced Imad-ul-Mulk to flee from Delhi and deposed Shah Jahan III. Those officials maintained contact with Durrani who decisively defeated the Marathas, and made him the emperor under the name Shah Alam II.

The first reign of Shah Alam II lasted from October 1760 to July 1788, but he could return to Delhi only in 1772, under the protection of the Maratha general Mahadaji Shinde. He was a daring ruler once, who joined hands with Bengal Nawab Mir Qasim and Shuja-ud-Daula the Nawab of Awadh to fight the British East Indian Company on October 22, 1764. The British gained a decisive victory and forced Shah Alam II to sign the Treaty of Allahabad, which gave them the right to collect revenue from Bengal and also from Kora and Allahabad.

Shah Alam II tried to reform the Mughal army by introducing modern weapons, but by the time he ascended to the throne, the power of the empire was almost none. When he became emperor for the second time from 1788 to 1806, the Mughal Emperor existed only on paper, under the protection of the Maratha Empire and the British forces. Infact, at the beginning of his second term as emperor, Shah Alam II was blinded by Ghulam Kadir, a leader of the Afghan Rohilla who plundered Delhi for two and a half months in 1788.

The power of the emperor was so depleted that he was mocked in the Persian language, ‘Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli ta Palam’ which means ‘The empire of Shah Alam is from Delhi to Palam’, with Palam being a suburb of Delhi. By the time Shah Alam II passed away on November 9, 1806, the Mughal Empire had ceased to exist as a political force even in India.

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