WAS THERE A PETTICOAT GOVERNMENT DURING THE REIGN OF AKBAR?
During 1560-1561 the faction supporting Maham Anaga remained dominant. Vincent Smith calls this period the ignoble interval when Akbar was subjected to a petticoat government of the worst kind. He suggests that since Akbar was a boy he was busy undertaking adventures, revelling in the excitement brought about by the perilous activities. Still being under the veil, as Abul Fazl points out, Akbar allowed Maham Anaga to control the state apparatus on his behalf. Munim Khan was appointed vakil in 1560 and this passed on the central administration indirectly into the hands of Maham Anaga.
Badauni for this period quotes Mir Abdul Hayy’s hadith, which he took from Nahjul Balaghat (it is a weak hadith, with questionable authenticity), it says, “A time will come on men when none will become favourites but profligates, and none he thought witty but the obscene, and none thought weak but the just when they shall account the alms a heavy imposition, and the bond of relationships reproach, and the service of God shall be a weariness unto them, and then the government shall be by the counsel of women, and the rule of boys, and the management of eunuchs.” Badauni offers this hadith as a comment on the influence exercised by Maham Anaga, Adham Khan, Itimad Khan, the Khwaja sara of Hamida Bano over the administration.
Beveridge writes that Mahum Anagah was less concerned with the young sovereign's well-being and more about advancing her interests, extending and strengthening her power, and retaining Akbar for as long as possible. Her cardinal aim was to promote her son Adham Khan. She entrusted the reconquest and leadership of Malwa to her son Adham in order to provide him with the opportunity to acquire wealth and glory.
Hence all the instances referred to by Smith and Beveridge reflect a set-up that had Maham Anaga as the puppeteer. However, Bayazid Bayat’s account gives us certain other incidents which suggest that Munim Khan was not completely under Maham Anaga’s influence. Munim Khan resorted to a reconciliation policy with the Uzbeks who had faced alienation after Bairam Khan’s dismissal. This policy was not supported by Maham Anaga and her group. It is evident that Munim Khan had his own aspirations which at times clashed with Maham Anaga’s interests.
A letter of Shamsuddin Mohammad Atka suggests that the administration functioned in favour of dominant nobles. The Central Diwani, which was managed by Khwaja Jahan and Itimad Khan, did not require local commandants-cum-assignment holders to pay central taxes. As a result, the nobles in general, and the major dominant faction in particular, benefited from this “lenient” approach. His letter written in 1561 also reports discrimination against those whom the faction considered as rivals, such as Bahadur Khan was transferred from his jagir, Etawah but not assigned any other, similarly, Atka’s son was given Firuzpur, which yielded only forty lacs which on paper the payment had been for one crore. Another transfer was of Munim Khan’s Jagir from Hisar Firuza to Alwar, which was rather perturbing, as Munim Khan was transferred from a fertile land to a less fertile area.
Adham Khan had acquired the harem of Baz Bahadur and did not treat them well. The treasury of Malwas was also siezed by him and the war booty was not submitted to the emperor. When Akbar learnt of Adham Khan’s misdemeanour at Malwa, he marched towards the latter to make Adham surrender the war booty. This appears to be Akbar’s very first step towards asserting himself. Adham’s actions created a seed of doubt according to Beveridge, it strained the relations and defined the opposition which later resulted in the decline of the faction. In the same year, in November 1561, Shamsuddin Mohammad Atka returned to Agra from Punjab. He was made the vakil and Munim Khan was reduced to a subordinate.
With the assistance of Khwaja Phul Itemad Khan, Shamsuddin Mohammad Atka began looking into the positions of individual jagirs in order to estimate the khalisa revenue arrears that were owed to them. Malwa was taken from Adham Khan and Pir Mohammad Khan was appointed as it’s governor. Innuendoes of the earlier dominant faction were ignored and this marked the beginning of the decline.
On Monday, May 16, 1562, Adham Khan out of jealousy and pride, presuming that the premiership of Maham Anaga was taken away by the intrigues of Shamsuddin Mohammad Atka, carried out an extremely risky task. Goaded into this impulsive action by members of the faction like Munim Khan and Shahabuddin Ahmed Khan, who felt power slipping from their hands, Adham Khan arrived at Agra fort and assassinated Shamsuddin Mohammad Atka, who was at the head of the Diwan, at that point. Akbar interrogated him about the violent deed. Enraged, by Adham Khan’s audacity and in order to deliver justice, Akbar ordered his men to bind the murderer and throw him from the top of the terrace of the palace. Since he still breathed after the first fall, the emperor commanded his men to throw him down again, after which he died. He was buried a day before his victim and this silenced any possible uproar against Maham Anaga’s faction from the Ataka Khail. Munim Khan and Shahabuddin Ahmed Khan had been present at the incident and they fled from the capital but were later pardoned by Akbar for he required their experience and expertise.
Hence it can be said that the “Petticoat Government” may be too extreme to describe Maham Anaga’s authority. However, there lies no doubt that she was an excellent example of female space which retains centrality in the making of the Mughal Imperium. Domestically Maham Anaga is essential for rearing the royal children, in her case, emperor Akbar. But she is an excellent practitioner of alliance-building in a political context and attempts to create her own hierarchy of power. She may not have been the de facto vakil but she surely held the reins of influence. It was a struggle for dominance in the court of Akbar which filled the vacuum created after the dismissal of Bairam Khan in which each faction tried its best to oust the other from power.
1. Badauni, Abd-al-Qadir, Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, Translation by William Henry Lowe Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh by Al-Badáóni, Translated from Original Persian, Vol II, printed by J. W. Thomas, Baptist Mission Press, 1884, Calcutta, printed for the Asiatic Society of Bengal, pp. 29-60.
2. Elliot, Henry Miers, Akbarnama of Shaikh Abu-l Fazl (English translation), second edition
1953, published by S. Gupta for Sunil Gupta(India) Ltd. 35, Central Avenue, Calcutta 12,
3. Smith, Vincent A. Akbar the Great Moghul (1542 -1605), second edition 1919, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 33-69.
4. Beveridge, H. “Māham Anaga.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and
Ireland, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1899, pp. 99–101, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25208069.
5. Majid, Afshan. “Women and a Theologian: The Ideas and Narratives of Abdul Qadir
Badauni.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 71, Indian History Congress,
2010, pp. 248–55, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44147492.