The Natural HR Theory by Dr IVNS Raju

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IX

AKBAR’S aim was to rule from sea to sea. His eyes were now turned westward. There, between the frontiers of his dominions and the Arabian Sea, lay Gujerat, a province not only desirable in itself, for the sea-borne trade enriched its markets, but now conveniently unsettled and in need of a strong government. Muzaffar Shah was the nominal king, but had little control over a number of minor chieftains, one of whom made overtures to the emperor. An additional pretext for the expedition now planned was the fact that the country had once been occupied for a time by Humayun. The capital, Ahmadabad, was wealthy and important city : ‘Very neare as big as London,’ it is described a little later by an English traveler, with many merchants in cloth of gold, taffetas, and other fabrics.

Starting in July 1572 from Fatehpur-Sikri, Akbar sent on ahead a force of ten thousand men. News of the birth of a third son, Daniyal, cheered him on the march. All at first went smoothly. Muzaffar Shah hid from the imperial presence in a cornfield, and when discovered made his submission. Akbar regarded his success as assured, formally annexed the country, and proceeded, with his usual energy, to superintend the details of administration.

He had hitherto never set eyes on the sea. It is a little singular that there is no record of the impression he experienced when cat Cambay he first saw and sailed upon the ocean which connected India with Europe. It was now that he first met with Portuguese traders from the West. ‘In the harbor of Cambay might be seen,’ says the English travelers I have already quoted, ‘as many as two hundred frigates at once.’ The emperor’s curiosity was doubtless aroused, but no thought of the possibilities of sea-power seems to have entered his head.

While Akbar was absent at Cambay, there was a sudden revolt, headed by his kinsman Ibrahim Husain Mirza. With a large force the insurgents held a small town called Sarnal on the Mahi river. No sooner had Akbar heard the news than he dashed off in haste and fury. When he arrived before Sarnal he had but two hundred horse with him, but insisted on attacking at once. The river was forded, the horses impelled up the steep bank opposite, and the enemy’s far superior force engaged. It was a wild encounter among hedges of cactus, in which the combatants became entangled : a hand-to-hand fight, where personal prowess only counter. Akbar, riding with Bhagwan Das, was assailed by three of the enemy. Two he drove off; Bhagwan Das sent a spear-thrust through the third. Meanwhile the rest of Akbar’s force had come up, and, as night came on, the enemy fled. Ibrahim escaped; he was to be taken later in the Punjab, where he had sought a refuge, and died of wounds.

Early in the new year, Akbar laid siege to the port of Surat, which was held by the Mirzas. Soon he learnt that they were being assisted by the Portuguese, and made overtures through an envoy to the Viceroy, who sent Antonio Cabral to the emperor. The negotiations ended in a peace being concluded. Surat capitulated at the end of February 1573. In April, Akbar started back, and arrived in his capital in June.

Apart from curiosity, the emperor had his reasons for entering into relations with the Portuguese. Probably at the back of his mind was the desire to oust these Europeans from India altogether. But that, if a hope to be cherished, could not yet be a settled intention. He wished first to know more about the Portuguese and their power. Their superior artillery was always to be his envy. At this time, being an orthodox Muhammadan, he was solicitous about the pilgrims from India to Mecca, who could only cross the Arabian Sea on Portuguese ships and who were subjected to indignities much resented. They were obliged to procure passports stamped with images of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus; and the passports were costly. Tom Coryat, that unwearied and irrepressible vagabond, the butt of the wits of the Mermaid Tavern, who travelled alone and mostly on foot from London to the Mogul’s dominions (arriving a little after Akbar’s death), tells a story that the Portuguese had once tied a Koran round a dog’s neck and beaten the dog through the streets of Ormuz; in revenge for which Akbar’s mother implored him to have a Bible hung about a donkey’s neck and beaten round the town. But Akbar refused: it did not become him to take revenge on an innocent book, or to requite ill for ill. Whether the story be fact of no, certain it is that Akbar was already interested in Christianity, and whenever he came into personal contact with the Portuguese inquired about the doctrines of this religion. At the present stage curiosity, not only about religion but about the customs and political institutions of the Western peoples, was the dominant motive in his mind.

Having then returned in apparent triumph to his capital, and having treated the prisoners taken with an unaccustomed and cruel severity, Akbar was preparing to throw himself into new occupations. Suddenly news was brought that after all Gujerat, so happily conquered, was again in rebellion. Without a moment’s hesitation Akbar decided on a fresh campaign. If the first expedition had shown him in his glory as a fighting man, leading his soldiers with the reckless daring of an Alexander, this second expedition reveals him as the born general. Surprised as he was, and resolved that instant action was imperative, he left nothing to chance, inspected every detail, and, as much unforeseen expenditure was necessary, drew largely on his own purse for funds.

In the fierce heat of August he started with a small force of about three thousand cavalry. Across Rajputana he raced at the rate of fifty miles a day. In eleven days he wa again before Ahmadabad, having covered a distance of six hundred miles. The rebels, headed by Muhammad Husain Mirza, numbered about twenty thousand. They were astounded by the appearance of the imperial force. ‘What,’ they said, ‘the emperor? But our spies have told us that he was at Fatehpur-Sikri a fortnight ago. It is impossible that he should be here by now.” Their astonishment was soon to change to consternation. Akbar, as usual, attacked at once. He crossed the river before the town. There was a check. The small vanguard recoiled before superior numbers. Then appeared Akbar, who charged ‘like a tiger.’ His horse was wounded. The rumour flew about that he was killed. He mounted a fresh horse. He was seen again in the forefront of the battle, and his troops, recovering from this momentary dismay, rallied, cheering. The enemy gave way; Muhammad Husain was wounded and captured; the day was won. Yet not at once. For before an hour had passed another of the rebel leaders with a force of five thousand emerged from the other side of the city and made an attempt to reverse disaster. But the sudden and unexpected rout of the main body communicated a panic. Confronted with the apparition of the victorious Akbar and his little army, they were bewildered and hardly had the wits to flee. Such a panic seized them that they let their enemies pull the arrows out of the quivers at their backs and use their own weapons against them. Victory was complete. According to the ancient and horrible custom of Timur, which was still honoured by Akar, a pyramid of two thousand severed heads was piled up on the field of battle, for, as we have seen, Akbar the warrior was far more subservient to tradition than Akbar the ruler, and the observances of his ancestors in war seemed to have acquired for him a sort of sanctity.

Gujerat needed no third lesson. It was conquered finally. The whole campaign had occupied forth three days.

It has been said, no doubt with truth, that the armies led by Akbar were of poor quality as a military instrument, and could have had no chance against disciplined European troops. If so, we can but admire the skillful use he made of them. Whatever his material, he displayed the essential qualities of a great commander: he was a master of swiftness and surprise. Never were these qualities so brilliantly shown as on this amazing brief campaign.

 

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