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From Prof Steven I. Wilkinson.
Sir, John Kay (“Learn from the Moguls: rent-seeking will destroy your empire”, November 21) uses the example of the great Mogul emperor and builder Shah Jahan to make a case against rent-seeking, in India and elsewhere. It is hard to deny the evils of rent-seeking. But Shah Jahan and his Taj Mahal should not get all the blame for Mogul decay. When Shah Jahan’s reign ended, despite all his great building projects, he left substantial financial reserves and a growing economy.
Unfortunately, as the historian John Richards has shown us, all this was ruined by a brutal and costly succession battle, and then by the actions of his son Emperor Aurangzeb, who continued and expanded the ruinously expensive wars in central India begun by his father. Aurangzeb was also an unyielding religious conservative, which prevented him from coming up with constructive ideas to make peace with Hindu and Sikh rebels.
The larger lesson of the Mughals, then, is that political infighting, an unwillingness to compromise on ideology, and pointless and expensive military campaigns funded on credit hurt a state a lot more than spending on beautiful buildings.
Steven I. Wilkinson, Nilekani Professor of India and South Asian Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT, US