Soon after Islam Khan’s arrival in Bengal, the Mughals succeeded in annihilating or winning over all the major chiefs entrenched in the countryside since the time of the sultans. Yet it is fair to ask how far the new rulers were able to extend their political reach beneath the level of important chieftains, or zamīndārs, after these had submitted to imperial rule. The Augustinian missionary Fray Sebastião Manrique, who was in Bengal in 1629–30 and again in 1640, remarked on the ability of the shiqdār—a Mughal officer responsible for executive matters in the pargana, the smallest territorial unit of imperial administration—to collect the revenue demand, by force if necessary, and even to enslave peasants should theydefault in their payments. Yet internal evidence suggests that the government was also responsive to peasant grievances, so long as they were voiced through legitimate channels. In 1664 the senior revenue officer (amīn) in Rangamati, Kuch Bihar, dismissed one of his collectors (chaudhurī) when peasants complained of oppression by him. Moreover, before appointing a new collector this senior officer secured the peasants’ written approval of his nominee. Nine days later, the new collector was made to sign a written agreement affirming that “I, Balchand,…recognize and promise that I will perform the assigned duties diligently in such as manner that the cultivable land should increase, and that I will not oppress anyone.”
In sum, by the mid seventeenth century, as both foreign observers and contemporary revenue documents attest, the Mughals had established both power and credibility throughout the delta. They achieved this by means of a military machine that effectively combined gunpowder weaponry with mounted archers and naval forces, a determined diplomacy that rewarded loyalty while punishing perfidy, and the financial services of mobile and wealthy Marwari bankers. Both militarily and diplomatically, success begat success. Bengali chieftains who witnessed these successes increasingly understood that the advantages of joining the new order outweighed those of resisting it. Above all, the advent of the Mughal age, unlike previous changes of the guard at Gaur, did not represent a mere military occupation in which one ruling class simply replaced another. Nor were the changes accompanying Mughal rule merely ones of scale—that is, bigger cannons, a more dazzling court, or taller monuments. Rather, as will be seen in the following chapters, the conquest was accompanied by fundamental changes in the region’s economic structure, its sociopolitical system, and its cultural complexion, both at court and in the countryside.