Sorry, Mughals did not enrich India

Whenever we have a discussion on the Mughals, one of the arguments put forth in their support is that under their rule Indian contribution to the world economy was the highest, therefore they made India rich. In this article let’s have a closer look at this claim and how credible it is.

Before we start let me make it clear that that the claim that under Aurangzeb Indian economy was indeed the largest in the world is widely accepted among the scholars and so must be accept as the truth. With that said let me also make it clear to you that even a true statement when provided out of context can convey false information. As an example, when Yudhishthira said that Bheema has killed Ashwatthama, that statement was true but it was made out of context and therefore all of us consider it to be false as it conveyed false information. Something similar applies to this claim also. To really understand the impact of Mughal rule you need to look at the facts in a wider context.

GDP is just one number it does not provide you all the details of the economy. GDP is defined as the total monetary or market value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period. There are many things that this number does not convey. One of the most important factors that you need to keep in mind while thinking about GDP is the population of the country. The higher the population of a country the higher will be its GDP, this is why per capita GDP which is GDP divided by the population of the country is often a better metric to tell you about the living conditions of a particular country.

GDP Per Capita = GDP of the Nation / Population of the Nation

Indian GDP is more than 10 times that of Finland, but that does not make life in India better than that of Finland? GDP per capita of Finland is more than 20 times of India and is a better indicator of quality of life.

Now here is a chart that you can find on Wikipedia. It puts forth other factors besides just the GDP, it also provides the population along with percentage of world population of India during those periods. This is the chart that can give you the correct picture of what was actually happening. Here I would like you to consider India’s percentage of world GDP and India’s percentage of world population. As discussed previously GDP depends a lot on the population of a nation. A country which has higher percentage entire world population living in it will also have higher percentage of world GDP. So, if the relative population of a certain country increases with respect to rest of the world, the share of that country’s GDP in the world GDP Is also going to increase. Therefore, a better metric to really understand the quality of life in a nation is to divide the country’s relative contribution to the world GDP with the relative contribution to the world population. So, a better indicator of economic situation in India during a time period is to divide India’s percentage of world GDP by India’s percentage of world population.

Quality of Life = (% Share in World GDP) / (% Share in World Population)

That is what is shown in this figure. Now here you must understand the value of 1 means that Indian contribution to world GDP is the same as Indian contribution to world population, which means this is where living standards in India are the same as the rest of the world. If this number goes above 1 then it means that living standards in India are better than the rest of the world while if this number is below 1 then it means that living standards in India are poorer than the rest of the world.

Now if you look at this curve, you see that the from 1 to 1500AD that this ratio above 1, which means living standards in India were better than the rest of the world. Mughals then arrive in India in 1526 and we see that since then this number starts to drop, and by the time Aurangzeb dies it has dropped significantly below 1 which means Indian living standard in comparison to the rest of the world worsened during Mughal rule. This drop was arrested for a brief period of time after the Mughal decline but then British took over and this drop continued again for the next 200 years only to start increasing in the last 20 years. Let’s hope it now continue to increase from here onwards.

If we zoom in on this plot and see the change from 1500–2000, we can clearly see that the drop we see during British time and during Mughal times is similar. This clearly shows that Mughal rule was as detrimental to Indian economy as the British. All those people who say that Mughals made India rich do not understand that even though we do see Indian GDP to rise up during the time of Aurangzeb and become the world’s largest, we also see a swell in Indian population during that time.

If you look at Indian GDP per capita under the Mughal rule, we clearly see a decline. As shown in this chart from the report “India and the great divergence: an Anglo-Indian comparison of GDP per capita, 1600–1871” authored by Stephen Broadberry, Johann Custodis and Bishnupriya Gupta. So, from next time if anybody tells you to thank the Mughals for enriching India, please share this article with them.

Originally published at on March 28, 2020.




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Rahul Yadav

Rahul Yadav

Discover Indian Heritage: Arts, Science, Religion and Philosophy of India

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