WI: Persian India?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Chungus Maximus, Mar 17, 2019.

  1. Chungus Maximus Well-Known Member

    Mar 12, 2019
    What if India was colonized by Persia instead of Britain?

    Could Persia have actually held onto it, since it’s right next door?

    Would Indians be more okay with being ruled by Persians than they were with being ruled by Brits?

    Would Persian be the language of the upper class, instead of English?
  2. ramones1986 Grumpy and Lazy

    Apr 21, 2012
    Las Filipinas
    Well, Persian used to be the language used in the courts of northern and central Indian kingdom before transitioning to Urdu (Khari Boli), if I'm not mistaken.
  3. Monter Well-Known Member

    Feb 11, 2015
    That was basically the Mughal Empire, except the "colonized" part, although some would disagree.
  4. LostInNewDelhi Anarcho-Shaivist

    Oct 30, 2014
    Assuming an Iranian state manages to maintain long term control over part or all of India, having Persian be an upper-class language is possible-- in OTL, Persian still managed to become an upper-class language in Indian Muslim states despite migrants from Iran being a small portion of the upper class (which also included Turks, Afghans, and native Indians) and an even more miniscule portion of the population at large. Likewise, having Iranian administrators would not seem to represent a problem given that they enjoyed such status in OTL's Indian Muslim states for centuries.

    However, what you're asking for is rule of India by a state based in Iran, not an Indian-based state influenced by Iran and Iranians-- and this is much more difficult.


    Let's assume these are the rough borders of our mega-Iran.

    There are a number of ways in which India can be cut off from Iran:
    1. An Afghan rebellion erupts and captures the Khyber Pass (red marker), cutting off a land route to India. This rebellion is likely sparked by excessive Iranian interference in local affairs, which also influenced the OTL rebellion of the Hotakis in Kandahar. Given that the same rebellion actually destroyed the Safavid empire, and that another Afghan rebellion-- that of the Durranis-- ended with the entire Afsharid treasury stolen, I don't think mega-Iran would do much better.
    2. Disquiet among the Baluchi or Khorasani tribes. This was a major obstacle to the early Qajars' efforts to govern east and southeast Iran, and while that problem was awaiting resolution the overland flow of pilgrims from Indian Shiites to places in Iran nearly stopped completely. With their ability to disrupt transport and governance, angered Baluchis can easily throw a wrench in the works of mega-Iran.
    3. Weakness in the Iranian navy, whether due to budget shortfalls or defeat in war. This can worsen the effects of #1 and #2 as well.
    Even if the Iranian government maintains its road to India, at the end of that road you're facing Sikh resistance in the Punjab, raids from the Marathas or Nepalis, etc. The British East India Company won against these challenges in large part due to its independence from London-- its governors in Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras gathered information quickly and had wide decision-making powers. If Iran wants its Indian administration to have a similar dynamism, it will have to delegate to it the freedom to coordinate the conquest of India based on its own expertise. This amounts to quasi-independence. By this time, the Persian-EIC might even have the support/grudging acceptance of local civilians/locally-recruited troops and seize some pretext to formally split off from Tehran's meddling. If the locals are hostile, though, an alt-Sepoy rebellion may bring the PEIC down before Iran can intervene.

    Extremely peripheral bits like Bengal may also be impossible to hold for long-- Bengal-based elites drew on its population and resources to defy Delhi Sultanate and later Mughal rule for centuries, and even when subdued they usually enjoyed a great deal of local autonomy.

    Finally, this mega-Iran may not remain Iranian for very long. In OTL, the Ghaznavids were the first Islamic dynasty to enter India's heartland. Meanwhile, their capital gradually shifted from Ghazna to Lahore, at which point they not only got most of their revenue and population from India but were also based in India. 700 years later, the Nizari Shi'i Imamate decided to move from Qom to Kerman to be closer to its Indian followers, the main source of its revenue. The Iranians may soon find that the Persian-EIC is so wealthy and influential that it dominates Iran's strategic and policy planning, like a tail wagging the dog. At that point, Iran is essentially the junior partner in a megastate that sees India as its priority.


    Of course, this is all based on the premise that the "Persia" which conquers India is Islamic and Early-Modern. I'd be interested in scenarios that look at a medieval Islamic conquest (maybe the Ghaznavids win against the Seljuks and get to keep both their Indian and Iranian holdings?) or a pre-Islamic Achaemenid or Parthian invasion.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2019
  5. Atterdag Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2018
    How would the Mega-Iran example be affected if Iran had a powerful navy?
  6. Indicus Stuff

    Aug 1, 2014
    Torontum, Ontarium Minor, Imperium Romanum
    The Ghurid Empire could possibly fulfil your requirements, though it was Afghan and had its capital there (and Lahore for a while). A similarly-shaped empire is what you're asking for, anyways.

    You don't need a Persian India for that. Persian was the solid language of the upper class, especially in the north, IOTL until about the mid-nineteenth century, and I'd say what really caused English to replace Persian as the language of the Indian elites was Macaulay's reforms. He believed Indian, and Eastern, culture to be inferior to that of the West, and so he spearheaded an effort in the 1830s to abolish Persian and used the power of the state to promote English-speaking schools all in an attempt to wipe out Indian culture. Persian did linger on, however, and India's second PM Lal Bahadur Shastri spoke it. A POD which avoids the rise of Macaulay's policies and instead replaces it with Burkean orientalism (admiration of the Indian aristocracy, but a deeply patronizing sort) would be more than sufficient to keep Persian as the language of the North Indian elites.
  7. Dan Handsome Member

    May 2, 2018
    Not without a strong navy. I see them at most expanding into northern India, but maintaining communication and supply through Afghanistan has been historically the challenge. Let's not forget that the Persians were busy with the Russians and Ottomans constantly to divert so much attention eastward.

    If they did ever expand into India, then some European powers are going to snatch it away. Most likely France and Britain as to avoid it slipping into the hands of the Russians.
  8. Chungus Maximus Well-Known Member

    Mar 12, 2019
    I mean early modern Persia, around the same time as OTL’s British India.

    If I meant modern Iran, I would have said Iran instead of Persia.
  9. Madhav Deval Well-Known Member

    Jul 3, 2018
    Perhaps a Nader Shah who instead of just sacking Delhi decides to annex the entire mughal empire (after all Babur and Humayun were Safavid vassals maybe he does it based on that). I’d imagine within his lifetime he could probably unite all that Akbar ruled and then his successors would carry on, and originally Persian rule is very light and leaves most of the Mughal command structure intact just replacing Delhi with a different capital, but by the mid 1800s it becomes more and more a colony subject to the whims of the Afsharids. It’d be hard to pull off but happens on much the same timescale as British consolidation.
    Cregan likes this.
  10. LostInNewDelhi Anarcho-Shaivist

    Oct 30, 2014
    Oh, I designed this scenario with that in mind as well-- I imagine this Persia to have the capabilities of the Safavids or Afsharids. Apologies for any confusion the name caused.

    Having a powerful navy would allow the Persians supremacy over the coast and rivers. Areas easily accessible from water will be very easily controlled, and places like Sindh and Gujarat will basically be a part of Persia proper. However, this is only the easy part-- the challenge then becomes breaking the defensible, prosperous, and high-population interior states.(Mysore, Sikhs, Marathas, etc.) If Persia fails at this, they will have only loose, mostly commercial influence in large parts of their Raj.

    However, whether Persia can develop a powerful navy with an Early Modern POD and conquer India in the same period is doubtful. As late as the early 1600s, all the good bits of Safavid Persia's coastline had been controlled by the Portugese for a century, and Persia required English help to ferry its troops around. Making the navy capable of achieving Persia's aims and fending off the Europeans may need an earlier POD.

    Persia also needs to secure long-lasting peace with several land based actors (Ottomans, Russians, Uzbeks) who will otherwise distract Persia from focusing on the seas. Britain, as an island, didnt have to worry about this-- but Persia's inland border is thousands of miles of vulnerable territory.
  11. xsampa Well-Known Member

    Mar 23, 2014
    Look to the West had Persia establish vassals in Gujurat and Sindh-Rajputana.
  12. Cregan Well-Known Member

    Jul 20, 2008
    I think for Persia to successfully secure India it is imperative that it secures Central Asia. It needs to bring the Turkic steppes, in addition to the Afghans, to heel. A defensible Persian border in Central Asia is critical to prevent perennial nomad invasions which could cut the empire in two.

    Also, it needs defensible borders in the Caucasus and Mesopotamia.