Akbar and Salim’s relation was very complicated and oxcillated between deep love and extreme hate between both the father and son from a young age only. In mughals father had not much role in upbringing of child but Akbar appointed capable teachers and mentors to train his sons. Prince Salim went at a young of 8-9 years to war field. Young mughal princes went to war firld training at young age.
In 1591 Akbar was seriously unwell and Abul fazl his chronicler suggested that Akbar was poisoned and Akbar got angry on Prince Salim in front of his ministers and wives and told him why he could not wait to take throne for few more years than poison his father. Prince Salim felt so bad that he left the room in tears. Prince Salim got very angry at this open humiliation and accusation but kept quiet as he had not poisoned his father which was proved later on. It was discovered that Akbar had food poisoning later on investigation by eating non vegetarian food cooked in palace. Prince Salim never forgot this insult of his ever and took his revenge later by killing Abul fazl, the man who he felt had put this thought in his fathers head.
Prince Salim had helped his younger brother Prince Daniyal against Akbar wishes to marry an Hindu widow whom daniyal rescued from funeral pyre. This agitated Akbar to no end because Akbar was not in favour of such marriage, he only wanted royal wives or mughal relatives for his sons not commoners. That led to a showdown between Salim and Akbar.
Abul Fazl was a hated man in agra fort especially among Akbar’s family especially his children. That was because Akbar listened to his ministers especially Abul Fazl and his brother Faizi on every matter be it empire administration or personal family affairs. The family members especially kids felt that their father should take their advice or listen to them than any minister or friend. Especially Salim and than Murad had huge issues with the coterie and ministers of Akbar like Abul Fazl, Abdul Rahim Khan e Khana etc and defied their father openly as young adults. In his final years even the younger son Daniyal had issues with Akbar and his coterie and openly defied his fathers orders. This caused Akbar serious issues in later ages of his rule as all his three sons openly started defying his orders and took to heavy drinking.
When Akbar was unwell in 1590 all his three sons started mobilizing their supporters like commanders, ministers, nobels and Kings to wage a war of succession. Salim kept people to find what Murad was doing in Akbars illness, Daniyal was too young by contrast for both Murad and Salim to spy on him at that time. When Akbar heard of this, he sent his three sons in three different directions after recovering from his ill health. Daniyal was sent to Deccan, Murad to Gujarath and Salim to wars with Persia and rajputhana. After 1591 till 1597, Salim hardly came back to his family and mostly stayed away on wars. Rather, Akbar ensured he stayed out of agra and Lahore the seat of powers.
Akbar also may be in order to contain Salim appointed his elder son Prince Khusrau at age of seven to a high imperial rank of 10000 mansabha. He also gave Prince daniyal, his youngest son the rights to put the emperors flags and red tents in campaigns. Akbar even decalred publicly he loved his grandsons more than sons (this was direct dig at Prince Salim). Khusrau began to be treated like Salim’s brother and referred to him as Shah bai (Prince brother) rather than father. Akbar and Khusrau left no stone unturned to treat Prince Salim badly and undercut him in court. This angered and shocked Salim to no extent but he had no options but to bear these insults silently.
Salim when he was in his early 30s once collapsed after heavy drinking in his palace and the Hakim- doctor told him that if he did not stop drinking he did not have many months to live as his liver had damaged considerably. At that time Salim was drinking 40 glasses of wine day and reduced it to 20 glasses a day after the warning. It was only a surprise that Salim did not succumb to heavy drinking like his other two brothers Murad and Daniyal. Like they say the plants under a huge banyan tree never grow and die young under its shades, Akbars sons did not get a chance to grow under his huge stature. They even felt he was neglecting them or not taking their advice on empire and even family matters hence wasted their life drinking away. Akbar did not make things by sending them away from family and also pitting against them against each other. That led them to defy Akbars orders and advice and drinking heavily to forget the neglect from their father. Salim was not only pitted against his brothers but Akbar even pitted him against his own elder son Khusrau by taking him into his house hold and giving him high ranking of 10,000 mansabdar at age 7 years. This led to more fissures between father and son. Adding to that Khurram also was taken into Akbars household and Ruqaiah Begum became his foster mother.
After 1591, Salim hardly came to Lahore/Agra(three capitals where mughal family stayed) and imperial powers that be till 1597. He was mostly away as governor of Ajmer or wars with Persia or Rajputhana. This led to a great conflict in his family, his wives got lonely and his kids came under influence of relatives and Nobels instigated them against their father for their own benefits. Salim’s kids(sons especially) were brought up by Akbars household, they hardly had any bond or respect for their father or in case of Prince Khurram even mother Jodha Bai. The chief among them who ensured Khusrau remained challenger to Salim were Abul fazl, the chronicle and friend of Akbar, Abdul Rahim Khan e Khana, Bairam Khans son who was also Khusrau’s father in law and Aziz Koka, milk brother of Akbar and PrinceDaniyal’s father in law. Apart from them Raja Man Singh sided with Khusrau as he was his sister Man Bai’s son and Sher Afghan Ali Quli, Meherunissa’s husband and later Governor of Bengal and Meherunissa’s brother Muhammad Sharifuddin all were in favour of Khusrau becoming emperor after Akbar.
Why did all these people dislike Salim and support Khusrau? The reasons are many, few thought Salim is a drunkard and cannot handle empire properly. Some had personal hatred for Salim as he would not get easily influenced by their thoughts unlike a Akbar or Khusrau. Some felt he would be orthodox and not liberal like Akbar which proved wrong in later stages. Salim was just using religion as tool to gain approval for his succession, once he became emperor and consolidated power he started acting like an atheist. He refused to allow any religious influence in politics and never hesitated to put in prison or kill any threat to his throne that included Sikhs or Muslim religious. When the battle of succession was ensuing Salim ensured everyone thought he favoured them, the muslim clergy thought he will reintroduce orthodox Islam in court and empire, the Christian portugese priests thought he will convert to Christianity etc.
In 1597 Prince Salim returned to imperial courts. Akbar immediately told him to go on campaign to Deccan to help Daniyal’s failing campaign. Salim refused, said Akbar is aged and hence he must stay in Agra court. Akbar was angered by this refusal and started giving more powers to Khusrau. The world was talking that Khusrau will succeed his grandfather and not Salim.
In 1599 Akbar went to Deccan war and ordered Salim to go to war with Maharana Pratap. Salim went but stopped at Ajmer and did not bother to go forward to war with Mewar. Instead in 1599, Salim rebelled and marched to agra fort with intention to steal the royal treasury. But his grandmother and step mothers thwarted this effort. Salim with his army went to Allahabad and set up independent rule and minted coins in his name. Akbar tried his best too contain the rebellion by appointing Salim governor of Bengal etc but Salim refused to stop rebellion.
Salim felt that Abul Fazal was instigating his father against him. He felt Abul Fazl was advicing Akbar to make Daniyal next emperor than him. Salim had strong opposition at mughjal court because all his fathers close friends and Navratnas were against him. So he got Abul fazl killed by his friend Bir Singh Bundela, later Raja of Orccha in 1602. Bir Singh sent his head as gift to Prince Salim. Akbar was saddened by this death of his close confidant and friend. But Salim now had more powers and could go to agra without major opposition. No one would now dare consider him lightly as contender for throne and also his safety was more ensured in Lahore and agra fort by his act. His opponents got the message that he can eliminate his enemies if he wanted no matter how powerful and how close to Akbar.
The period between 1599 to 1605 is very significant period in Salim and Akbars life. Its in 1599 that Meherunissa later Nur Jahan, rumoured love interest of Prince Salim was married to Ali Quli, a commander of mughals. Its said Akbar did not want Salim to marry Meherunissa and married her off to Ali Quli. Salim rebelled that same year when he was sent on expedition to Rajputhana against Maharana Partap. Instead of going to war against Maharana Pratap he turned his army towards agra since Akbar had gone to Deccan to help Daniyal in war against Ahmednagar. In 1599, Akbar lost his second son Prince Murad to extreme alchoholism. This death shook both Akbar and Salim, as Salim was also closer to his younger brother Murad by that time. Both had openly started defying against Akbars orders by than and Salim may have felt he had found an ally against his father and mughal court in his brother. Both were contenders for same throne as young adults but their fathers favouritism towards Daniyal and Khusrau and hatred for Akbars coterie had got them close in last few years. The matter complicated more when Murad wrote in his death will giving his personal possessions to Prince Salim and even guardianship of his small kids to Salim.
In 1604, finally Akbar decided to end Salims rebellion and marched to meet him on banks of Ganga but he received news of his mother Marium Makhani Hamida Banu’s death on 6th Sep 1604 and returned back to agra. Salim himself very close to his grandmother went to attend her funeral in agra against advice by confidants. Akbar was furious at Salim and admonished him for rebellion and put him in prison for few days. This led to anger from Salim’s side and more bad blood. In 11th March 1605, Akbars last son Prince Daniyal died destroying hopes of Akbar on his succession later. Finally as last straw, Man Bai consumed opium and killed herself when Salim was on a hunt in Allahabad on 16th May 1604. Man Bai’s death broke Salim’s spirit and he decided to move to agra to be with his father, close to seat of power. Salim and Khusrau blamed each other for Man Bai’s death. Man Bai basically killed herself as her son had rebelled against his father for throne and did not listen to her advice.
After Salim returned to agra, again bad blood ensured between father and son with relatives and nobels trying their best to make differences between them. Once when Akbar was quiet unwell he sent a message to Salim to come to meet him in palace, but Salim never went for four days. Actually when Salim went to Akbar’s palace in boat his boat was sprayed with arrows and his boatman died. The second day when he attempted to go to Akbars palace to meet him, a courtier came running to him on fort ramparts and told him not to enter Agra fort as an assassination attempt was to take place. Salim again went back. Akbar was angry why Salim was not coming to meet him despite sending messengers. Actually Man Singh and Aziz Koka had placed their gaurds at gra fort to ensure Salim never comes to meet Akbar or even if he comes he may be captured. Salim then sent his wife and chief consort Jodha Bai to meet Akbar and get all his kids from Akbars palace to his own palace for their own safety. Jodha Bai met Akbar and told him of the assassination attempts and took three of Salim’s kids with her back to their fathers palace. Prince Khurram refused to accompany his mother and stayed back at Akbars palace. When Akbar came to know attempts he called a court meeting and declared that from that day Prince Salim will handle all his duty(Akbar’s) including administration and any war related decisions. This shocked Khusrau camp.
Not until a few weeks before Akbar’s death did Salim and Akbar get a chance to sort differences. There was strong rebellion to ensure that Khusrau became next emperor and not Salim. A meeting was called to this effect by Abdul Rahim Khan e Khana and Man Singh but elder noblemen like Sheikh Bhukari and Saiyid Khan opposed this move and walked out of meeting. This shocked Khusraus supporters. Murtaza Khan brought good news to Salim that many nobels were on his side. Finally Abdul Rahim, Mirza Aziz Koka had to come to pay their respect to future emperor. Akbar knew his last time had come and called Salim to agra fort and gave him his turban and sword signalling him to be next emperor over Khusrau. The funeral took place same day 27th October 1605 and Akbar was buried in Sikandra, agra. Salim left to his palace after funeral and was crowned after 8th day of Akbars death.
Khusrau by now was with Raja Man Singh and both were planning to flee to Bengal. Salim summoned Man Singh and forgave Khusrau. The one reason for Salim forgiving Khusrau initially was that his mother Hira Kunwari must have interceded on his behalf and also Salim was feeling guilty that Man Bai died at such young age. Whether Salim madly loved Man Bai like a Nur Jahan or Sahib Jamal is disputable, but he certainly respected her as she was his first wife and gave her titles like Shah Begum(Kings wife).