¤ A Sultan With Great Vision, Surprising Insight
Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq who succeeded Ghazi was one of the most
interesting, colorful and eccentric sultans of the Delhi Sultanate.
Vivid accounts have been left for us by contemporary writers who had
to bear the brunt of his idiosyncracies and were probably less amused
than us by them. Muhammad was actually a brilliant man, with great
vision and surprising insight. But he was a dreamer, an artist. He
lacked the ability to see his plans through to their logical
conclusion. In fact many historians are of the view that he was far
ahead of his time though Barani seems to suggest that Muhammad
was not so much ahead of time, as much as just far out.
was never satisfied with stereotypical, tried-and-tested answers to
posers. His was a highly original mind, comparable to that of an
inventors or scientists. He was the first sultan to have
the vision to see India as a whole country, and not just as a sort of
cake for every ambitious aspirant to carve a kingdom out of. He wanted
to turn it into one strong single unit, both politically and
administratively. At the time of his ascension there was much
political confusion in Central Asia. Muhammad figured that the ruler
of a powerful Hindustan could be the potential leader of Central Asia.
¤ Maintained Relations With Neighboring Countries
Muhammads political insight also included diplomacy he
was a keen believer in keeping good relations with the world in
general. He sent envoys to China, Khurasan, Egypt and many such
places. The rulers before Muhammad had never shown any such
inclination, and to be fair to them, they did not have the time to
indulge in all of this. Muhammad changed all of that. Missions poured
into India from China, Iran, Iraq and Syria, heralding a new era in
cultural and bilateral exchange.
The sultan shocked the nobility with his radical beliefs such
as, all offices must be open to talent. In pursuance of this
philosophy he disregarded such things as caste, race and nobility and
put the lowest-born people on the loftiest of levels in the hierarchy.
He was also one of the few sultans of
Delhi to patronize Hindus and the Hindustani language.
of course this did not win him any friends from the Turks and
Afghans, and the resentment was to surface soon. He had to earn the
epithet of Pagla Tughlaq (the mad Tughlaq).
¤ Laid Down Taxation Policies
Very early in his reign, Muhammad Tughlaq began to show an interest
in the matters of taxation. He ordered the compilation of the revenue
and expenditure of all the provinces of his kingdom. This meant that
the governors of the provinces were required to send to Delhi all
relevant accounts and any other information required for the records.
The result was that the revenue department in Delhi came to know the
exact income and expense of each province. Consequently the whole
revenue system worked pretty smoothly.
With his very next idea the sultan displayed the lack of balanced
judgement that he soon came to be associated with. The Doab region
between the Ganga and the Yamuna river was, and still is, a very
fertile plain. So Muhammad quite fairly concluded that since the
farmers of this region were rich they could afford to pay more tax
than those of less fertile regions. The idea itself was sound, the
execution was not.
Taxes were increased as much as twentyfold and, whats more, the
sultan also insisted in reviving old forgotten taxes and levying those
too in this region. Worse, the measure was adopted at a time when the
area was in the grip of a severe famine. Consequently thousands
perished and the peasantry started fleeing their homes.
¤ Most Discontent Decisions of Sultan
When the state woke up to the situation relief work was taken up,
however even then the need to recall the taxes was not realized.
Instead, Muhammad became quite enraged at the peasants leaving their
homes and used force to get them back. This incident, unfortunately,
left a lasting and bitter taste in the mouth of the people of the
Doab. Ultimately it was to prove detrimental to the future of the
Another one of Muhammads ideas was to bring more land into
cultivation to help the peasants. A large tract of land, about 60msq,
was chosen and cultivated. Two years and 7,000,000 rupees later, the
experiment was declared a failure. No one had realized that the chosen
land was infertile.
After this Muhammad, much to the revenue departments relief and
the alarm of others, turned his attention elsewhere. He did things
like transferring his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad (in andhra
Pradesh) so that he could control the Deccan better and keep his
capital safe from invasions. The idea of shifting the capital in
itself was not fundamentally bad. However the choice of Deogir
(Daulatabad) was unfortunate. A more centrally located place would
have been a far better idea as the sultan himself realized later.
¤ Shifting of The Capital To Daulatabad Was A Failure
However, as things stood, the entire army, the royal household (in
itself a circus), ministries, scholars, poets, musicians and so on
were ordered to march out and settle in Daulatabad. The king went all
out and did his best for his new capital. However the people of Delhi
were understandably hesitant to go traipsing all over India to settle
in a new place. The sultan lost his always-precarious equilibrium and
ordered everyone to move it not even the cats and dogs were
spared. By the time they reached Daulatabad, Muhammad had changed his
mercurial mind once again and decided that the idea wouldnt
work. He realized that while this capital was tucked in deep enough to
be safe from invasions, it was also too far away to protect northern
India. So he ordered a return march in which very few survived.
The consequences for Delhi were grave. Not only had she lost her
peoples she had also lost her former prosperity and grandeur. The
sultan tried his best to make amends and invited many scholars and
artistes to settle in the city. However clearly the impact of this
incident was far-reaching - when Ibn Batuta, the famous traveler, came
to Delhi in 1334 (Muhammads reign was from 1325-1351) he found
certain parts of the city still deserted.
The consequences for Muhammad werent all that happy either.
There was widespread resentment against the sultan and the bitterness
rankled on for years to come. There were several other experiments
that the indefatigable Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq undertook. He brought
about a change in the coinage system, several innovations in the
administration, in his foreign policy (he had ideas of universal
conquest) and so on. When he finally died in 1351, one wry
contemporary observer (Badauni) quipped,
and so the king
was freed from his people, and they from him.
Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq started building the fifth city of Delhi,
Jahanpanah or the refuge of the world. His intention was to combine
the four previous cities of
Delhi (Dilli, Siri, Tughlaqabad and Jahanpanah) in one boundary
wall. However he soon realized that the expense involved would be
prohibitive and gave up the idea. Parts of Jahanpanah today lie
forgotten near the busy roads of south Delhis Panchsheel Park.
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