Before arriving at an estimate of Muhammad Tughlaq’s Character, we may have some idea of his strong points as well as weak points.
Bright side of the character of Muhammad Tughlaq:
Muhammad Tughlaq was very gifted in certain respects. He was an accomplished scholar, an expert calligraphist and his eloquence was magical.
He was genuinely interested in mathematics, medicine, science, astronomy and philosophy etc. He was a devout Musalman.
In an age of drunkenness and debauchery, he was singularly free from these vices. He was known for his generosity. He was a patron of learned scholars. He was a man of great initiative. He was a dashing experimenter who would revert back if he got convinced that the experiments so launched were not productive.
Dark Side of the character of Muhammad Tughlaq:
(1) Muhammad was very selfish and felt no hesitation in killing his father through conspiracy.
(2) He was a visionary and he wanted to conquer the whole world.
(3) He was over-ambitious. He desired to found a new religion.
(4) He was a poor plan executor. His plan of token currency emptied the state treasury. His plan of increasing state revenue through increase in taxation brought ruin to the farmers. His project of change of capital from Delhi to Daultabad brought immense hardship to the people and did not materialize. He collected a huge army for making conquests in Central Asia, paid the soldiers one year’s salary in advance but afterwards gave up the plan. His plan to conquer Quarajal brought disaster to the army.
(5) He was a coward ruler. He bought peace by bribing the Mongols.
(6) He was blood-thirsty. He ordered the killing of hundreds of people even on minor matters.
(7) He was short-tempered. He flew into rage wherever his views were opposed.
(8) He was very stubborn and vindictive. He adopted stringent measures on the people of Doab when they refused to pay the taxes.
A complex personality:
Historians have used various epithets while estimating Muhammad Tughlaq. Barani and Ibn-Batuta, his contemporaries found him a ‘complex person’, a ‘mixture of opposites.’ He had virtues and vices of extreme intensity. While he was generous, humble and kind, he was very narrow- minded, stubborn and most cruel. He gave gifts to all those whom he liked, he put to death who opposed him.
Dr. Ishwari Prasad, Dr. V.A. Smith and Dr. K.A. Nizami do not accept the view that Muhammad Tughlaq was a mixture of opposites. They are inclined to hold the view that contemporary historians of Mughammad Tughlaq have put things in an exaggerated manner.
Was he mad?
Eliphinstone is of the view that Muhammad Tughlaq suffered from some degree of insanity. This view has been supported by Havell and S.R. Sharma. However historians like Brown and Ishwari Prasad do not accept this view. Brown has observed, “That he was mad is a view of which contemporaries give no hint; that he was a visionary, his many sided practical and vigorous character forbids us to believe; to call him a despot may be true but not other form of government was conceivable in the middle age.”
Likewise Dr. Ishwari Prasad has stated, “Muhammad Tughlaq was unquestionably the ablest man among the crowned heads of the middle ages; some historians lay the charge of madness on him but neither in the pages of Ibn Batuta nor in the history of Barani…Edward Thomas and Havell have taken their clue from-Badauni who was bitterly prejudiced against the Sultan and they have uncritically accepted most of his statements.”
Welfare works of Muhammad Tughlaq:
The Sultan did a lot for the peasants. He set up a separate department of agriculture. The primary object of this department was to bring uncultivated land under plough. ‘Taccavi’ loans to peasants were given on bad times i.e. natural calamities like floods.
Administration of Justice:
Ibn Batuta praises his love for justice, “Of all men he most loved justice.” He did not even let the Qazis escape justice.
Causes of his failure:
Causes of his failure may be listed under two heads:
(i) Causes for which he himself was responsible
(ii) Causes for which he himself was not responsible.
Causes for which Muhammad Tughlaq himself was responsible:
1. Visionary projects of Muhammad Tughlaq
(i) Taxation in the Doab
(ii) Transfer of capital from Delhi to Daultabad
(iii) Use of token currency
(iv) Military expeditions to Central Asia and other places
(v) The Deccan policy.
2. Generosity of the Sultan
3. Alienation of the Ulemas
4. Brutal punishments.
Causes of failure for which Muhammad Tughlaq was not responsible:
I. Conservative nature of the people
II. Lack of capable advisers—ministers and generals
III. Natural calamities
IV. Vast extent of empire
V. Disloyalty of provincial governors.
VI. Liberal grants to the scholars and the poor, thus putting heavy strain on state revenue.
Lane-poole has described the reasons of his failure in these words, “To him (Muhammad Tughlaq) what seems good must be done at once, and when it proved impossible or unsuccessful his disappointment reached the verge of frenzy and he wreaked his wrath indiscriminately upon the unhappy offenders who could not keep pace with his imagination. Hence with the best of intentions, excellent ideas but no balance or patience, no sense of proportion, Muhammad Tughlaq was a transcendent failure.”
A balanced view of the personality and work of Muhammad Tughlaq:
Elphinstone has given a balanced view of Muhammad Tughlaq in these words, “It is admitted on all hands that he was the most eloquent and accomplished prince of his age. His letters, both in Arabic and Persian were admired for their elegance long after he had ceased to reign.
His memory was extraordinary, and besides a thorough knowledge of logic and the philosophy of the Greek, he was much attached to mathematics and to physical sciences, and used himself to attend sick persons for watching the symptoms of any extraordinary disease.
He was regular in his devotions, abstained from wine, and conformed in his private like to all the moral precepts of his religion. In war he was distinguished for his gallantry and personal activity, so that his contemporaries were justified in esteeming him as one of the wonders of the age.
Yet on the whole as if these splendid talents and accomplishments were given to him in vain, they were accompanied by a perversion of judgement which, after every allowance for the intoxication of absolute power, leaves us in no doubt whether he was not affected by some degree of insanity. His whole life was spent in pursuing visionary schemes by means equally irrational and with a total disregard of the sufferings which they occasioned to his subjects; and its results were more calamitous than those of any other Indian ruler.