The Afghan theory of kingship differed from that of the Turks. The Turkish theory of kingship was similar to the theory of Christian and Hindu monarchs. The Turkish Sultans, right from Sultan Illtutmish to Sayyid rulers, believed in absolute monarchy and some of them claimed even divinity.
They claimed that the Sultan was superior to all in the state and all his nobles, governors, supporters, etc. were his subordinates. Therefore, none could claim equality with the Sultan and no one had the right to share in the administration of the state but with the consent or orders of the Sultan.
The Afghans, on the contrary, regarded the Sultan as one among themselves or only first among equals. They did not believe in the divinity of the Sultan and therefore, claimed power and respect in matters of the state. The Afghan theory of kingship, thus, believed in the equality of nobles with the Sultan and thus, more or less, supported an oligarchy.
The primary features of this theory were as follows:
1. The Afghans did not accept the nomination of the successor by the Sultan. They believed in the election of the Sultan by the nobility.
2. Every Afghan noble claimed to be the commander of his forces and did not accept his forces as a part of the army of the Sultan.
3. The Afghans accepted no privilege of the Sultan. They claimed all those privileges for which the Sultan was entitled.
The result was that every Afghan noble kept his independent armies, claimed extensive jagirs, enjoyed equal privileges with the Sultan and could force him to depend on their power. In case of opposition from the Sultan they could put up in the field equally powerful army against him.
Bahlul Lodi was the first Afghan ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. He was the founder of the Lodi dynasty and therefore, the nobles accepted him as their leader. Yet, Bahlul compromised with spirit of equality and independence of the Afghans.
He worked on the Afghan theory of kingship, regarded himself as only first among equals, sat and ate with his important nobles on the same carpet, called his nobility Masnad-i-Ali, visited one’s home if one felt displeased or was sick, shared the booty equally with them, did not keep personal bodyguards, received his food every day from the one or the other noble and was offered horse by one of his nobles whenever he used to ride.
According to Firishta, he said, “It is enough if my name is associated with the kingdom.” Mushtaqi, the author of Vakiyat-i-Mushtaqi wrote- “He never sat on the throne and forbade his nobles to remain standing before him.” Bahlul assigned extensive jagirs to his nobles and allowed them to increase their power and influence.
Thus, Bahlul respected all Afghan traditions in dealing with his nobility and kept them satisfied. He never asserted himself as the Sultan and shared the power of the state with his nobility.
Dr K.A. Nizami has commented:
“The government of Bahlul was based and carried on in the spirit of a biradari (clan).” Dr R.P. Tripathi also writes- “Bahlul Lodi in keeping with the sentiments of the Afghans and the traditions of his father claimed to be nothing more than one among the peers. He was quite satisfied with the title of Sultan and the leadership of the Afghans. In his days, the Afghan empire was a sort of confederation of tribes presided over by the Lodi king.”
However, Professor Iqtidar Hussain Siddiqi has expressed his difference regarding opinions expressed above with regard to the policy of Bahlul Lodi towards his nobles. Primarily he differs regarding the motives of the policy pursued by Bahlul. He agrees that Bahlul behaved with his nobles generously or rather on equal footing but he argues that it was not because he believed in that policy sincerely but because he compromised with circumstances.
He claims that Persian chroniclers suggest that Bahlul believed in a despotic monarchy but he did not behave accordingly because he needed the support of his Afghan nobles to consolidate and strengthen his infant empire.
He, therefore, writes- “The view that the Sultanate of Delhi under him was confederacy of the Afghan tribes is not borne out of historical facts and may be dismissed as an attempt to misread the history of his reign.”
He contends that Bahlul needed the support of the nobility, the Ulema and other influential people and therefore, behaved diplomatically to keep them satisfied. But Bahlul suppressed those nobles, even Afghans, who dared to challenge his authority. The governors of Sialkot, Lahore and Dipalpur were forced to submit by Bahlul.
Bahlul used to transfer his governors from one place to another so as to justify that their positions depended on him. Professor Siddiqi, therefore, concludes that Bahlul dealt his nobility diplomatically and encouraged them to regard themselves as members of one biradari (clan) instead of chiefs of different biradaris and thus successfully utilised their power and resources for enhancing his own power.
The contention of Prof. Siddiqi is quite logical. Of course, Bahlul pursued a policy which aimed at keeping satisfied his nobles with which Prof. Siddiqi also agrees but this is also certain that he had kept his nobles under sufficient control so that none of them thought of making himself the Sultan after his death and they chose one of his sons as his rightful successor. This is a sufficient proof of the contention of Prof. Siddiqi.
Sikandar Lodi felt more free than his father in dealing with his nobility. The Lodi empire had stabilised and strengthened itself. And the success which he gained in destroying his rivals in the very first year of his reign, encouraged him to bring his nobles under further submission. Sikandar Lodi simply desired to restore the prestige of the Sultan.
Therefore, he desired discipline, respect and obedience of his orders from his nobles. He did not desire to disrespect them or destroy their power. Therefore, he pursued a policy which was, of course, strictly disciplinarian but was blended with generosity and practical wisdom. He framed certain rules for his courtiers and governors which were strictly enforced and those who exhibited defiance were severely punished.
“Anyone who turned from the path of obedience, he (the Sultan) either got his head severed off the body or expelled from the empire.” Those twenty-two nobles, who conspired against him in favour of his younger brother Fateh Khan, were either executed or banished out of the empire. The Sultan organised an excellent espionage system which helped him much in keeping his nobles under submission. But, Sikandar respected the old and experienced nobles and was generous to others in many ways.
He never punished any noble unless his guilt was proved. He tried to educate their children and gave respectable positions to his loyal nobles. The Sultan succeeded in establishing the prestige of the Sultan by this policy.
Prof. Siddiqi writes:
“Sultan Sikandar was the first Afghan king who behaved like an all- powerful monarch and demanded complete obedience as well as unwavering loyalty from his nobles . . . His tactfulness, humanism and generosity, high sense of purpose and personal magnetism, coupled with his unfailing success in the battlefield, made the nobility completely loyal and subservient to the sovereign and also suppressed its sentiments of equality with the Sultan.”
But, as soon as Ibrahim ascended the throne, the Sultan and the nobility came into serious conflict with each other. Sikandar Lodi, of course, had succeeded in exacting obedience and discipline from his nobles but he had not succeeded in destroying their spirit of independence and equality. Besides, many Afghan nobles yet kept large standing armies and enjoyed extensive jagirs.
In these circumstances it would have been wiser for Sultan Ibrahim to proceed cautiously and slowly in enhancing further the power and prestige of the Sultan. But Ibrahim chose a different course. He rashly and tactlessly decided to impose his will on his nobles which resulted in his conflict with the nobility.
He committed mistakes right from his accession on the throne when he blundered in accepting his brother, Jalal Khan, as ruler of Jaunpur. The conflict between the two brothers which ensued afterwards divided the nobility and created mistrust between the Sultan and many notable nobles. The mistrust went on increasing and largely the Sultan was responsible for it.
The suppression of nobles merely on suspicion, the poisoning of Jalal Khan, cruelty towards his brothers, imprisonment of nobles like Azam Humayun, Fateh Khan and Miyan Bhua resulted in the open revolt of Islam Khan. Ibrahim, no doubt, succeeded in suppressing that revolt but at a heavy cost. Ten thousand best Afghan soldiers and chiefs laid dead on the battlefield. Yet, the Sultan failed to change his course of action.
Undeterred of consequences, he became more aggressive in pursuing his policy. While Azam Humayun and Miyan Bhua were allowed to die in prison under suspicious circumstances, Husain Khan, governor of Chanderi, was murdered. It led to the revolt of Dariya Khan and after him his son Bahadur Khan in Bihar which resulted in the loss of entire territory from Bihar to Sambhal.
Ibrahim failed to get the loyalty of Daulat Khan Lodi, governor of Punjab as well. Therefore, instead of helping the-Sultan he invited Babur to attack India. The first battle of Panipat was, thus, fought among two unequal powers—Ibrahim being weaker in the position in which he was put because of his conflict with the nobility besides other reasons.
The conflict between Sultan Ibrahim and his nobility, of course, was less on principles and more because of mutual suspicion and impolitic behaviour of the Sultan. Yet, there is no doubt that Ibrahim, like his father, was also trying to establish the principles of absolute monarchy which would have been certainly helpful in safeguarding larger interests of the Afghan empire in India and Afghan nobility as well.
But, the imprudence of Sultan Ibrahim, on the one hand and the ignorance of the nobility to realise the benefits of this principle, on the other hand, led to the downfall of not only Ibrahim and Lodi dynasty but also that of the first Afghan empire in India.