In this article we will discuss about the system of government during Sultanate period in India:- 1. The Sultan 2. Administrative Machinery at the Centre during the Sultanate Period 3. Other Departments 4. Provincial Administration during the Sultanate Period 5. District Administration during the Sultanate Period.
- The Sultan
- Administrative Machinery at the Centre during the Sultanate Period
- Other Departments
- Provincial Administration during the Sultanate Period
- District Administration during the Sultanate Period
1. The Sultan:
Under the system of Government established by the Muslims in India the king stood at the helm of the affairs. He was an absolute monarch, a military war lord and religious ruler in one with power of life and death over his subjects. This attribute of kingship in India was largely based on the Muslim Jurisprudence. The king was elected by the congregation and could be deposed for the violation of Holy Quran.
The absence of popular assemblies, hereditary aristocracy are strong public opinion made the Sultan an aristocrat. He was regarded as a representative of God on this earth and was supposed to govern according to the advice of the Ulemas (priestly class).
Although, the king was not duty bound to accept the advice of the Ulemas but this class possessed enormous influence in the State. Most of the Muslim rulers with the exception of Ala-ud-Din Khilji and Mohammad Tughlaq could not dare to bypass their advice.
The Sultan in India was considered to be the legal representative of the Caliph (Khalifa). However, the Muslim kings of India did not always acknowledge the authority of the Khalifa. They often also struck their own coinage and caused the Khutba to be read in their own names, thereby asserting their sovereignty.
According to James Mills, “Under Muhammedan sovereign, the alliance between the Church and the State is much less complete. The Caliphs, it is true, were at once head magistrates, and head priests in other situations, under Muhammedan sovereign, the priests have had political power. Except in some matter of established customs, which by themselves are little capable of mending the condition of the people upon the whole, they have never had sufficient influence, or apparently any inclination, to protect the people from the abuses of sovereign power.”
It may be noted that the failure or success of the administrates machinery to a large extent depended on the personality of the Sultan. Strong rulers like Ala-ud-Din Khilji were able to exercise tremendous influence over administration and were able to keep the nobles and Ulemas completely under their control.
However, under the weak rulers, the Ulemas, the Nobles of the provincial governors tried to assert their independence.
As there was no hereditary principle of succession no Sultan felt safe in his throne-. According to Dr. Qureshi, “The absence of an hereditary principle of succession, the rough and ready methods of selecting the Sultan not only worked well, but were the only means of finding the right man at the right time.”
According to K.M Ashraf, “The ambition of the Sultans of the Delhi as that of the Sassanian monarchs of Persia was to build lofty palaces; to hold grand levies and enjoy the spectacle of a world prostrating itself before them; to accumulate vast hordes of treasures, and to concentrate all the financial power in their hands to bestow them on those they chose to favour; to appropriate all gold and jewels and then make a fight of them to greedy and expectant crowd; to carry on incessant war to establish their supremacy; maintain a large establishment of domestics and attendants and harems and to enjoy the satisfaction of spending unlimited wealth on them—in a word the satisfaction of vanity and the acquirement of conspicuous distinction.”
Another feature of the Muslim State in Medieval India was that it was maintained only with the help of the military elates, which mainly consisted of Muslims. The Sultan was himself the Chief Commander of the forces.
In fact the Sultan could not control the vast empires, curbed the power of the feudal lords suppress internal revolts or meet external aggressions without the help of strong army. In addition to the regular armies the Sultans drew a large number of soldiers from the feudal lords during the time of the need.
2. Administrative Machinery at the Centre during the Sultanate Period:
The Sultans were assisted by a regular hierarchy of officers in-charge of various departments. These officers carried out the administration in accordance with the orders of the Sultan. In fact, the Sultan was pivot around which the whole administrative machinery revolved. Some of the prominent officials who helped the Sultan in carrying out the administration were as under.
As the Sultan was the chief executive as well as the highest court of appeal, the royal household played an important role in the administration of the country. The household was controlled by Wakil-i-Dar. He was assisted by a Naib-Walcil-i- Dar. Another official who looked after the ceremonies was Amir Hazib. In fact, the people could see the king only through the last named official.
Another important official of the royal household was Sarjandar who looked after the bodyguards of the Sultan. Generally this office was given to a noble of great confidence. The royal arms were looked after by an official known as Sar- Silahdar. The royal harem was guarded by eunuchs. The other departments like royal hunt, royal stables, the library, the farashkhana and other karkhanas were looked after by minor officials.
The Wazir or the Chief Minister was the most important official who assisted the Sultan in the general administration of the country. The powers of the Wazir were not wholly defined and depended on the abilities of the persons holding this job as well as the character of the Sultan.
Usually the Wazir exercise supervision over all other civil departments in addition to looking after the Finance Department. He stood mid-way between the sovereign and his subjects. According to Mawardi, there were two types of Wazirs—wazir-ut tafwid and toazir-ut-tanfidh. The former enjoyed’ all the powers of the Sultan delegated to him. In simple language he had unlimited authority.
This office was usually held by Muslims. The latter had only limited powers and carried out orders of the ruler. This office could be held by non- Muslims as well. According to Dr. R.P. Tripathi, “Over the wazir there was the sultan, but over the latter there was no one to exercise a direct check. Besides acting as a sort of brake on the autocratic tendency of the Sultan, the wazir also acted as a buffer between the people and the crown. By reducing the wazir to a non-entity the crown weakened its own defence.”
He further says. “It was as necessary in the interest of the crown as of the government that the wazir should not be reduced to a negligible quantity. The real problem for the crown was how to restrict the power and ambition of the wazir in a way as to mike him a source of strength rather than of weakness.”
According to Adab-ul-Mulk, the chief duties of the wazir were to make “a country prosperous, to accumulate treasures, to appoint officials, to ask for accounts, to arrange stock taking of commodities in the karhhanas and the census of the horses, camels, mules and other animals, to assemble and pay the troops and artisans, to keep the people satisfied, to look after the men of piety and fame and to give them stipends, to take care of the widows and the orphans, to provide for the learned, to administer the affairs of the people, to organise the offices and look after their efficiency ; in short to transact the business of the state”.
There were various departments which’ were being looked after by different officials. The Diwan-i-Wazarat or revenue minister dealt with the financial matters. He controlled and supervised the works of the Amins (tax collectors) and determined the share of the State in the produce.
The Ariz-i-Mamalik was the chief military officer who looked after the recruitment of the army. He was also responsible for looking after the feudal contingents and organising necessary transport for the arms during war.
The Diwan-i-Insha or the Minister in- charge of the provincial government was the most confidential official of the Sultan. He kept in touch with the Governors of the districts and provinces and informed the sovereign about the various communications received from them.
In fact “All the correspondence, formal or confidential, between the sovereign and the rulers of other states or his own tributaries and officials, passed through this Department which employed a large number or dabira who had already established their reputation as masters of style.”
The Barid-i-Mumalak looked after the information and Intelligence Department. He kept himself fully informed about the various happenings in the Empire through his agents. The country was divided into number of sub divisions each looked after by barid or confidential agent who supplied the necessary information to Barid-i-Mumalak on various aspects of administration.
This system ensured the obedience of provincial and local officials and also provided a safeguard against suppression of the people by local bureaucrats. Barani has observed that only, “men of known probity and honesty were appointed to this post; sometimes learned men with an out- standing reputation for piety and impartiality were forced to accept it against their will as a matter of public duty.”
The Justice Department was looked after by Qazi-ul-Quzat who was assisted by the Muftis. He administered justice on his behalf and looked after the appointment of the Qazia at lower levels. He heard appeals against the decisions of the lower court in civil as well as criminal cases He also looked after the religious affairs of the State.
The other duties assigned to him included looking after the Madrasa, meeting the needs of the scholars and other needy people, distribution of alms etc. While he performed duties, other than judicial, he was known as Sadar-us-Sadur.
Another prominent official during the Sultanate period was Diwan-i-Risalat. There is controversy amongst scholars regarding the duties performed by this official. According to Dr. I.H. Qureshi he looked after the religious duties including endowments. But Dr. Habib Ullah is of the opinion that he was the Foreign Minister and looked after the relations with foreign countries.
Dr. A.L. Srivastava says that the view of Dr. Qureshi is difficult to accept because there was another official “Sadar-i-Sadur”, who looked after the religious activities of the State. He argues that it is difficult to accept the condition that there could be two officials looking after the same work.
3. Other Departments:
In addition to this there were certain other independent Departments. One department was under the charge of a Minister and was concerned with the markets, issue of licences to traders, collection of control duties etc. This Department also looked after the problem of famine. Amir-i-Koh looked after the Department of Agriculture, while Mir e-Imarat looked after the construction of the buildings.
Certain rulers like Firoz Shah Tughluk set up a separate Department which distributed aims and helped the needy Muslims with finances to enable them to marry off their daughters.
In addition to the above Departments, there was a Body of advisers to assist the Sultan in his work. This Body was known as Majlis-i-Khalwat, which consisted of some of the Ministers of the Sultan, prominent Ulemas and other trusted officials of the government. This body was mainly supposed to give advice to the Sultan. But, it was not obligatory for the Sultan to abide by the advice of this body.
4. Provincial Administration during the Sultanate Period:
The whole country was divided into a number of provinces. Each province was under the control of a Governor who was also known as Naib, Wali or Mukti. He was appointed by the Sultan and could be removed from his office by him alone. However, certain scholars like Dr. Srivastava have expressed the opinion that the Delhi Sultanate was not divided into any uniform provinces nor was their administration identical.
Let us not get into this controversy and try to find out the duties performed by the Governors.
The Governor was not only expected to perform military and revenue functions but also imparted justice. He maintained contingents of army and cavalry and paid them salary from the provincial revenues. As and when the need arose he contributed the necessary contingent to the central army.
He was responsible for the maintenance of law and order within the provinces and took necessary measures for its protection from external aggression.
The Govern of collected the revenues of the provinces and after meeting the expenses of administration and maintenance of army, deposited the balance with the central treasury. He had to render full account of the entire income from revenue to the Diwan-i-Wazirat. As the judicial official of the provinces he supervised the provincial judiciary and decided some of the prominent cases.
The Governor received a fixed portion of the provincial revenue as his salary. The Governor enjoyed very prominent position in the provincial administration. In fact, his position to a large extent depended on the personality of the Sultan.
If the Sultan was weak then the Governors behaved virtually like independent rulers within their provinces. But, on the other hand if Sultan happened to be a strong person, the Governor could not afford to act independently. The strong Sultans often made the Governors of the provinces read khutba in their name.
It may be noted that though the provincial administration was not fully centralised, the Central Government exercised sufficient control over the Governors. Appeals could be lodged against the Governors with the Sultan.
The accounts of the Governor were supervised and checked by Diwan-i-Wazirat and the Governor had to give necessary explanation for the proper maintenance of the accounts. The presence of an efficient system of espionage enabled the Sultan to know about the day-to-day activities of the provincial Governors.
5. District Administration during the Sultanate Period:
The Provinces were sub-divided into number of districts (shikks). Each district was under the control of Amil or Nazim. The districts were further sub-divided into Paragonas or a collection of villages.
The cities or a group of villages were placed under the control of an official known as Amir-I-Sadar, He was assisted by a number of other officials, the prominent amongst them being Karkun, Mulckadam, Balahar, Chaudhary, Patwari etc.
The lowest administrative unit was the village. The Panchayats were responsible for the administration of the villages. During the Sultanate period no effort was made to disturb the work of the Local Self Government Institutions and they continued to work as they had been doing in the earliest times.
The officials of the State obtained from interference in the work of the rural administration. Thus we can say that the administration at the local level remained unaffected by the political changes at the higher levels.
It will be observed that the system of administration during Sultanate period was quite different from the traditional system of government prevailing in ancient times. It was theocratic, military and feudal in character and lacked the goodwill and support of the people.
The feeling of mutual attachment between the ruler and the ruled was mostly absent and there was a wide gap between the two. The rulers were mainly concerned with the preservation of their authority and not with the welfare of the people. Consequently, they perused policies which promoted more of their own interest than the interests of the people.