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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Mughal Empire - Government

The Mughal empire provided a system of government that shared many ideas with the Sultanate as well as bringing in some new ideas of its own. It also incorporated many Indian ideas as well. The empire was essentially still military in nature, with every officer of the Mughal state a member of the army. The emperor was an autocrat and had unlimited freedom in making laws. Although he had a council of ministers, he was not bound to consult them, and his word was law. The only restriction was that he had to follow the guidelines set forth in the scriptures and Islamic traditions. However, a powerful emperor could often violate these as well. The great Mughal kings can best be described as benevolent despots, who ruled fairly and justly. Most of them did involve their ministers in decision making. They also attempted to improve the lives of their subjects, although there was no socialistic work in their times.
The administrative system of the Mughal Empire was largely the work of Akbar, for the early two Mughal kings (Babur and Humayun) did not really get the chance to implement much of a system. Akbar's task was simplified for he inherited some measure of Sher Shah's system of organization. During Akbar's time the system worked very well, but it began to deteriorate during the time of his successors. As mentioned earlier, all officers were members of the army. Each officer was assigned a specific responsibility, and was
paid a monthly salary. He was also required to maintain a certain strength of troops, with senior officers commanding larger units and drawing greater salaries. The system was very flexible and an officer could be assigned to any office. During Akbar's time, the system worked very well because of Akbar's remarkable ability to pick the right man for the right job, though such efficiency slowly deteriorated during the reign of his successors. The officers were either paid their salaries in cash or were granted land for short periods of time, on which they could obtain revenue.
The empire was administered by a number of departments with officers assigned to each of them. The main departments of the state were
-The Exchequer -Accounts and Salaries -Judiciary -Charities -Public morals
The highest officer was the Wazir (chief minister), followed by the Bakshi who was responsible for the salaries of all the employees of the state. He was also involved in recruitment for the army as well as recruiting officers for the administration. There were various other departments and officers like the Auditor General, the head of the Imperial workshop, the superintendent of forests, the news reporters etc.
The revenue system is an important part of any government and the Mughals had a fairly well organized system of revenue collection. Land revenue continued to remain an important source of income for the state. Other sources were trade, industry, transport etc Around the time Akbar ascended the throne the land revenue system was fairly disorganized with a mix of nobles, landlords etc. involved in land ownership and revenue collection. Akbar realized the importance of an efficient land revenue policy for an expanding empire. Initially he tried out a disastrous experiment which eventually had to be cancelled. He attempted a new system, in which he first abolished all current land holdings. The empire was then divided into a series of land holdings, each yielding a fixed amount of revenue every year. These areas were then allotted to an officer called a Krori , whose job was the collection of revenue and encourage cultivation (which in turn would boost revenue). However the Krori's turned out to be corrupt tyrants at whose hands the cultivators went through tremendous suffering. The system was quickly abolished and the earlier system restored. In 1852 AD an important new development took place in the re-organizational effort of land revenue. Todar Mall was appointed to the post Dian-I-Ashraf . A new system was established which had three divisions.
- A survey to measure land - The classification of the various types of land (degree of fertility etc) - An annual survey to determine the rate of taxation.
The system was essentially fair, as the land would be only assessed for the portion where cultivation was done. The tax was one third of the produce, and the landlords could pay the tax in either cash or kind. The monetary value of the crops varied depending on the type of crop and the prevailing market conditions.
To assist in the purposes of administration and revenue collection, the Mughal Empire was divided into a hierarchical system of areas. The empire was first divided into a number of subahs . The subahs were then divided into paraganas . A paraganas was a union of several villages. At each stage there were several officers who supervised operations like revenue assessment and collection etc. Their orders were to collect revenue in a just and efficient manner and not put undue pressure on villagers, especially if they had suffered a natural disaster. Apparently there was tremendous accountability, because we have records of even high ranking officials like provincial governors being dismissed after complaints were made against them by the citizens. The entire system worked fairly well, the landlords now had a sense of security with a developed system and were given a fair amount of flexibility in paying their dues. Although the tax rate was on the higher side (one third of the total produce) it was pretty reasonable considering the emperors abolished various other taxes.
During the time of the Mughal Empire there was no formal written law, but there was a keen interest amongst the Mughal emperors to deliver speedy justice to its citizens. The justice system placed even senior officers within the law, and perhaps the only person really above the law was the emperor himself. The Mughal emperors were very keen on justice, but for most of the Mughal period, appealing to the emperor was a complex procedure. Two notable exceptions were Akbar and Jehangir, who allowed subjects to directly petition them. In addition to the emperor there were other officers in charge of justice. The chief justice was known as the Quazi-ul-Quazat . He was in charge of maintaining the judicial system throughout the empire. For this purpose he was responsible for the appointment and management of Quazi's all over the empire. Under them there were no lower courts. Most villagers however resolved their cases in the village courts itself. The punishments were fairly severe, ranging from imprisonment to amputation, mutation and whipping. The approval of the emperor was however mandatory for capital punishment. In the Mughal judicial system, the emperor was the final court of appeal.
Whilst the Mughal empire was able to once again provide an organized government to India, it failed to recapture the effectiveness and efficiency of those governments from the time of the Mauryas and Guptas. Hence they were able to unite India only under an empire, not under a government. This proved to be a serious fatal flaw, because after the decline of the greater Mughals, the already autonomous regions of the empire declared themselves independent. This presented a fractured and divided country to the Europeans, which made their task of conquering India a much simpler one.
vernment. This proved to be a serious fatal flaw, because after the decline of the greater Mughals, the already autonomous regions of the empire declared themselves independent. This presented a fractured and divided country to the Europeans, which made their task of conquering India a much simpler one.

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