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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Mughal Empire - Sher Shah's Reign

Although Babur had established the Mughal power as a dominant force in India, many of the left over forces from the Delhi Sultanate did not accept the Mughal as their ruler. Discontent began rising and soon they rallied around an Afghan known as Sher Shah. Sher Shah had a very humble background but rose to several important posts under various rulers. His father had been a landlord of a region called Sasaram which Sher Shah inherited upon his death. Originally known as Farid, he acquired the name Sher Khan, when under the service of Bahar Khan Lohani, a ruler of a kingdom in Bihar, he had single handedly killed a tiger. The king was so impressed that he also appointed Sher Shah, his deputy and the tutor of his minor son, Jalal Khan. Unfortunately for Sher Shah his enemies poisoned his master's mind against him and he was forced to leave his service. He also lost the Sasaram jagir of his father. Sher Shah however moved on and impressed by the success of the Mughals saw a future with them, and so joined Babur. He was of valuable assistance to Babur and as a reward for his services Babur got the Sasaram jagir restored to Sher Shah. Shortly afterwards Sher Shah left the Mughal service and returned to Bihar and went back to the kingdom where he had worked earlier, becoming the deputy governor and guardian of the minor heir Jalal Khan. Sher Shah soon became the effective head of the government and began winning over the support of the army. After a few years he was completely independent and the attempts of Jalal Khan and the rest of the royal family to dislodge him proved unsuccessful. Sher Shah then went on to win an important battle at Surajgarh against the combined forces of the Bengal Sultan and the Lohanis. This victory had important political implications, it made Sher Shah the undisputed ruler of Bihar and a contender for the crown of Delhi. Through a series of cleverly planned and well timed military strikes he defeated Humayun and took over Delhi, making him the ruler of most of the Mughal territories. Now an important emperor he bestowed upon himself the title Shah, and came to be known as Sher Shah. Humayun tried a year later to regain his territories, but without any support from his brothers and a demoralized army he was comprehensively defeated, barely managing to escape with his life. Thus the work of Babur was temporarily interrupted as Sher Shah restored India to the Afghans once again. Sher Shah spent the next few years consolidating his position and then settled down to give the country a brief (five years) but excellent government
Sher Shah was a gifted administrator and created a remarkable adminstrative setup. Perhaps his rule was more beneficial to India then Humayun's could ever have been, for his organization of the state made Akbar's task much easier. His government included many traditional features of the earlier administrative systems of India as well as adding some new original ideas. Although his system was highly centralized with tremendous power at the hands of emperor he ruled as a benevolent autocrat and attempted to the best of his ability to give his citizens a good government based on their wishes. To aid in administration he divided his empire into forty seven units called sarkars . These were then further divided into several paraganas . Each paragana had its own set of officers who had many responsibilities, which included maintaining records. A sarkar had two officers, a Shiqdar-I-Shiqdaran and a Munsif-I- Munsifan who would be in charge of the officers of the paraganas . To ensure that no officer could begin to become influential in an area, Sher Shah had a policy of transferring them every 2-3 years, which because of his short reign he was not able to fully implement. Sher Shah took a keen interest in administration, similar to Ashoka of the Mauryan period, believing that the greatest kings are also the most involved kings. This was a clear departure from the more detached approach followed by the Sultanate kings. Sher Shah also instituted reforms in the land revenue system, to make the system more in tune with the needs of the people. He conducted careful surveys and evolved the system of the state dealing directly with the cultivators. The states demands were fixed at one fourth or one third the total produce, which could be paid in either cash or kind. He appointed various officials to oversee revenue assessment and collection, and ensured that the system worked efficiently with prompt revenue collection. Tenants had certain rights and liabilities and these were clearly explained to him when he signed a deed of agreement with the state. Sher Shah had set up such a fine administration that the great Mughal king Akbar retained most of it, and Sher Shah's administrative set up was largely how the Mughal empire's administration remained for a long time. Sher Shah also re-organized tariffs and duties to facilitate the development of commerce. He also made significant developments in communications. He constructed several roads to aid in administration and defence but also to help link people. The longest road of these, the Grand Trunk Road survives today as National Highway 1 and extends for 1500 Km linking East India to North India. Sher Shah planted trees along the highways giving travellers shade, and also constructed rest houses. These also served the purpose of post offices and outposts and provided a method of speedily delivering important news to the government. An established system of espionage kept Sher Shah informed of the developments in all parts of his empire. Sher Shah also put in place an effective judicial system. In a paragana a civil suit was handled by an Amin , while criminal cases went to the Quazi and the Mir-I-Adal . The Munsif- I-Munsifan was like a chief justice for the paraganas. The chief justice of the empire was referred to as the Chief Quazi . The highest court of appeal remained the emperor. This set up was continued by Akbar and the Mughals. Sher Shah also worked on re-organizing the army, realizing that an efficient army was essential for a stable empire. Sher Shah did not delegate the control of troops to feudatories but instead kept a large section of the army under his direct control. He maintained units all across the empire, which had their own commander who reported to him. Sher Shah ensured there was strict discipline and took precautions to prevent corruption amongst soldiers. He supervise the recruitment of soldiers and the fixing of their salaries. Sher Shah is one of the most striking personalities of Medieval India. His dazzling rise from a humble beginning to that of emperor of India is indeed incredible. The organization that he put in place, was invaluable to Akbar in stabilizing and expanding the Mughal empire. In fact some of the greatest achievements of Akbar, were essentially completing work started by Sher Shah. Sher Shah ruled justly and always kept the interests of his subjects in mind. His untimely death due to an accident paved the way for the restoration of the Mughal empire, but his capable rule paved the way for the Mughals to reach the heights that they did. of the paraganas . To ensure that no officer could begin to become influential in an area, Sher Shah had a policy of transferring them every 2-3 years, which because of his short reign he was not able to fully implement. Sher Shah took a keen interest in administration, similar to Ashoka of the Mauryan period, believing that the greatest kings are also the most involved kings. This was a clear departure from the more detached approach followed by the Sultanate kings. Sher Shah also instituted reforms in the land revenue system, to make the system more in tune with the needs of the people. He conducted careful surveys and evolved the system of the state dealing directly with the cultivators. The states demands were fixed at one fourth or one third the total produce, which could be paid in either cash or kind. He appointed various officials to oversee revenue assessment and collection, and ensured that the system worked efficiently with prompt revenue collection. Tenants had certain rights and liabilities and these were clearly explained to him when he signed a deed of agreement with the state. Sher Shah had set up such a fine administration that the great Mughal king Akbar retained most of it, and Sher Shah's administrative set up was largely how the Mughal empire's administration remained for a long time. Sher Shah also re-organized tariffs and duties to facilitate the development of commerce. He also made significant developments in communications. He constructed several roads to aid in administration and defence but also to help link people. The longest road of these, the Grand Trunk Road survives today as National Highway 1 and extends for 1500 Km linking East India to North India. Sher Shah planted trees along the highways giving travellers shade, and also constructed rest houses. These also served the purpose of post offices and outposts and provided a method of speedily delivering important news to the government. An established system of espionage kept Sher Shah informed of the developments in all parts of his empire. Sher Shah also put in place an effective judicial system. In a paragana a civil suit was handled by an Amin , while criminal cases went to the Quazi and the Mir-I-Adal . The Munsif- I-Munsifan was like a chief justice for the paraganas. The chief justice of the empire was referred to as the Chief Quazi . The highest court of appeal remained the emperor. This set up was continued by Akbar and the Mughals. Sher Shah also worked on re-organizing the army, realizing that an efficient army was essential for a stable empire. Sher Shah did not delegate the control of troops to feudatories but instead kept a large section of the army under his direct control. He maintained units all across the empire, which had their own commander who reported to him. Sher Shah ensured there was strict discipline and took precautions to prevent corruption amongst soldiers. He supervise the recruitment of soldiers and the fixing of their salaries. Sher Shah is one of the most striking personalities of Medieval India. His dazzling rise from a humble beginning to that of emperor of India is indeed incredible. The organization that he put in place, was invaluable to Akbar in stabilizing and expanding the Mughal empire. In fact some of the greatest achievements of Akbar, were essentially completing work started by Sher Shah. Sher Shah ruled justly and always kept the interests of his subjects in mind. His untimely death due to an accident paved the way for the restoration of the Mughal empire, but his capable rule paved the way for the Mughals to reach the heights that they did.

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