The Delhi Sultanate administration system

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Administration of Delhi Sultanate

The Delhi Sultanate administration system

The administration system of Delhi Sultanate were directed and governed by the Quranic injunctions. The Quranic law was the supreme law of the empire.

The Caliph was the supreme sovereign according to the Islamic theory of sovereignty. All Muslim kings through the world were his subordinates. During the Sultanate period, the power of the Caliph was at its zenith.

Even if a governor became an independent king, he had to invoke the sanction of the Caliph’s name and called himself his vassal. In fact, the rulers of the Sultanate period always tried to maintain a formal relation with the Islamic world.

Sultan – Head of the Sultanate Administration

The real head of the administration of Delhi Sultanate was the king or Sultan himself.  The Sultan was the independent sovereign and all-powerful man. His will was the law of the country. The Sultan at his death bed could also nominate his heirs and that was recognized by all other nobles. There was no hereditary principle of succession.

Theoretically the office of the Sultan was open to all real Muslims, but in practice the Sultanate was restricted to the immigrant Turkes. Later on it became restricted to a smaller oligarchy and at last to the members of the royal family only. During the 15th and 16th centuries the Arab and Afghan people also could become the Sultan.

The Sultans regarded themselves as a part of the Islamic world. Following the Islamic theory the Sultans of Delhi were considered to be the agent of Allah, i.e. God and it was his duty to enforce the divine laws expressed by the Holy Quran. He was thus the chief executive. It was his duty not only to enforce the Quranic laws but also to interpret them.

Judicial Administration of Delhi Sultanate

The Sultan was the highest judicial authority of Delhi Sultanate.  He was a perfect autocrat with wide powers and unfettered authority. His power was based on two pillars-religion and military. As long as he was upholding the Quranic law he enjoyed enormous and supreme power. Of course, the entire matter depended on the personality and military strength of Sultan himself. Nobody dared to challenge the powerful sultans like Ala-ud-din-Khilji and Muhammad-Bin-Tughluq. In fact there were no constitutional devices to remove a Sultan from the throne peacefully. The only way to remove him was rebellion and civil war. The Sultans of Delhi were not only the kings, they were also the religious head of the Muslim people in India.

Military Administration of Delhi Sultanate

The Sultan was also the head of the Military Administration of Delhi Sultanate. He was the commander­-in-chief of the army as well. The Sultan of Delhi was thus a military despot having all powers of the State concentrated in his hands.

Central Administration of Delhi Sultanate

The Sultanate government was essentially a centralized one though it had the original democratic nature of an Islamic State. In fact, the circumstances had forced them to become a centralized one. During this period the Hindu chiefs were not altogether suppressed and being hostile to the Muslim rule they were always rebellious. There was the danger of repeated Mongal invasion. In view of this the Sultans were compelled to keep a large army and a centralized government.

The Sultan in his administration had to keep a good number of ministers the member of which varied from time to time. During the rule of the slave dynasty there were four ministers—

(1) the wazir,

(2) the ariz-i-mamalik,

(3) the diwan-i-insha and

(4) the diwan-i-rasalat.

Sometimes there was also the post of naib or naib-i-mamalik. He was superior to the wazir and next only to the Sultan. During the normal period he remained merely a deputy Sultan much inferior to the Wazir. But when the Sultan himself became weak and inefficient, this naib used to wield great authority later on, the posts of Sadr-us-Sudur and diwan-i-qaza was raised to the status of ministers. Thus, there were altogether six ministers during the prime period of Sultanate administration though sometimes the post of the comptroller of the royal household used to exert greater power than the other ministers.

The Wazir or the Prime Minister

In fact, the wazir ‘stood midway between the sovereign and the subjects.” He had great authority and often exercised the Sultan’s power and prerogatives though with some restrictions. All important officers of the state were appointed by him in the name of the Sultan. He used to hear complaints against all officials of the administration.

During the illness or absence of the Sultan or when he was a minor, the Wazir acted for the king. He was the adviser of the Sultan in the affairs of administration and always kept him informed about the sentiments and needs of the subjects.

The Wazir was also the head of the finance department. He used to lay down the rules and regulations of revenue settlement, fixed the rate of other taxes and controlled the expenditure of the empire.

He was the superintendent of the civil servants and controlled the military establishment. All the requirements of the army were to be referred to him. The duty of his subordinates was to keep the accounts and disburse the salary of the military officers and troops.

He was also to look after the stipends and subsistence allowances to learned men and the poor people. He was to look after every branch of public administration. As he had wide power he also enjoyed great prestige and was handsomely paid the revenue of a large estate.

His office was called the diwan-i-­wazarat. The in-charge of the office was naib wazir. There was also the other stuffs like the mushrif-i-mamalik (accountant general), mustauf—i—mamalik (auditor general). It was the duty of the accountant general to enter all accounts received from the provinces and various departments. The auditor general used to audit them. During Firoz Tughluq’s reign there was, however, a change while the accountant general used to deal with income and the auditor general with that of expenditure. The accountant general was assisted by a Nazir while the auditor general too had his assistants. Both the offices had many subordinate clerks.

Diwan-i-ariz or diwan-i-arz or the army master

The post of Diwan-i-ariz was next to the Wazir. He was the controller general of the military establishment.  It was his duty to recruit troops and to maintain the descriptive rolls of men and horses. He was also to arrange to held review in order to inspect the forces. The Sultan was the commander-in-chief of the army. So the Ariz-i-mamalik was not to command the royal troops generally, but sometimes he had to do it, at least a part of the army. He particularly looked after the discipline of the army, their equipments and their dispositions on the battle field. It was a very important department. Sometimes the Sultan himself performed some of its tasks. Ala-ud-din Khilji often paid personal attention to it.

Diwan-i-insha or the in-charge of royal correspondence

Diwan-i-insha was the third important minister. He was in charge of the royal correspondence. A member of Dabir (writers) assisted him. They were all masters of style. This department used to make all correspondences, even of the confidential matters made between the Sultan and the rulers of other states or of the important vassals and officials of the kingdom. They drafted the important royal orders and sent to the Sultan for his sanction. They were then copied, registered and dispatched. Thus the department performed very confidential nature of work. Naturally the head of the department was always a very trusted person of the Sultan.

Diwan-i-risalat or the minister for foreign affairs

There is, however, a controversy about the function of this officer. Dr. I.H. Qureshi told us that the minister used to deal with the religious matters and also look after grant and stipends to scholars and pious men. Dr. A. B. M. Habibullah, on the other hand, said that he was the minister for foreign affairs and was the in-charge of diplomatic correspondences and the ambassadors and envoys sent to and received from the foreign rulers. It seems that Dr. Habibullaha’s view was correct. The diwan-i-rasalat was an important officer as all the Sultans of Delhi were always eager to maintain diplomatic relations with the Central Asian powers and other powers of the country.

Sadr-us-Sudur or Minister of the department of religions

The Sadr-us-Sudur was the minister of the department of religion, religious endowment and charity. It was the duty of the chief Sadr (Sadr-us-Sudur) to enforce the Islamic rules and regulations and to look after that the Muslims strictly follow those regulations in their daily life. He also disbursed money in charity and rewarded the learned Muslim divines. He also paid the grants of subsistence allowances to scholars and men of piety.

Diwan-i-Qaza or the Chief Qazi

The chief Qazi was the head of the judicial department. He supervised the administration of justice in the kingdom. Very often, only one man was appointed to carry on the works of both the departments of the religious endowment and charity and the department of justice.

All these ministers were not of the same rank or importance. Only the Wazir enjoyed higher status and privileges. The other ministers were like secretaries to the Sultan and very ordinary in status. There was no council of ministers. The Sultans often appointed and dismissed the ministers at his own sweet will. The Sultan had a large number of non-official advisers. This circle of advisors was known as Majlis-i-Khalwat. They consisted of the Sultan’s personal friends, trusted officials and ulemas. Though the Sultan was not bound to accept their advices yet often they exerted great influence on him. There were some other departmental heads as well like – barid-i-mamalik (head of the intelligence and posts department) diwan-i-amir kohi (department of agriculture), diwan-i-mustakhraj, diwan-i-­khairat (department of charity), diwan-i-istihqak (department of pension), Sar-i-jandar (Chief of the royal bodyguards) and diwan-i-bandagan (chief of the slaves). The latter two chiefs had great influences on the Sultans.

Provincial Administration

Provincial administration was run by Muqti, Iqtadars and other government officials. Iqtadars were the landholders. It was the responsibility of the Muqtis and Iqtadars to provide the Sultans with troops. Each province was divided into a number of parganas. Each parganas was further divided into several villagers.

The Sultanate of Delhi was never divided into homogeneous provinces with uniform administrative system. The Sultanate of Delhi was a centralized monarchy and no Sultan of Delhi ever thought of rearranging the provinces on a uniform basis.

During the thirteenth century, the entire Sultanate was consisted of military commands. These were known as the Iqtas. Iqta means part or share of a land and land revenue given to a person by the ruler, the Sultan. The system was introduced by Sultan Iltutmish who had distributed Iqtas in a wide scale among his Turkish followers. Each Iqta was under a powerful military officer known as Muqti.

During the time of the so-called slave kings of Delhi, the important Iqtas were Mandawar, Amraha, Sambhal, Badaun, Baran (Bulandshahr), Koli (Aligarh), Awadh, Kara, Manikpur, Bayana, Gwalior, Nagpur, Hansi, Multan, Uch, Lahore, Samana, Sunam, Kluhram, Bhatinda and Sanhind.

When Alaud-din-Khilji conquered practically the whole of the country including the Deccan, he had allowed the big and small provinces to remain as they were. Thus during his time there were two types of provinces – that is, the lqtas which he had inherited from his predecessors and the new areas which he had conquered. Alaud-din retained the old Iqtas. To the newly acquired provinces he appointed new military governors. As all these provinces had been big and flourishing  states before they were conquered, they were naturally larger in area and income. The principalities or some vassals were also reduced to the position of governors. Thus from the time of Sultan Alauddin Khilji there were three kinds of provinces in the Sultanate. The officers-in-­charge of an lqta continued to be known as the Muqti and those appointed in-charge of the new military provinces were called walis or sometimes the amirs. These walis or amirs obviously enjoyed higher status and powers than the muqtis. Thus the muqtis were the governors of their respective jurisdictions and enjoyed great powers. The size or the administrative system of the Iqtas were never uniform and even the degree of the political and military power of the muqtis differed from Iqta to lqta.

However, the Muqti was free to carry on his own administration though, of course, he had to follow the local traditional usages. It was his duty to employ his own officials, to collect the revenues, to defray the expenditure of his own administration. He was also to pay the surplus revenue to the central government. Though in theory, he was subjected to the central audit, in practice he was practically fully independent. His principal duty was to maintain law and order in his province and to carry out the king’s commands. It was also his duty to furnish a contingent of troops to the Sultan of Delhi whenever the latter asked him to do so. The Muqti enjoyed a high salary which was charged on the revenue of his province. He had a big army of his own and a big official establishment as well. He was also required to collect revenues from the Sultan’s vassals whose kingdoms were situated within his province. These vassals were required to pay Kharaj or land revenue and also the Jizyas. Though the muqtis acknowledged the suzerainty of the Sultan of Delhi they were otherwise independent in their own Iqtas. Both the muqtis and walis were required to do the same task. They were required to keep powerful military establishments, to maintain law and order in their jurisdiction and to punish the refractory Zamindars. They were also required to furnish an account of their income and expenditure and to pay the residue to the central government. They were advised to protect and enforce the Muslim laws, to protect the Ulemas, to arrange for the administration of justice, to enforce the decisions of the courts, to keep the high way free from robbers and to encourage trade and commerce. In each province there were the staffs to collect the revenues known as Nazirs and Waqufs. There was also a higher officer known as Sohib-i-diwan or Khwaja appointed by the Sultan to keep accounts. There were also a Quazi and other subordinate officers. The most important provinces during the Sultanate period were Bengal, Gujrat, Jaunpur, Malwa, Khandish and the Dakhin.

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