Muhammad Tughlaq was one of the most controversial figures in the political scene of Medieval India. Initially, he was a successful military commander and, after his father’s death, became the ruler of the Delhi sultanate and reigned throughout 1324 and 1351 AD (Kulke and Rothermund 2004). He is also known as one of the most tolerant sultans since, unlike other Muslim rulers of his times, he encouraged Hindus’ religious expression (Klune 2014). However, regardless of the creation of the climate of tolerance and the successes in previous military campaigns, Muhammad failed as a politician because many of the administrative and economic reforms that he initiated during the twenty-seven years of his reign were not only ineffective but also contributed to the decline of the sultanate and made many people rebel. To repress negative public sentiments, the sultan used even more coercive measures, which did not produce many favorable effects, if at all. Muhammad’s initiatives and their impacts on society and the economy will be discussed in the present paper.
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Overview of Muhammad’s Reforms
Territorial expansion was one of the primary strategic goals of almost every ruler in the Middle Age, and Muhammad Tughlaq was not an exception. In fact, compared to his predecessor, Ala-ud-din Khilji, Muhammad was more ambitious and aggressive in terms of dealing with the neighboring kingdoms and undertook many military campaigns aimed to conquer their lands and subject their inhabitants to his own rule (Kulke and Rothermund 2004). It is valid to say that the reforms that Muhammad Tughlaq initiated in the Delhi sultanate were intrinsically related to his realm expansion goals. He needed both substantial resources to maintain a large army and a good strategic location from where he could manage various military and political affairs. For this reason, he introduced a new currency, increased taxation in some regions, and decided to build a more centralized capital.
The shift of the administrative center from Delhi to Daulatabad is one of the most discussed reforms by Muhammad Tughlaq. One of the possible reasons behind the initiative was the transfer of the capital to a more prosperous region since the states neighboring Delhi was suffering a serious economic decline due to long-term Mongol invasions (Singh 2008). The relocation to a more resourceful and central territory seems to be a reasonable state since it could help Muhammad become more powerful and resilient.
As for the introduction of the token currency and an increase in taxation, it was necessary because the sultan’s treasury was almost depleted. Firstly, a tax was increased in one of the wealthiest agricultural regions in the sultanate, Doab (Singh 2008). Besides, due to a global shortage of silver during the Middle Age, Muhammad started to issue bronze coins that had the same value as the silver ones (Singh 2008). While the idea could potentially help to manage the situation with the shortage of silver, instead, it contributed to the widespread minting of fake coins. As reported by Kulke and Rothermund (2004), “every house was turned into a mint” after the reform (p. 177). Clearly, the inflow of fake coins into the market created more chaos. It means that although the ruler’s plans were promising, they did not result in the desired outcomes and, on the contrary, only worsened the situation.
Adverse Effects of the Reforms
All three of the discussed initiatives induced multiple negative outcomes and, it is possible to say that their impacts were intertwined to a substantial extent and provoked one aggravation after another. For example, while Delhi was one of the largest consumers of products from Doab, the relocation of the city’s population to Daulatabad led to the production and revenue decreases in the latter (Singh 2008). Eventually way, the taxation reform combined with the capital shift-induced a significant food scarcity when the population of Delhi came back from Daulatabad.
As for the introduction of the token currency and the consequent increase in forgery activities, they allowed strengthening the rebellion movement in the sultanate. Many bandits and rebels obtained a chance to buy more weapons and other similar tools with fake coins (Singh 2008). To deal with the revenue decline due to production loss and stop the increasing political instability and rebellion movements, Muhammad employed mainly coercive methods. With the help of the army, many people were killed, and the territories occupied by rebels were regained, yet many farmers who remained alive abandoned their occupation and engaged in criminal activities (Singh 2008; Karthikeyan 2017). At the same time, no effective methods were employed by the sultan to reduce the suffering of the population, and none of the suppressive measures he undertook helped to improve the economic situation.
The policies and reforms introduced by Muhammad Tughlaq in the Delhi sultanate were strategically important since the ruler aimed to expand the territory and consolidate his power. Thus, he needed to have substantial resources to maintain the army and sponsor various military campaigns. In the situation of economic decline, one of the best ways to do so was the increase in taxation and the minting of new coins. However, the effects of these reforms, along with the shift of the capital to another city, had devastating effects on the population. Some people lost sources of income, while others lost their homes and lives. Noteworthily, the methods used by the sultan to suppress rebellious sentiments and revive production were mostly ineffective. The coercion and suppression indeed induced the reign of terror and had no favorable outcomes.
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Karthikeyan, Ananth. 2017. “Tughlaq’s taxes and Delhi Sultanate’s decline.” DNA. Web.
Klune, Christopher. 2014. “The Delhi Sultanate’s Treatment of Hindus.” E-International Relations Student. Web.
Kulke, Hermann, and Dietmar Rothermund. 2004. A History of India. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.
Singh, Vipul. 2008. The Pearson Indian History Manual for the UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Examination. 2nd ed. New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley.