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Did Muslim Rulers bar Hindus from Administration ?

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Mahmood Ghaznvi had many Hindu generals in his army, most prominent being Tilak, Sondi Rai, Jairaj and Souvana Rai, while Aurangzeb’s trust of Hindu officers was so great that he is known to rely on none, but the Hindus to guard his palace.

The 650 years of Muslim rule in India could not have enjoyed that longevity without evoking considerable goodwill among the Hindu subjects. Be it the Sultanate era (1191 – 1527 AD) or Mughal dynasty (1528 – 1857 AD), emperors relied upon Hindu ministers, officers, warriors, accountants, chroniclers and the whole hierarchy of other functionaries to consolidate, run, administer and manage the empire. Even Hindu Rajas appointed Muslims ministers and envoys.

For instance, the defence portfolio in the Mughal durbar was invariably held by the rajas of Jaipur with whom the Mughals enjoyed rare camaraderie. If it was Raja Mansingh in Akbar’s cabinet of ministers, it was Raja Jaswant Singh in Aurangzeb’s court who held the defence portfolio. It would be difficult to imagine Hindus in such a key portfolio, if indeed, Muslim rulers distrusted them or suspected their loyalty. Looked from this angle, all these account of Hindus versus Muslims in medieval era appear to be fabricated accretions at the hands of British historiographers. Axis of social relationships in the era revolved round power rather than faith of the rulers. Even Maratha warrior Shivaji employed umpteen number of Muslims in his court and army. His private secretary was one Sheikh. Siddi Hambal and Siddi Bilal were leading commanders and a Muslim headed his navy 1.

Historians often selectively allude to cruelties during the battles and amplify its ambit to governance in order to lampoon the Muslim kings for their communally intolerant attitude. But it must be understood that the Muslim rulers were here primarily as rulers and not champions of Islam. They were sagacious enough and were not willing to let the circumstances of conquest interfere with the expediencies of rule. This made it impossible for them to adopt a policy of distrusting Hindus. In this, they often disregarded the advice of the Muslim theologians and clerics and were solely guided by the dictates of political expediency. For instance, Ghiyasuddin Balban (ruled between 1296 to 1287) kept theorists like Ziauddin Barani at a distance by dismissing them as mere seekers of narrow mundane gains (ulema e duniya).

Alauddin Khilji (1296 to 1316) did have a discussion with his Qazi but in practice, he followed the rule that, in his calculation, best served the interests of his power and people. Muhammad bin Tughlaq (1324-51 AD) far from degrading Hindus, accorded them high positions while his successor Firuz Tughlaq (1351-88) showed interest in Hindu traditions and monuments. Sikandar Lodi (1489 to 1517) even if sometimes remembered as a bigot, encouraged the Hindus to learn Persian for their fuller participation in state management 2.

Even the first Muslim ruler of Sind, Muhammad bin Qasim recruited Jats and Meidis in his army who were so disgusted with the rule of Dahir that they joined the forces of a stranger. They were being ill treated and humiliated under the rule of Dahir. They were prohibited from riding horses, wearing headgears and putting on decent robes. They had been reduced to woodcutters and water drawers 3.

Despite having levied jizya on non-Muslims, Muhammad was loved by the subjects. When he was sent as a prisoner with Muawiya ibne Muhallab to Damascus on the orders of Caliph Sulaiman Ibne Marwan, the people of Sind wept for Muhammad and preserved his likeness (made an idol of him) at Kiraj 4.

Mahmood Ghaznvi though looted and desecrated Hindu temples for wealth, had a lot of Hindu generals in his army. Some of the most prominent among them are Tilak, Sondi Rai, Jairaj, Souvana Rai, Jai Sen and Viraj Rai. Their loyalty to Mahmood was exemplary. They continued to serve his successor and son, Masood. General Nath was his most trusted confidant. He was sent to suppress the revolt by Niyalitgin with the help of his Hindu soldiers in Afghanistan. On his death in the war, Masood was so grief stricken that he did not eat for three days 5.

Mohammad Bin Tughlaq reposed full confidence in the Hindus and appointed them to the highest post. He appointed a Hindu, Ratan as the governor of Sind. Bhivan Rai was made the commander of the fort of Gulbarga. Nakka, Lodha, Pira, Kishan are mentioned as high mansabdars in the court of Tughlaq.

Raja Ramdev of Devagiri rendered assistance to Alauddin Khilji in his expeditions to South India. The Raja is mentioned as ‘Sarfaraz e Hanood” and ‘Banda e Khas Dargah e Shah’.

Muhammad bin Tughlaq is butt of ridicule by historians for several of his novel initiatives. But a Sanskrit inscription of 1327 AD describes Mohammed Bin Tughlaq as the Saka Lord:

Poet Madona Deva writes: “There is this famous king Mohammad Shah, crest jewel of all the rulers of the earth who by his personal bravery has crushed the enemies and is the powerful Saka Lord.”

Raja Toder Mal, a Khatri Rajput, became the finance minister of emperor Akbar. He held the charhazari mansab in Akbar’s army. He was titled as ‘Moatamad ud Daulah’ and ‘Umdat ud daulah’.

Historian Prof. R.S. Sharma writes that no Indian in British India ever rose to the high rank which Todermal held as the viceregent and finance minister under Mughals. It is significant that of the 12 finance ministers appointed in 1594-95, eight were Hindus7.

Shershah, a Turk ruler of Delhi, who established the Suri Dynasty in Delhi, dislodging the Mughals for around 15 years, had appointed Hindus at high posts. Almost entire of his Infantry and gunnery was manned by Hindus. Most of the gunners were from Buxaria community. A special regiment was dedicated for Rajputs. Premjit Gaur was one among his best commanders. Gwalior Raja Ram Shah fought several battles for Shershah 8.

Aurangzeb is much reviled in the Indian press for his policy of isolating Hindus. But even a historian of K. R. Malkani’s repute (a former editor of the RSS spokesman The Organiser), Aurangzeb’s trust of Hindu officers was so great that he is known to rely on none but the Hindus to guard his palace 9.

After a conquest against Maratha forces, Aurangzeb was advised by one of his general, Mahram Khan in his letter to the emperor to remove the Hindu officers from top posts suspecting their loyalty. Aurangzeb replied that there was no compulsion in matters of religion and everybody should be free to follow his faith. He said ‘If your (Mahram Khan’s) advice is followed, it would be incumbent upon me to dismiss all the Hindu Rajas (subordinates under the emperor’s rule) which I may not be able to carry out. No sane person will afford to remove the highly capable officers.” The fact that Aurangzeb rejected the militantly orthodox advice is in itself a proof that the emperor was liberal enough to understand the complexities of statecraft 10.

Rather the number of Hindu mansabdars in Mughal army grew to the highest during Aurangzeb’s reign. They were even greater than those in the tenure of Akbar.

Be it Mughals or the sultans of the six preceding Muslim dynasties of Delhi, the Muslim emperors did not insist on elimination of the local rulers. They, rather, found it convenient to depend on them to extent their rule through them and demanded only their subservience to the emperors in Delhi by regularly paying a part of the revenue. So we have the instance of Sultan Mohammad Ghori who established Muslim sultanate over Delhi in 1191 by defeating Prithvi Raj. But gave away the kingdom of Ajmer to Prithvi’s son. It was snatched back by Prithvi’s brother by deposing his nephew. Ghori’s successor Qutbuddin Aibak again conquered Ajmer. He appointed a Muslim governor this time. Ghori did not bear any enmity against the Hindus, nor did Prithvi Raj against Muslims. Even Ghori’s successor, Qutubuddin Aibak left the administration of Ajmer and Gwalior in the hands of Rajput princes. But today we have our political masters in Pakistan and India naming their missiles ‘Prithvi’ and ‘Ghori’.

Notes and references

1. Syed Sabahuddin Abdur Rahman, Mazhabi Ravadari vol 3, Darul Musannifeen, Azamgarh, p. 320-21, 1993

2. Muzaffar Alam, Beyond Turk and Hindu (ed. David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence), University Press of Florida, 2000, page 227

3. Ref. Prof. Eswari Prasad, History of Medieval India, page 55-56

4. William Jackson A. V., (ed) History of India, vol. 5, The Grolier society, London, Baroda edition 1907, page 14). It is also quoted by Sheikh Mohammad Ikram from Futuhus Salateen and Futuhul Buldan.

5. Sheikh Md. Ikram, Aab e Kausar, Adabi Markaz, Matia Mahal, 1981

6. Qasim Farishta’s Tarikh e Firishta. Dr. Tarachand in his Mukhtasar Tarikh Ahl e Hind says that Tughlaq used to avoid the narrow minded interpreters of sharia.

7. S. R. Sharma, The Religious policy of emperors, . p. 22

8. Kalka Ranjan Kanungo, Sher Shah, p. 369- 370

9. K. R. Malkani, The Statesman, Calcutta, 30-8-1980

10. Om Prakash Prasad, Auranzeb-Ek Nai Drishti, Khuda Baksh Khan Oriental Public Library, Patna, 1994

11. S. R. Sharma, The Religious Policy of the Mughal Emperors, 3rd edition, 1988)

More references could be had from M. K. A. Siddiqui, Hindu Participation in Muslim Administration in Medieval India, Institute of Objective Studies, Kolkata, 2002.

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