India on the Eve of Babur’s Invasion: The Weaknesses of the Lodi Empire

The Lodi Empire was an Afghan Empire. The majority of the officers and nobles were from the Afghan regions. The Afghan identity gave it an advantage as there existed a large number of Afghan populations in N. India as a result of the continuous process of migration throughout the Sultanate period. By Tughluq period two Afghan rebellions against Mohd Tughluq had occurred. Then in 1441 Bahlul captured power with large Afghan following. He made a direct to Afghan tribal sentiments. The text of Bahlul’s announcements and farmans have been quoted by Abbas Khan and other Afghan history, the Tarikh-i Khan Jahani. Mushtaqi also wrote that he made an appeal to the Afghan tribals.

    To quote Abbas Khan: ‘God in his goodness has granted kingdom of Delhi to Afghans….whatever be conquered shall be shared with us’.

Thus RP Tripathi calls it the Afghan Confederacy. But then, not withstanding the Declaration, not all Afghans were given a share in the empire. Distribution was made between the favoured and the privileged on the one hand and those not important to be given position. For example, nobles under Bahlul and Sikandar Lodi were recruited from the clans of Lodis, Sarwanis, Lohanis and Farmulis (the Shakhzadas of Ghazni). The others were ignored and totally excluded. For example the Niazis, who were supposed to be the uncouth people and not fully fit even for the army. Similarly ignored were the Surs and the Kakkars etc.

Thus one can say that the Lodi Empire, which Babur replaced, was not an empire with Afghans having equal share.

Let us also be clear that from the very beginning, in the Lodi Empire the non-Afghan section was given a considerable share. Thus it was not exclusively an Afghan concern. The Indian Shaikhzadas were recruited in large numbers in the nobility. Thus for example, Shaikh Ghuran of Koil, the Syeds of Amroha, the Shaikhzadas recruited from the Gangetic plain and the Punjab. Then there were also incorporated a large number of Rajputs under Sikandar Lodi.

So by Sikandar’s time, the Lodi nobility was divided into two groups, the Privileged Afghan clan groups; and People of Non-Afghan origin, some of whom were non-Muslim and Rajput chieftains. This made the social base of the Lodi state very wide, in fact much wider than the early Mughals.

There was a large Afghan population. It has been roughly estimated in the range of 80 lakh families, i.e., 4 crore Afghans. Afzal-ut Tawarikh gives this number to explain Humayun’s defeat at the hands of Sher Shah. In addition to this, a very large section of Hindu chiefs were given a share in the Empire. The Lodis could rally the population paying allegiances to these groups.

This is reflected in the hymns of Guru Granth Sahib (tr. Macaulay in Sikh Religion vol.I) which suggests that the overthrow of the Lodis was a loss to the people. But in spite of the large social base behind them, the Lodis were not able to throw back the Mughal challenge. This can be explained if we keep in mind the contradictions in the Lodi state between the Lodi aspirations and centralization on the one hand and the decentralization of aspirations of the Afghan nobility. The history of the struggle between the two date back to the period of Sikandar Lodi. He gave up many of the policies and measures of Ibrahim Lodi pacifying nobles of equal position. This was altered and resulted in wide-spread discontent. Sikandar had no alternative but to depend on the section comprising the non-Afghan nobility in order to deal with the dis-satisfied Afghan nobles. The kind of autonomy which the Afghan nobles enjoyed till that time, and sought to be curbed by Sikandar Lodi, can be gauged by going through Abbas Khan Sarwani’s section on Sher Shah’s early career and his description of Sher Shah’s administration of his father’s jagir at Sahsaram.

Now what impression does this account of Abbas Khan create as far as the position of the Afghan noble’s are concerned?

First. That the nobles were free to decide the mode of assessment and mode of collection from their iqtas: ghallabakhshi or measurement. This indicates that there was no policy laid out by the centre. This is a situation of autonomy.

Secondly Any extra collection from the iqta or the assignment was pocketed by the noble himself. This was a laxity of the administration. In strong administration, this had to be deposited with the state. But this was not being done so during the reign of Sikandar. Sher Shah talks of ‘extra revenue’ being a boon to his iqta.

Third. The noble’s were free to wage a war against local chiefs. They had assumed authority to create jagirs and zamindars to uproot established chief. The job of creation of new zamindars was never allowed or given to a noble, before or after this reign.

Fourth. Afghan nobles in some cases were holding iqtas practically (not in theory) on hereditary basis. When Hasan Khan Sur died, a tussle arose in which Sher Khan won over his brother to hold over his iqta.  

Fifth. The principle of transfer of iqta followed under the Khanljis was conspicuous by its absence at this time.

During the reigns of Sikandar and Ibrahim Lodi revolts became more accentuated. For eg. Daulat Khan Lodi who controlled Punjab revolted and invited Babur to come to Hindustan. Alauddin Khan Lodi also turned against Ibrahim. The revolt of the Farmuli nobles was also a result of this situation.

The contradiction between the king and the nobles further accentuated and differences sharpened due to yet another factor. This was the shortage of precious metals which eventually resulted in the minting of smaller number of silver and gold coins during the Lodi period. This is borne out by the surviving collection of the silver and gold coins of this country. The surviving coins from the pre-Lodi period as well as those from the Mughal and Sur period is quite large. The surviving gold and silver coins of the contemporary states are also considerable. Their number is quite large indeed. This for the first time is noticed by John F.Richards, ‘Economic History of Lodi period’, JESHO, Aug’65

This paucity would naturally affect the position of the nobles. Further on account of slowing down of the pace of the money economy, resulting from the absence of silver and gold currency would promote the custom of collecting revenues in kind and not in cash. Naturally this would lead to paucity of money to raise troops. Absence of ready cash would also affect the ostentatious pretences.

Most probably the shortage of precious metals was due to short supply due to coming in existence of independent states on the coast. Lodi Empire had become land-locked, says Moreland. Edward Thomas, ‘Economy of Pathan Kings’, says this short supply was a result of Timur’s plunder of 1498. Richards has however pointed out that if this was the result of land-locked nation, then why the other land-locked states not experienced the same shortage? In case of Kashmir or Mewar or Malwa, we don’t observe this phenomenon. Richards also points out that Timur’s plunder is also not a good explanation. His explanation is that Bahlul paid lip-service to the nobles as the brothers wanted to curb their independence and power by withdrawing gold and silver currency deliberately.

Whatever the cause, the nobles were hurt due to this. During Ibrahim’s reign this situation became almost unbearable for the nobles. Under Ibrahim, for several consecutive years, there were very good rains, and thus bumper crops. This resulted in a sharp fall in the prices of food grains and especially influenced the general price index. Side by side to this, before Ibrahim Lodi, there was the introduction of a new coin. Bahlul had introduced this coin which came to be known as the Bahluli Tanka. This was different from the tanka of the Sultanate period. It was of copper (tanka-i siyah) and had a ratio of 1:20 with earlier coins. Thus this was a debased tanka and this was a further catastrophe. The result was that the peasants were not in a position to make payments or submit revenue to the nobles in cash or in the new copper tanka. And whatever revenue was collected in kind was almost entirely valueless as there was no market for it. Thus the income of the nobles was further adversely affected by this. Thus we encounter widespread revolts during Ibrahim’s reign. Thus the fiscal policy was partly responsible for the extinction of the Lodis.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi