Central And Provincial Administrative Departments Under Akbar And Their Evolution

Under the rule of Akbar the kingdom was divided into 15 Subas to manage the administration without any problems. These Subas were allotted to officials who kept a close account of all the activities that took place.

Previous Indian governments had been weakened by two disintegrating tendencies characteristic of premodern states—one of armies being split up into the private forces of individual commanders and the other of provincial governors becoming hereditary local rulers. Akbar combated those trends by instituting comprehensive reforms that involved two fundamental changes. First, every officer was, at least in principle, appointed and promoted by the emperor instead of by his immediate superior. Second, the traditional distinction between the nobility of the sword and that of the pen was abolished: civil administrators were assigned military ranks, thus becoming as dependent on the emperor as army officers.

Those ranks were systematically graded from commanders of 10 persons to commanders of 5,000 persons, higher ranks being allotted to Mughal princes. Officers were paid either in cash from the emperor’s treasury or, more frequently, by the assignment of lands from which they had to collect the revenue, retaining the amount of their salary and remitting the balance to the treasury. Such lands seem to have been transferred frequently from one officer to another; that increased the officers’ dependence on the emperor, but it may also have encouraged them to squeeze as much as they could from the peasants with whom their connection might be transitory. Politically, the greatest merit of the system was that it enabled the emperor to offer attractive careers to the able, ambitious, and influential. In that way, Akbar was able to enlist the loyal services of many Rajput princes.

Akbar’s reforms required a centralized financial system, and, thus, by the side of each provincial governor (subadar, later called nawab) was placed a civil administrator (diwān, or divan) who supervised revenue collection, prepared accounts, and reported directly to the emperor. As a further safeguard against abuses, Akbar reorganized the existing network of newswriters, whose duty it was to send regular reports of important events to the emperor. Akbar also seems to have instituted more-efficient revenue assessment and collection in an effort to safeguard the peasants from excessive demands and the state from loss of money. But such efficiency could only have been enforced in the areas directly administered by the central government. That excluded the lands under tributary rulers such as the Rajputs and also the lands assigned for the maintenance of Mughal officers.

Yet, notwithstanding Akbar’s reforms, travelers’ accounts indicate that the Indian peasants remained impoverished. The official elite, on the other hand, enjoyed great wealth; liberal patronage was given to painters, poets, musicians, and scholars, and luxury industries flourished. Akbar also supported state workshops for the production of high-quality textiles and ornaments.

Central Administration:

As compared to the earlier period, there appears to have been depreciation in the position of the office of the wakil. Wakil was a link between the team of ministers and the king. He was responsible for the civil and military administration: as under Bairam Khan. During the period of tussle between the king and the nobility, the full controversy revolved around this office.

During Munim Khan’s wikalat, Akbar tried to crush his power by using Maham Anaga for the purpose. Abul Fazl says after Bairam Khan’s dismissal, Munim Khan was the wakil only in name: the defacto wikalat rested with Maham Anaga. But this is an exaggeration: what actually was meant to be asserted was that his posers had been curtailed.

Then in 1564 another significant development took place: the office of diwan-i āla (wizarat-i āli) was created, to which Muzaffar Khan Turbati was appointed. This was a turning point. His powers go to describe that for all practical purposes, the wazir or the diwan-i ala would have the charge of the Department of Diwani, for which he would be responsible to the king. And the wakil would have no jurisdiction over it. Subsequently the office of wikalat did not remain as important for the nobles as before as it was till that time. At this time Munim Khan was re-appointed. In 1566 Khwaja Jahan Muzaffar Khan was elevated to this office.

However it seems that sometime after 1575, the wakil lost all powers and tended to become a figurehead. This happened with the introduction of the zawabit (ordinances) relating to the introduction of dagh-w chehra; and also the introduction of the mansabdari system. Ibn Hasan, the author of the Central Structure of the Mughal Empire, argues that the post was primarily for show and honor, with the wakil as the head of the nobility but not of the administration. To a large extent this is true, and normally the wakil was less effective than the wazir, who controlled the purse, but theoretically the wakil was the king’s deputy and even the wazir referred to him whatever was “beyond his own ability.” Abul Fazl calls him “the emperor’s lieutenant in all matters connected with the realm and the household,” adding that “although the financial offices are not under his immediate superintendence, yet he receives the returns from heads of all financial offices and wisely keeps abstracts of their return.”

Under this new system, the entire military organization was controlled and regulated by the Mir Bakhshi. The real power of patronage – imposing discipline on nobles, regulating promotions – now passed on to the Mir Bakhshi, making him a very powerful officer. The wakil us Sultanat thus lost the remaining powers and functions. He had lost financial role in 1567. Now in 1574 with the position of mir bakhshi was significantly enhanced, the wakil lost much jurisdiction and effective control on military department as well: He virtually was reduced to the position of a figurehead. For a long duration no appointment was made to the office of the wakil us Sultanat and the Central government was dominated by two key functionaries: the diwan-i ala and the mir bakhshi. Soon the office of mir bakhshi also became independent of the wakil’s office.

The office of the diwan-i ala or diwan-i kul was entrusted with the revenue and financial powers. His primary duty was to supervise the imperial treasury and check all accounts.

The central revenue ministry was divided into many departments to look after the specific needs of the entire viz., the diwan-i khalisa, diwan-i tan (for cash salary), diwan-i jagir, diwan-i buyutat etc.

Mir Bakhshi placed all matters pertaining to the military department before the emperor. New entrants, seeking service were presented before the king by him. He also dealt directly with the provincial bakhshis and the waqia nawis, accompanied the emperor on his tours, trips, hunting expeditions and battles. He would also perform the darbar duties and would check whether proper places were allotted to the mansabdars according to their ranks. In his duties he was assisted by other bakhshis: the Ist, IInd & IIIrd bakhshi, besides the other bakhshis like bakhsi-i ahadi and bakhshi-i shagird pasha (servants of the household).

The second important development in the context of the Central administration was first the rise of the sadrus sudur as a very important officer down to 1575 and then a gradual erosion of his powers, finally leading to the abolition of the Central sadarat in 1582. This important development too is not fully noticed in the work of Ibn Hasan.

According to Abul Fazl, in the beginning it was Shaikh Gadai who was holding the office. During the period of Bairam Khan no imperial order could become operational unless it carried the seal of the sadr. So Shaikh Gadai, as the sadr, would have the say in finalisation of the matters and general administration as well.

After Bairam Khan was overthrown, the person who occupied this office of sadarat due to his closeness to the person of the king again tended to make this office very influential in the working of the central government. Abdun Nabi from 1564 onwards was given powers to distribute state patronage to needy persons – ulema, mashaikh etc – without any type of constraints. According to Badauni the total resources put in his hands were more than the total resources of all the kings preceding Akbar.

From Badauni’s account, it becomes clear that between 1564-65 Abdun Nabi had some say in the appointment of important functionaries in the Central Administration. For example when reference is made to any important appointment, there would be reference to consultations with the sadrus sudur.

As is well known, this rise in powers of the sadrus sudur and its decline coincides with the rupture of Akbar from the orthodox ulema finally resulting in the abolition of this office in 1581. Later the office was revived but was held by people who were not representatives of the orthodox group.

Beside these four ministers (wakil, diwan-i ala, mir bakhshi and the sadus sudur), there were other ministers of lower rank- Khan-i-Saman, or Mir-i Saman who was in-charge of the royal household and karkhanas as well as supervision of manufacture of different articles from weapons of war to articles of luxury; Muhtasib, who saw that the people (Muslims) led a highly moral life according to the Muslim law; and Daroga-i-Dak Chowki, an officer who was in-charge of the postal and intelligence department.

Provincial Administration:

The non-central level administration is a problem which can be discussed under (a) subah (provincial) level administration, and (b) the Local level administration, that is (i) the sarkar level, and (ii) the pargana level.

In 1580 Akbar divided the Empire into 12 subas – later on three more were added. Each suba was divided into a number of sarkars and these were further divided into parganas and mahals.  The suba level administration was a replica of the Central administration, especially so the position held by the diwan.

From 1580 onwards each subah was administered by an officer called sipahsalar, popularly known as the subahdar. He was generally a high mansabdar. He was directly appointed by the emperor and usually his tenure was for around three years. Among the duties, the most important one was to look after the welfare of the people and the army. He was responsible for the general law and order in the province. To encourage agriculture, trade and commerce and to take up welfare activities like construction of sarais, gardens, wells and reservoirs were some of his functions.

Next to him in official rank, but not in any way under his control, was the provincial diwan, who was in independent charge of the revenues of the province. Then there were the bakhshi, sadr and the mir-i māl. The change taking place in relative positions of some of the functionaries of Central government was reflecting in the effective positions of these officers of the provincial level: a case in point would be the increasingly enhanced and strengthened position of the provincial diwan. He received appointment direct from the central authority (Central Diwan) so basically he was subordinate to the central diwan and not to the provincial head of the administration. But then he was expected to work in collaboration with the subahdar or sipahsalar who in hierarchy was higher than the diwan – creating confusion in the administration. In the central government was the wakil between the King and the ministers, but in the Provinces no such functionary existed between the governor and his ministers.

The Provincial Bakhshi did not become very important and remained full fledged dependent of the governor. He was appointed at the recommendation of the mir bakhshi and performed exactly the same military functions as ere performed by his counterpart at the centre. He not only checked and inspected horses and soldiers maintained by mansabdars, but issued paybills of both.

Then we have darogha-i dak at every subah headquarters whose duty was to pass on letters through the mewras (postal runners). For this purpose a number of dakchaukis were established throughout the empire. The waqi’a navis and waqi’a nigars were also appointed at provincial level to supply reports directly to the emperor. Besides, there were sawanih nigars to provide confidential reports to the king.

Then there was a twofold power sharing at the sarkar and the pargana level. There was actually a military jurisdiction (faujdar, qiladar, thanedar) which existed in each province side by side with the fiscal jurisdiction from 1580 onwards. In rare cases we find a faujdar controlled the whole sarkar. Faujdar was technically the executive head of the sarkar. Sometimes within a sarkar a number of faujdars existed. But more generally one faujdar would cover several sarkars or parts of different sarkars – say, half of sarkar Kol and half of sarkar Agra. Sometimes two full or more sarkars constituted one single faujdari. We hear of different faujdars appointed to chaklas as well.

Thus there were a variety of sizes of these military units, which would be independent of civil and revenue administration. At the faujdari level would exist a garrison commanded by a noble who could go to the assistance of civil officers in the parganas and sarkars within the territory in his jurisdiction. This was a new system and is not clearly visualized by Abul Fazl in the Ain-i Akbar: they came to exist due to the expediency of the situation. In the Akbarnama  Abul Fazl mentions how as need arose, the king created faujdaris and thanedaris directly from the centre and the troops would be centrally maintained – for example the tufungchis  would not be part of the contingent of nobles but represented the corps maintained by the centre. The nature of this problem becomes clear from the article of Noman Ahmad Siddiqi, Faujdari Under the Mughals”.

At the pargana level, below the sarkar was the shiqdar who was the executive officer and assisted the amil in revenue collection. The amil looked after the revenue collection. His duties were similar to the duties of amalguzar at the sarkar level. The qanungo kept all records pertaining to the land in his area. He was also to take note of the different crops in the pargana. The muqaddam was the village headman, while patwari took care of the village revenue records.