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Muhammad bin Tughlaq Shah, generally known as Muhammad Tughlaq, who ascended the throne on the death of his father has been a puzzle to the historians. He received a good liberal education, and was highly gifted and accomplished. He was well versed in logic, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and physical sciences also had the knowledge of medicine and dialectics. He was generous and possessed great purity of character but his rule brought misery to the people and materially weakened the government.
His reign coincided with a long period of draught and a protracted famine which in its intensity and extent was one of the worst the subcontinent has known. The rains are said to have failed for seven successive years (1335-1342) and there was wide spread famine. The king tried to deal with the situation by opening poor houses and distributing grain freely but the problem was beyond his resources and the people suffered heavily. This created many difficulties for the king but his misfortunes were not all due to natural and unavoidable causes. While he was a remarkable man he focused more on fantastic ideas, always thinking out of new measures but lacked two essential qualities to be a successful Sultan Practical judgment and common sense, moreover, an impatient man. He tried to take bold steps to improve the condition of his people and administrative system but it resulted in great follies and failure.
Muhammad Tughlaq tried to improve revenue administration. He ordered for the complete compilation of land assessment records. The work completed with intense supervision and the system began to work smoothly. An unrest rose among peasants of fertile Doab region when they were ordered to pay tax 50 % higher than that of Alaudin Khilgi’s time. The time was incorrect as the peasants were faced with a terrible famine. This whole process caused damage to Sultan’s prestige.
Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq tried to introduce some new monetary techniques. The prolonged famine and the expensive wars had severely strained the exchequer. To deal with the situation, the king issued brass and copper tokens in place of silver coins. It was designed to be an effective token currency however the measure was not welcome to the people particularly the commercial class. The failure was due to inefficiency of the government to prevent the issue of forgery. It reached such a level that people were manufacturing coins in their own homes. As Barani says, “every Hindu’s house became a mint”. The king had the sense to acknowledge his failure and the token currency was withdrawn from circulation after three or four years. Its introduction and failure however, neither enhanced public confidence in the Sultan nor did it restore economic prosperity to the country.
In 1327, he decided to change the seat of government to more centralized position to control the rebellions in the South. He selected the city of Divagiri for this purpose and renamed it as Daulatabad. He made it a fabulous city and provided a highway connecting Delhi to Daulatabad along with a regular post. Than he called upon the Muslim inhabitants of Delhi to migrate to the new capital, but they were reluctant to get settled in an unfamiliar land. The king adopted sturn measures to enforce his decree and ordered a complete evacuation. But his orders brought great sufferings to the people. Many perished on the long route of 700 miles to Daulatabad.
The king’s decision was much of a strategic importance. Consolidation of Muslim rule in the South was perhaps his main consideration, and there is no doubt that the migration of a large Muslim population drawn from all sections of society established Muslim rule in that part of the subcontinent. After some time the Sultan allowed those who so desired to return to Delhi, but many of the people who had gone to the South stayed on and were a source of strength to the Muslim rulers of the south. Some other measures of the king were equally ill-conceived and ill-fated. His plan to interfere in the affairs of Transoxiana and Persia, with a view perhaps to annexing some areas and the project conquest of Tibet in 1337-38 ended in fiasco and considerable loss of life and money.
Muhammad Tughlaq’s policy towards Sufi saints was as much different as his other policies. He thought the position and esteemed that Sufi saints held was a danger to the throne so he took various steps to break their power. He dispersed them or, otherwise persecuted them. He sharply discouraged enthusiasm for the contemporary leading Sufis. The result of this systematic policy was that the influence of the Sufis at Delhi sharply declined. Muhammad Tughlaq’s policy towards the Sufis at the capital was primarily dictated by political consideration, but according to Barani, it was also due to his association with skeptics and philosophers.
There were wide spread rebellions and the vast empire started breaking up. In 1335 Ma’bar became independent, followed by Bengal three years later. In 1346 Vijayanagar became the nucleus of a powerful Hindu state. In the same year Gujrat and Kathiawar revolted, but the Sultan was able to quell the rebellions in these two areas. Next it was the turn of Sind, and, in1351, the king was marching towards Thatta to put down the revolt there when he fell ill and died. As Bada’uni says: “The king was freed from his people and they from their king.”