Administration of Sher Shah Suri


Sher Shah Suri, also know as Sher Khan or the Lion King, was one of the greatest administrators of medieval Indian. The Sher Shah Suri administration was based on the old institutions in a new spirit, and in this task attained to much success that he almost transformed the medieval Indian administration and made it serve the interest of the people. He created no new ministry and his administrative divisions and sub-divisions were borrowed from the past, and so also the titles of his officer. His military reforms were those of Ala-ud-din Khalji and even his revenue administration was not really new and original. But he breathed a new spirit in these old institutions and turned them into instruments of popular good.

The extent of his empire

Sher Shah had a vast empire for administration. Before Sher Shah Suri conquered Delhi he had brought the provinces of Bengal and Bihar under his possession.

Within a few years of his final victory over Humayun, the Suri empire embraced practically the whole of Northern India, except Assam, Kashmir and Gujarat. It extended from Sonargaon (now in Bangladesh) in the east to the Gakkar country in the north-east. In the north it was bounded by the Himalayas and in the south by the Vindhya Mountains. The empire included most of the Punjab up to the river Indus and Multan and Sindh. In the south it comprised Rajputana (mionus Jaisalmer), Malwa and Bundelkhand. Kalyan Mal of Bikaner had recognized his suzerainty. Gujarat was, however, not included as Sher Shah had made no attempt to conquer it.

The Central administration

Like all rulers of the Sultanate of Delhi, Sultan Sher Shah was a despot and was at the top of the Central administration. But unlike his predecessors, he was a benevolent despot, exercising power for the benefit of the people. Still, all the strings of policy and civil and military powers were concentrated in his hands. His ministers were in charge of the daily routine work of administration and had no authority to initiate policy or to propose radical changes in the mode of transacting business or in the administrative setup.

It was not humanly possible for one man to look after the interests of such a huge empire without the assistance of ministers. Consequently, Sher Shah had four ministers after the model of the Sultanate period. They were

  1. Diwan-i-Wazarat,
  2. Diwan-i-Ariz,
  3. Diwan-i-Risalat, and
  4. Diwan-i-Insha.

Besides them there were minor officers, two of whom (the chief qazi and the head of the news department) enjoyed fairly high rank and are placed by some writers in the category of minister. It will, thus, be seen that the machinery of the central government under Sher Shah Suri was exactly the same as under earlier sultans of Delhi from the time of the so-called Slave kings to the end of those of the Tughluq’s.

First comes the Revenue and Finance Administration. The head of the Diwan-i-Wazarat may be called the Wazir. He was the minister of revenue and finance administration and was, therefore, in charge of the income and expenditure of the empire. Besides, he exercised a general supervisory authority over other ministers. As Sher Shah had intimate knowledge of the working of revenue department, he took an enlightened interest in the affairs of the department. Sher Shah daily looked into the abstract of income and expenditure of his kingdom and made enquiries about the state of finances and the arrears due from the Parganas.

Next comes the Sher Shah Suri Military administration. The Diwan-i-Ariz was under the Ariz-i-Mamalik  who was the army minister. He was not the commander-in-chief of the army but was in charge of its recruitment, organization and discipline. He had to make arrangements for payment of salaries of the troops and officers and to look after the disposition of army on the field of battle. But, as Sher Shah was personally interest in the military department, he very often interfered with the work of Diwan-i-Ariz. We are told by the chronicles of the time that he present at the enlistment of fresh recruits and he fixed the salary of individual soldiers and looked after their welfare.

The third ministry was the Diwan-i-Risalat or Diwan-i-Muhtasib. The minister in charge of this department may be called foreign minister. His duty was to be in close touch with ambassadors and envoys sent to and received from foreign states. He must also have been in charge of diplomatic correspondence, and sometimes the charity and endowment department too, was placed under him.

The fourth ministry was known as Diwan-i-Insha. The minister in charge of this department had to draft royal proclamations and dispatches. His duty was also to communicate with governors and other local executive officers. Government record, too, were in his charge.

The other departments which were sometimes reckoned as ministers were Diwan-i-Qaza and Diwan-i-Barid. The chief qazi was the head of the first. He had to supervise the administration of justice besides deciding cases, whether in the first instance or appeals from the courts of provincial qazis. The Barid-i-Mamalik was the head of the Intelligence department, and it was his duty to report every important incident to the king. He had a host of news writers and spies who were posted in towns, markets and in every important locality. He also made arrangements for the posting of new-carriers at various placed to carry the royal dak.

There seems to have been a high official in charge of the royal household and the various workshops attached to it. His duty was to administer the king’s household department and to keep watch over crowds of servants attached to it. He was very near the royal person and therefore, enjoyed a high prestige.

Provincial administration of Sher Shah

Dr. Saran maintains that Sher Shah did have large military governorship. Throughout the Sultanate period, including the reign of Sher Shah and his son Islam Shah, there were administrative divisions corresponding to provinces, but they were not uniform in size or income. They were not called subas or provinces, but were known as iqtas which were assigned to important chiefs. Besides these, there were numerous of vassalage under the sultans of Delhi. Such states and the iqtas did not enjoy a uniform political status and were not governed by the same system of administration. But while during the reign of earlier sultans of Delhi the control of the central government over them was nominal, under Sher Shah it was substantial and strict. It will, thus, be seen that there were military governorships in the time of Sher Shah, such as those of Lahore, the Punjab, Malwa and Ajmer. The officials in charge of these provinces were commanders of large armies.

At the same time, Sher Shah established a new type of provincial administration in Bengal, which he divided into a number of sarkars, placing each in charge of an Afghan officer. At the head of the entire province he placed a civilian with a small army under his command. His principal duty was to supervise the work of the officers of the sarkars and to settle their disputes. This was done to guard against rebellions.

All other provinces had governors and a few other officers who seem to have enjoyed the same designation in various provinces, barring which there was no uniformity in their administrative machinery or method. In fact, we have not means of ascertain the names and number of officers appointed to various provinces; nor do we know whether the governor was authorized to appoint his colleagues or they were appointed by Sher Shah himself. In short, the provincial administration under Sher Shah was not so  much organized as that under Akbar. But it was definitely a good step forward.