June 14th, 1998
Akhilesh Mithal

Feroz Shah: an Exemplary Ruler

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The explosion of nuclear bombs shows that the RSS in command are working single-mindedly not for “Hindutva” but for power.




They also invoked the name “Islam” for justification.





People will find the activities of Messers Vajpayee and Advani difficult to justify on Hindu grounds.


A fear stalks India. Are we living out the twilight of the Republic won for us by the blood and toil of the founding fathers of our freedom? These fears, anxieties, worries and apprehensions are caused by the utter and absolute disregard for the miseries of the people by the new government.

There is an almost total breakdown of administration. All public property — whether it is the electricity which is generated or the water that is pumped, accommodation which is provided to those who are to serve the public or land which is for the common utilisation for all — is stolen or is subverted upto 50 per cent of the total.

A new government could have addressed these burning problems as the responsibility for the breakdown would rest on its predecessors in office. Instead we have activity only in the area of enhancing and, if possible, perpetuating the hold on political power.

The explosion of nuclear bombs in order to grab credit for work done by scientists for earlier governments, the sudden debate on replacing parliamentary democracy with a presidential form all show that the RSS in command are working single-mindedly not for “Hindutva” but for power.

In the late 14th century a similar situation arose.

All the main actors had Muslim or Arabic names. They also invoked the name “Islam” for justification. The narrative which we read of the post-Firoz Shah politics in India does not redound to the credit of Islam.

Perhaps, in years to come, people will find the activities of Messers Vajpayee and Advani difficult to justify on Hindu grounds.The last effective ruler of the 14th century was Firoz Shah, son of Rajab and cousin of the remarkable Fakhruddeen Muhammad bin Tughluq (son of Tughluq) entitled Jauna Shah.

Firoz has wrongly been called Firoz Shah Tughluq initially by ignorant British writers confused by unfamiliar names and customs and subsequently by Indians blindly following their masters in error. The founder of the house was called Tughluq. It is a Turqic name. Tughluq’s Arabic/Islamic name was Ghiyasuddin Muhammad.

He was called Ghazi Malik as he had vanquished invading Mongols in 29 pitched battles when he was the Warden of the Marches as governor and commander-in-chief at Deopalpur. The Mongols were at that time were hardly Muslim and the honorific “Ghazi” or “victorious against the infidels” appeared as appropriate for him as “Hindutva” does today.

By calling Firoz ‘Tughluq’, historians have caused unnecessary comparisons to be made to him and cousin Jauna Shah and uncle Tughluq Shah. Firoz was a great ruler. A huge mound in Bihar was once a water holding and deflecting device. Firoz attempted to thwart the Kosi river.

He brought a canal from Hissar Firoza (a town he founded) all the way to Dillee to irrigate the land and increase production and prosperity. In Dillee, Firoz built on a massive scale the palace fort on the river (today called Firoz Shah Kaa Kotlaa) which had a great number of features in his time.

A mosque was covered with gold and decorated with tiles and inscriptions. The nearby palace had an Ashokan pillar as embellishment. It still retains its deep, almost metallic gloss and shine, a lost speciality of Mauryan art and was called Sitoun-i-zurreen (the gold column).

A twin of this pillar embellished the palace called Jahan Numa which Firoz built at the Ridge near Delhi University. Equipped with a lofty observatory to read the stars, the ruins are lost in the Bara Hindu Rao Hospital.There was a handsome 20 portal hunting lodge on the Ridge opposite today’s Diplomatic Enclave.

Perhaps the most exciting idea of Firoz was to connect all these structures and the old fort in Mahrauli (Lal Kot/Qila Rai Pithaura) with concealed underground passages. These were so wide and tall that horse riders could negotiate them with ease.

Thus the Sultan or his trusted persons could travel from point to point unseen. Just think how much angst and dik and frustration would be saved for the average Dilleewaala if these were to be connected to Race Course Road and the houses of all former Cabinet and Prime Ministers!

Firoz is also credited with extraordinary proficiency in the Ilm-ul-Tibb or Life Science of Human Medicine. He administered longevity potions to himself and lived to 81 solar or 83/84 lunar years. Unfortunately, he was not an effective ruler for the last few years of his long reign (1351-1388).

A grandson and a son got involved in the succession struggle. One assumed regalia under the title Nasirudden and the other went the whole hog to call himself Ghiyasuddin Tughluq” which as readers know was the name of the founder of the house.

While they were slogging it out, Firoz “attained deliverance from the tortures of existence” on September 20, 1388.Nasirudden had fled to Sirmoor hills and subsequently to Nagarkote in Kangra as a result of a hot pursuit by a commander of the Sultan in Dillee, a Rajput convert called Bahadur Nahar.

Meanwhile, Ghiyasuddin Tughluq II fell prey to the temptations of the flesh and was no longer attending to the business of the state. A cousin, Abu Bakr, assassinated him and assumed regalia.

Aided by Bahadur and other nobles, he inflicted defeat upon defeat on Nasirudden. Nasirudden fled from point to point but went on subverting the Dillee nobles. As can be seen from the movement of present-day politicians to the erstwhile political pariahs, the RSS/VHP/BJP power justifies all.

The confused loyalties saw Dillee’s forts under either Abu Bakr or Nasirudden and all the time the citizens saw arson, pillage, bloodshed and other such horrors. On August 31, 1390, Nasirudden got an opportunity of getting formally crowned in one of the Dillee palaces. This was his third coronation.

Atalji has become PM only twice and may well have another “swearing in” after an interlude of swearing at! When Dillee is in chaos, India cannot but follow. The outermost provinces like Vijaynagar, the Deccan, Gujarat and Bengal had already broken off.

Now the near ones like Multan, Samana, Dipalpur and Jaunpur started asserting independence. The governor of Dipalpur, Sarang Khan, had been asked to tackle Shaikha, chief of the Khokhar tribe and dislodge him from Lahore which he had occupied.

After succeeding in this legitimate activity, Sarang Khan went ahead and attacked Khizr Khan in Multan and occupied it in 1396. Emboldened by this success, in the next year Sarang attacked Ghalib Khan in Samana. The Sultan sent Tatar Khan Vizier to succour Ghalib Khan and together they inflicted a crushing defeat on Sarang Khan.

When Sarang Khan returned to lick his wounds in Multan he got the shocking news that Pir Muhammad, grandson and commander of Amir Teymour of Samarqand in Khorasan was invading Uchch. An army sent to relieve Uchch was defeated and chased back to Multan by Bir Muhammad. He besieged Sarang Khan for six months and occupied it on June 5, 1398.

News of the disaster did not have any unifying effect upon the rulers, governors and commanders exercising power and fighting for more in various parts of India. Teymour was to burst upon them like a cataclysm and inflict untold miseries on the people and lay the land waste and the cities desolate.

We are 600 years from 1398. Is anyone paying attention to the adage that those who do not learn from their history have to relive it afresh? A single-minded pursuit of power can never be the substitute of good and effective government for the benefit of the ruled.

Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1998. All rights reserved.
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