Balban was a despotic ruler and the reestablishment of the prestige of the crown was the immediate need before him. He strengthened absolute monarchy by suppressing all opposition. He tried to create a halo of superiority around him and declared himself a descendant of Afrasiyab dynasty. He exploited the religious feelings of the people in order to strengthen his position.
Professor K. A. Nizami is not of the opinion that as Balban was a freeman nor connected with royal-family, did he suffer from inferiority complex due to his guilty conscience. In the words of Nizami, “The absence of any reference to his manumission in the pages of Minhaj-us-Siraj and Barani is significant and perhaps, he was not manumitted and this basic legal disqualification to rule over the people, he tried to cover under a shrewdly designed mask of divine commitment of regal authority.”
Balban through his theory of kingship endeavored to prove that he had not taken the throne by the poisoned cup or by the dagger of the murderer. K. A. Nizami writes, “By dinning into the ears of his maliks and amirs most of whom were the quondam colleagues, again and again that kingship was something divinely ordained, he wanted to wash off the stigma of being a regicide and impress upon their minds that it was Divine will that had brought him to the throne and not the poisoned cup and the assassin’s dagger.”
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Balban laid stress on two main points in his theory of kingship. First, monarchy is bestowed upon a person by the grace of God; hence it is divine, and secondly, a Sultan must be a despot. He used to say, “King is the representative of God on earth (Niyabat-i-Khudai) and in his dignity he is next only to prophethood and, therefore, his action cannot be judged by nobles or the people.”
Once he told his son Bughra Khan, “Kingship is the embodiment of despotism,” and therefore, he was not answerable to anybody for the discharge of his functions as Sultan. Thus he tried to enhance the power and prestige of the crown.
Balban, in order to prove his claim to divine origin of the sovereign, made a complete change in his dress, behaviour and manner. Declaring himself a descendant of Afrasiyab dynasty, he gave up drinking, cut off from the jovial company of his courtiers, maintained aloofness and stopped meeting the common people.
Balban did not agree to meet a rich merchant of Delhi who was prepared to hand over all of his property in return of an interview with the Sultan. He had feeling of hatred for the low-born people. Once he said, “My veins begin to agitate when I behold a low-born person.”
Balban always maintained an external dignity. He never expressed unusual joy or sorrow. His frowning look9 displayed an awe- inspiring personality. He was sitting in the court when the news of the death of his beloved eldest son Muhammad was delivered to him, but he continued his administrative work without showing even a little sign of sorrow on his forehead. After finishing his duties when he returned to his bedroom, he wept bitterly for the death of his beloved son.
He always wore complete dress, none of his personal attendants had ever seen court nor did he permit anybody to do so.
Balban displayed his autocratic power and grandeur by framing certain rules for the court behaviour and forced the courtiers to act accordingly. He himself strictly followed these rules in his own life. His darbar was famous for its pomp and show. It was based on Persian model and many ceremonies and festivals of Persian style were celebrated in it.
The festival of Nauroz was one of the most renowned among them. The people of foreign countries who visited the court of Balban were stunned to see the royal splendour and the glamour of the court. He introduced the practice of Sizda or prostration and Paibos or kissing of the feet of the Sultan and thus tried to impose his superiority over his subjects. He assumed the title of Zille Illahi.
He did not permit his courtiers to take their seats so long as he remained in the court. He appointed black, tall and fearsome guards around him. They used to have naked swords in their hands. Whenever the Sultan went outside the palace, they marched with him shouting Bismillah. Bismillah. This show of power, pomp and splendor, no doubt, added to the prestige of the Sultan and enhanced the glamour of the court.
Destruction of the Fort:
After his accession to the throne of Delhi Balban realized that the Turkish nobles who were led by the gang of the Forty were the greatest stumbling block in the way of his autocracy. They had made the Sultan a puppet in their hands and distributed most of the significant fiefs and offices among themselves.
This gang was formed during the reign of Iltutmish. In the beginning all the members of the gang were the slaves of the then Sultan. He could establish his control over this gang and maintained the prestige of the empire. But after his death a tug of war began between the members of this gang and the successors of the Sultan in which, ultimately, the gang of the Forty Slood victorious.
Balban had been a member of this gang and knew their ambitions, resources and cunningness. He, therefore, decided to break the back of their power. He adopted a slow but steady policy to undermine their political status and reduced the military power of these nobles.
First of all, he promoted the Turks of lower order and thus made them equal to members of the group of the Forty. He sent some of the members of the Forty on risky expeditions so that they might be absorbed in the affairs of the state. Later on, in order to punish them and lessen their significance in the eyes of the public, he awarded them severe punishments for small crimes.
Balban adopted a stern view towards the members of the Forty. When he received the complaint that Malik Baqbaq, the Governor of Badaun had beaten a servant to death, the Sultan had him flogged publicly and disgraced him. Haibat Khan, the Governor of Avadh, assassinated a man under the influence of liquor. The Sultan ordered that five hundred stripes be given on his bare body and his wound body was handed over to the widow of the deceased servant to avenge the death of her husband.
Although Haibat Khan saved his life by paying 20,000 Tankas to the widow, he was so much ashamed that after this incident he did not come out from his palace till death Amin Khan, the Governor of Ayodhya, was defeated by Tughril Khan and reached the capital after facing many difficulties but Balban did not behave kindly with him.
He awarded him death punishment and thus killed one of the influential members of the Forty to the grief of the gang and to the relief to himself. It is said that he did not spare even his cousin Sher Khan who was a very trusted commander and brave officer. He achieved tremendous success against the Mongols and terrorized them very much.
Balban grew jealous of his success and began to distrust him. Later on, he got him poisoned to death. After the death of these four powerful and ambitious members of the group of forty, there remained no strong opponent of Balban who could be a stumbling block in the way of his despotism. Thus Balban crushed the gang of forty through intrigues and barbarous means and those who survived were later on suppressed and dismissed from service.
Organization of Spy System:
Balban succeeded in executing his despotic policy only because he could get the prior information of the incidents which happened in different parts of the kingdom. He also knew of the ambitious schemes of the governors and administrative officers through hi” well-organized spy system. The credit of smooth running of the government, therefore, goes to the spies who always discharged their duty honestly. Dr. Ishwari Prasad has also remarked, “A well established system of espionage is an inevitable corollary of despotism and Balban with a view to making the administration of justice very efficient appointed spies in his fiefs, whose duty was to report all acts of injustice. To make these reports accurate and honest, he greatly restricted the field of individual observation and when the report was made, he showed no indulgence on the score of the rank or birth.
Balban kept a very close watch on the activities of the spies. They were required to report the news of day-to-day events to their master. If any of them failed to discharge his duties he was punished for disloyalty. Garret has aptly remarked, “He set on foot an army of spies by whose means he obtained the universal knowledge of events.”
The spies of Balban were responsible only to Balban and they met him directly. They were paid handsome salaries but were required to work efficiently failing which they were reprimanded. Dr. Ishwari Prasad remarks about the efficiency of the espionage system, “The spies, no doubt, checked crime and protected innocent persons against the high-handedness of those in power ; their presence must have led to demoralization of the committee to a large extent and the suppression of even the most legitimate and harmless amenities of social life.”
Conquest of Bengal:
The problem of Bengal harassed Balban very much like the early Sultans of Delhi. The year 1279 A.D. proved very critical for Balban. He fell ill and hope of his survival diminished. At the same time the Mongols attacked the north-west frontier.
Tughril Khan the Governor of Bengal taking advantage of this critical situation, revolted against Delhi Sultanate. The distance between Delhi and Bengal, the incessant invasion of the Mongols on the capital and the old age of Balban inflamed his ambitions. He assumed the title of Sultan, struck coins in his name and got the Khutba read.
Balban at once sent Amin Khan, the Governor of Avadh, to bring Tughril Khan to his knees, but Amin Khan failed to attain success against the rebel Governor and returned. Balban could not tolerate the defeat of his Governor; he hanged him at the gate of Ayodhya. In fact this punishment was not awarded to him as a result of his defeat but he was the member of the group of Forty and Balban wanted to get rid of him.
Another expedition against Tughril was sent under the leadership of Trimiti. He was also defeated. A third army was also repulsed by Tughril Khan. These successive defeats compelled Balban to go to Bengal in person so that the increasing power of Tughril Khan could be checked once for all. He marched against Bengal with about two lakh soldiers and his son Bughra Khan, and reached near Lakhnauti.
Tughril Khan was very much terrified with the news of the arrival of Sultan Balban near Lakhnauti. In spile of fighting against the Sultan, Tughril Khan fled Lakhnauti to east Bengal. Tughril Khan thought that the Sultan was an old man and his capital was unsafe, so he would not stay in Bengal for a long time but Balban chased the fugitive rebel and reached Sunargaon near Dhaka.
Tughril Khan disappeared in the forest but he was discovered by Malik Muhammad Sherandaz. He made a surprise expedition over the rebel while he was taking rest along with his soldiers. Tughril Khan tried to escape from the scene on an unsaddled horse but he was knocked down from his horse and killed by Malik Muqaddar. Several followers of Tughril were killed and many of them were arrested. The Sultan brought them all to Lakhnauti and inflicted terrible punishments on them.
Barani writes about it, “On either side of the principal market in a street more than two miles in length, a row of stakes was set up and the adherents of Tughril were impaled upon them. None of the beholders had ever seen a spectacle so terrible and many swooned with terror and disgust.”
Thus satisfying his thirst of anger and revenge, Balban appointed his son Bughra Khan the Governor of Bengal and directed him to be always faithful to the Delhi Sultanate failing which he would also be punished like Tughril Khar, and his followers.
In his own words, “Understand me and don’t forget that if the Governors of Hind or Sind or Malwa or Gujarat, Lakhnauti or Sunargaon shall draw sword and become rebels to the throne of Delhi, then such punishments as have fallen on Tughril and his dependents will fall upon them, their wives and children and all their adherents.”
Lane-poole has also written about this direction of Balban to his son, “If ever designing any evil minded men should insist you to waiver in your allegiance to Delhi and to throw off its authority then remember the vengeance you have seen wrought in the bazaar”.
When Balban, at last, became confident that there would be no revolt in Bengal, he returned to Delhi. He brought several followers of Tughril as captives. He wanted to punish them in Delhi like Lakhnauti so that the people of Delhi may also be terrified but owing to the intervention of the Qazi, he changed the scheme of punishment and inflicted some light punishments on the supporters of Tughril Khan. Balban returned to Delhi after three years and his son Bughra Khan continued to rule over Bengal upto 1339 A.D. with full loyalty to the Delhi Sultanate.