The mansabdari system was an improvement over the systems of tribal chieftainship and feudalism; it was a progressive and systematic method adopted by Akbar to re-organize his army within the fold of despotic monarchy. Although many mansabdars were allowed to recruit soldiers on tribal or religious considerations, they were also made to know that they owed unconditional allegiance to the central government.
Single men approaching the court in the hope of obtaining employment in the army, were obliged first to seek a patron. These men generally attached themselves to chiefs from their own race; Mughals became the followers of Mughals, Persians of Persians, and so on. This led to a certain homogeneity of military traits and the development of tactics particularly suited to the military prowess of individual groups. Certain groups began to be identified with certain qualities-Rajput and Pathan soldiers were considered most valuable for their martial prowess and fidelity, for instance.
As a result of the mansabdari system, the emperor had no longer to depend exclusively on the mercenaries of the feudal chieftains. The mansabdari system put an end to the jagirdari system within the territories under the direct control of the imperial government. No portion of a mansab was hereditary, and a mansabdar's children had to begin afresh.
All appointments, promotions, suspensions and dismissal of the mansabdars rested entirely with the emperor. Every mansabdar was thus held personally responsible to the monarch; this factor eliminated chances of disaffection and revolts by the military officers and may be said to be a major achievement of mansabdari system.
Nevertheless, the mansabdari system suffered from many disadvantages as well. The -system did not give birth to an army of national character since two-thirds of the mansabdars were either foreigners or descendants of foreign immigrants.
In spite of Akbar's rather secular policy in the matter of recruitment, Hindus formed barely nine per cent of the aggregate strength of the imperial cadre. The state's failure to recruit all the soldiers under the supervision of a central or imperial agency, was to cost it dearly. Since mansabdars were free to recruit their soldiers as they pleased, they preferred to enroll men of their own tribe, race, religion or region.
While this led to homogenisation of military tactics, it also divided the imperial army into many heterogeneous units. There were no uniform rules for the systematic training of the soldiers, nor for the conduct of regular drill or physical exercise to keep them fit. No uniform standard was fixed for arming the soldiers; as a result, there was considerable variation in the weapons borne by them. The standard of efficiency also varied from contingent to contingent.
Furthermore, as soldiers were recruited by a mansabdar for his own contingent, they regarded him as the real employer and patron, and tended to display more loyalty to their immediate military commander than the emperor. A mansabdar always ommanded the same troops for life and transfers f the soldiers from one contingent to another were not known.
As the soldiers received their salaries and allowances from the mansabdars, the latter could cheat the state if they wanted to. A dishonest mansabdar could, for instance, recruit less than the specified number of troops as indicated by his swar rank and get the salaries paid to the fictitious men, or alternatively, get fictitious payrolls prepared in the name of non-existent person, in collaboration with the corrupt staff of the army establishment or the finance department.
The high-ranking mansabdars, like the amirs and amir-ul-umara, were the most highly paid officers of the state. As the Mughal empire was in a formative stage, it was involved in a process of continuous conquests and annexations. Thus the military officers were often in a position to appropriate for themselves a substantial part of the booty. Even if Akbar did come to know of the misconduct of his senior officers in this regard, he could not take action against each one of them.
As members of the ruling elite, the high-ranking mansabdars followed the example of their rulers in enjoying highly luxurious and extravagant standards of living. Since their offices and privileges were not hereditary, they were not allowed to pass on their wealth and property to their descendants. So they were tempted to spend as much and as quickly as they could.
The prestigious personal establishments, once developed, could not be cut to size, and many mansabdars, finding it difficult to live within their means, overdrew from the royal treasury or borrowed heavily from other sources. All this ultimately resulted in the deterioration of character and martial qualities of the mansabdars. Their demoralisation adversely affected the discipline and standard of efficiency of their military contingents.
Under the later Mughals, the mansabdari system began to lose its true characteristics. The discrepancy between the actual number of the swar maintained and the numbers that a mansabdar was expected to maintain, increased. For example, during Shahajahan's reign, a mansabdar holding a jagir in the same suba in which he was serving, was to bring one-third of the swar rank to the muster; if his jagir was in a different suba, then he was to bring only one-fourth of his swar for the muster; and if he served in Balka and Badakshan, then he was to bring only one-fifth of his swar.
By Shahjahan's time, the swar rank could even exceed the zat rank. Under Aurangzeb, the mansabdars could be paid either in cash or by the grant of jagirs. If more than half the salary was paid in cash, it was called naqdv, if more than half of it was in the form of jagir, then it was called jagirdari, and a different set-of rules guarded their interests.
While the value of the jagir increased on paper, the actual income of the mansabdars remained the same. The service obligations were reduced as a consequence, and they were paid for the number of months that they rendered service. The princes were the only ones who were paid salaries for twelve months; all the mansabdars were paid for a period of three to eight months, though, in exceptional cases, this could be extended to eleven months.
When the empire was involved in continuous warfare against the Rajputs and Marathas during Aurang- zeb's reign, the mansabdars were allowed to maintain a larger contingent than was warranted by their swar rank. As a result of the various discrepancies that crept in, the mansabdari system proved cumbersome and untenable.