Commenting on the achievements of Sher Shah, Dr J.N. Chaudhuri writes: “Not only did he thus establish an empire by dint of his great military skill, wonderful courage, ability and resourcefulness, but, with his usual skill and promptitude, he made necessary arrangements for its smooth and efficient administration.
At the helm of affairs was Sher Shah himself, and although, like his predecessors, he was a despot and centralized all power in his hands, he was a benevolent despot whose primary aim was to do good to his subjects, irrespective of caste and religion.
As it is not humanly possible to conduct all affairs of the empire single-handed, he appointed several ministers to assist him in his multifarious duties. In fact, these ministers occupied the position of secretaries rather than ministers, as they had no power of initiative or final determination of any policy or transacting matters of importance without the emperor’s orders”.
Sher Shah’s administrative and military genius has been acknowledged by a number of historians, among whom Dr Kalka Ranjan Quanungo who calls him, “the greatest administrative and military genius among the Afghans” and goes on to say that he was a better constructive genius and nation-builder than even Akbar.
In the opinion of Sir Woolseley Haig, “He was one of the greatest rulers who ever sat on the throne of Delhi. No other ruler from Akbar to Aurangzeb possessed such intimate knowledge of the details of administration or was able to control public business so minutely and effectively as he.”
However, Dr Paramatma Saran and Dr Ram Prasad Tripathi are of the view that Sher Shah was a good administrator but not an innovator, and their view has generally been accepted by modern historians. His revenue measures were not (so to say) new while his military reforms were based on the systems Alauddin Khalji introduced in his army. Sher Shah’s credit lies in the fact he followed the measures adopted by his predecessors with such amendments and modifications that they appeared to be new.
Moreover, he introduced his measures with such finesse and managed their implementation so masterfully that everything turned out to be a great success and the objective of bringing peace and prosperity to the country and to the people was achieved. It is in this context, perhaps William Erskine commented that Sher Shah had the more of the spirit of the legislator and guardian of his people than any prince before Akbar. His five-year reign was full of wars and he was always busy in improving the security of his newly-found monarchy.
In spite of this, he did not neglect administration and it would appear his government was also on the move with him. Actually, the royal camp of Akbar, which according to Abul Fazal was endowed with all the necessities and luxury items, was but an improved version of Sher Shah’s camp, also always on the move. Viewed from such a perspective, it is obvious that Sher Shah really had no time to bring new elements in his administration and could only remove the glaring defects.
Sher Shah was apparently much impressed by the administrative controls and systems introduced by Ala-ud-din Khalji, most of whose rules and regulations he adopted. However, he was not harsh in implementation of such measures.
In the Doab region, the shiqs of the Khaljis were named sarkars and formed the administration-cum-fiscal units while wilayats comprising a number of sarkars in Bengal, Malwa, Multan, Rajputana and Sindh were retained for the convenience of defence. The sarkars consisted of a number of parganas, each pargana containing a number of villages.
The village was the basic administrative-cum-fiscal unit. The nobles in charge of the sarkars or the waliyat were under the strict supervision of the king, whose orders they were to follow and implement. No relaxation was given in this regard.
In the field of central administration, Sher Shah followed the Sultanate pattern. There were four main central departments, which were as follows:
(i) Diwan-i-wijarat: The department was related with financial matters such as collecting taxes and maintaining accounts of the state exchequer.
(ii) Diwan-i-arz: Headed by ariz-i-mamalik, it was a military department.
(iii) Diwan-i-insha: Working as a secretariat, it issued royal orders. The head of this department was called dabir.
(iv) Diwan-i-Rasalat: Headed by sadr, this department dealt with the religious and foreign affair matters. Diwan-i-Kaza, headed by qazi, worked under this department. The qazi looked after judicial administration.
There were two important officials at the sarkar level: (i) shiqdar-i-shiqadaran to maintain law and order; and (ii) munshife-i-munshifan to supervise the revenue collection. Three important officials at the paragana level were: (i) shikdar to maintain law and order; (ii) amin to collect revenue; and (iii) munsif to look after judicial matters.
Sher Shah was aware that the village was the lowest and the most permanent unit of the state in which a kind of autonomy in administration existed due to the panchayats composed of the villagers. The panchayats were given due legal recognition and they were allowed to function as self-contained units and were the least-interfered unit of the administration.
The term deh was used for the inhabited area, while mauzfl represented the village (deh) as well as the cultivable land. The mauzfl thus constituted the lowest revenue unit and could be made up of one village or more. The panchayat of the village was constituted of the elders who guarded the people’s interest, administering justice and giving punishments to the wayward according to the traditional customs and social mores of the people or the place.
In each village, there was the semi-official hereditary position of muqaddam or the mukhiya who act as the chief link between the government and the village, a co-ordinator between the village panchayat and the higher administration hierarchy. It was his responsibility to collect the revenue for which he was given a percentage of the collection.
A patwari, who was a semi-government official maintained the official records and there was a chaukidar or watchman in semi-official capacity as well. According to some sources, the patwar and the chowkidar were not appointed by the government but were engaged and maintained by the village panchayat. Reviewing the civil administration of Sher Shah, Dr Meera Singh sums up: “1. Sher Shah introduced no new institutions per se in the central or provincial adminisstration;
2. Through establishing better coordination between the centre and the lower units of the administration, he strengthened the efficiency of the administrative machinery which resulted in better law and order in the country than that had prevailed at any other time prior to him;
3. By appointing two responsible officers down to the pargana level who kept a constant check on one another, he ensured the maintenance of peace in the districts; and
4. Akbar adopted the essentials of Sher Shah’s administrative machinery though he too introduced the necessary reforms and modified the measure suitably to suit the conditions prevailing in his time [Medieval History of India).