Sher Shah was a great Empire Builder by dint of hard work, he rose to the position of the Emperor of Northern India. He possessed an iron determination. He was shrewed and diplomatic in his actions. He could at once grasp the situation and take full advantage of the same.
He was pious in his life and was responsible for restoring the wives of Humayun after their capture from Chausa. He was not a very cultured man but he possessed enough knowledge of Arabic and Persian. He was not a solider by profession but certainly he understood how to plan campaigns to a successful conclusion.
He took full advantage of the follies of Humayun and drove him out of the country. He is stated to have observed thus : “If fortune favours me, I can drive these Mughals back out of Hindustan; they are not our superiors in war, but we let slip the power that we had by reason of our dissensions.
Since I had been among the Mughals I have observed their conduct and found them lacking in order and discipline, while those who profess to lead them, in the pride of birth and rank, neglect the duty of supervision, and leave everything to officials whom they blindly trust. These subordinates act corruptly in every case…. they are led by lust of gain, and make no distinction between soldier and civilian, foe or friend.”
He was a successful statesman. He kept the good of the people in his heart and tried to do all that he could for the welfare of the people. He tried to give peace and justice to the people. He laid down the foundations of an administrative system which was developed by Akbar later on.
He had been rightly called a fore-runner of Akbar. He anticipated him in many ways. His revenue reforms were on the same lines as those of Akbar later on. He tried to improve the military system. However, Akbar’s Mansabdari system was something new.
Sher Shah was a striking personality in the history of medieval India. His military character was marked by a “rare combination of caution and enterprise.” According to Erskine, “Sher Shah had more of the spirit of a legislator and a guardian of his people than any prince before Akbar.” According to Mr. Keene, “No Government-not even the British-has shown so much wisdom as this Pathan.” According to Dr. Smith, “If Sher Shah had been spared, the Great Mughals would not have appeared on the stage of history.”
According to Dr. Ishwari Prasad, “From a petty Jagirdar’s son in Bihar, he had rise to the position of Emperor and had brought large and extensive territories under his away. He had driven the Mughals out of India and humbled the pride of the noblest Mughals. He had built up an immense army which was the terror of his contemporaries.
The institutions which he devised for ihe better governance of the country and the unremitting industry with which he looked after the business of the state had won him the admiration and esteem of friends and foes alike. By sheer force of genius, he had organized the Afghans into a nation and curbed their separatist tendencies. But he did not seem to be satisfied with his achievements and the Afghan historians mention following four dying regrets:
(1) to depopulate the country of Roh and to transfer the inhabitants to the tract between the Nilab and Lahore so as to avert the danger from the Mughals;
(2) to destroy Lahore which was on the road of the invader where he could easily collect supplies and organize his resources;
(3) to build two fleets of fifty large vessels each as commodious as Serais for the convenience of pilgrims going to and coming from Mecca; and
(4) to raise a tomb to Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat on the condition that there should be a sepulchre of the Chaghatais whom he may have dispatched to martyrdom.”
According to Havell, “Sher Shah showed brilliant capacity as an organiser, both in military and civil affairs. By dint of indefatigable industry and personal attention to the smallest details of administration, he restored law and order throughout Hindustan in the short space of five years.
And no doubt the long-suffering, law-abiding rayat was grateful to -the iron-handed Afghan for an interval of comparative peace, and for protection against indiscriminate plunder, though he might sometimes sign for the golden days when even Sudras were Aryan free-man, and the laws of the Village Assemblies were respected even by the King of kings and Supreme Lord of the Five Indies.”
According to William Erskine, “He rose to the throne by his own talents, and showed himself worthy of the high elevation which he attained. In intelligence, in sound sense and experience, in his civil and financial arrangements and in military skill, he is acknowledged to have been by far the most eminent of his nation, whoever ruled to India…. Sher Shah had more of the spirit of the legislator and guardian of the people than any prince before Akbar.”
According to Keene, “His brief career was devoted to the establishment of the unity which he had long ago perceived to be the great need of his country. Though a devout Muslim, he never oppressed his Hindu subjects. His progresses were the cause of good to his people instead of being-as is too often the case in India-the occasions of devastation…. It is a welcome task to take note of such things as a break in the long annals of rapine and slaughter, and we can do so without hesitation; for the acts of Sher Shah are attested by his enemies, writing when he was dead, and when his dynasty had passed away for ever.”
According to Smith, “Sher Shah was something more than the capable leader of a horde of fierce Afghans. He had a nice taste in architecture, manifested especially in the noble rn, usoleum at Sasseram (Sahsaram) in Bihar which he prepared for himself…. He also displayed an aptitude for civil government and instituted reforms, which were based to some extent on the institutions of Ala-ud-Din Khalji and were developed by Akbar…. He reformed the coinage, issuing an abundance of silver monqy, excellent in both fineness and execution. That is a good record for a stormy reign of five years. If Sher Shah had been spared, he would have established his dynasty, and the ‘Great Mughals’ would not have appeared on the stage of history.”
According to S. R. Sharma, “Although, like Babur, Sher Shah sat on the throne of Delhi only for five years, he left behind him more than a mere territorial legacy. In the first place, he tried to unify and integrate the scattered provinces by creating a machinery of government in which all power would be vested in himself at the centre. Thereby a paramountcy was superimposed upon the loose federation of Afghan Tribal policy and the ground was prepared for greater centralisation under Akbar.
Secondly, he attempted to standardise the entire administration of the country and to impart to it a political unity by the establishment, all over Hindustan, of a network of roads and Serais, the routine transfer of officials from one province to another, the construction of a new fortress at strategic point equipped in a manner prescribed by the central authority, and the regular collection of revenue according to rules based on principles more rational than those that obtained under the arbitrary Government of the earlier Sultans.
More than anything else, Sher Shah tried to bridge the gulf between his Muslim and non-Muslim subjects by providing equal amenities for all travellers at the Serais, by the employment of Hindus in the administration to a large extent than ever before, by fostering the peasantry which formed the backbone of the country and by his sense of justice.
Nevertheless he failed to reach the height to which Zain-ul- Abidin and Akbar rose because he did not abolish the Jizya which was the canonical mark of discrimination in a Muslim state. Sher Shah’s polity, therefore, just fell short of attempting complete national unity, the retention of that medieval criterion showed that Sher Shah was the last, though also the best of the medieval Sultans, rather than the first of the modern Emperors of India. This latter distinction belongs to Akbar alone.”
According to Sir Wolseley Haig, “Sher Shah had received scant justice at the hands of some historians of India who have relied largely on the records left by the court annalists of the Mughal Empire, to whom of the greatest rulers whoever sat upon the throne of Delhi. No other, from Aibak to Aurangzeb, possessed such intimate knowledge of the details of administration, or was able to examine and control public business so minutely and effectively as he.
He restrained the turbulence and quelled the tribal jealousies of the Afghan chiefs, he reformed the land revenue administration, he introduced a system of great trunk roads, furnished with caravan serais, wells and every convenience for the comfort and safety of the travellers, and he maintained throughout his dominions such order that ‘none dared to turn the eye of dishonesty upon another’s goods.
An old woman with a pot of gold might securely lay herself down to rest besides her burden, even in the desert, and a ripple was not afraid of a Rustam. Himself a pious Muslim, he suffered none to be persecuted in the name of religion, and far wiser than Akbar, made no attempt to assume spiritual power but left each to seek God after his own fashion. Budauni, the orthodox Muslim historian, thanks God that he was born in the reign of so just a king:
Of his wise and judicious measures of administration many were adopted or imitated by Akbar without aknowledgement and he was far more successful than any who followed him in checking corruption, speculation, and frauds on the public treaty. ‘It behaves the great,’ he said, to be always active,’ and throughout his life he allowed himself no more rest than was necessary for his health and the preservation of his bodily and mental powers.
‘All this’, says Mr. Keene, has an importance beyond the immediate time. After the Mughal restoration, Sher Shth’s officials passed into Akbar’s service; the faults imputed by the Shah to what he called Mughal administration-but which are common to all Turks-were prevented; and this remained man, even after his death and the subversion of his dynasty, remained the originator of all that was done by medieval Indian rulers for the good of the People.”
According to Dr. R. P. Tripathi, if Sher Shah had lived longer, he might have taken the wind out of Akbar’s sails. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest statesmen among the Sultans of Delhi. He paved the way for the highly enlightened policy of Akbar. He was the true precursor of Akbar.
Dr. R. P. Tripathi quotes with approval the view of Crookes “… that the (Sher Shah) introduced such extensive reforms in his short reign of five years is a wonderful proof of his executive ability.” Dr. R. P. Tripathi rightly says that “Sher Shah was undoubtedly the builder of the second Afghan Empire.
At least during his life-time, he united the Afghan tribes into a nation and recovered for them their lost empire. However, he did nothing positive which could create enthusiasm among or inspire his non-Muslim subjects to honour him as their ruler or consider him the symbol of national unity in the wider sense of the term.”
Professor Kaliranjan Qanungo says that Sher Shah was a stormy petrel of the 16th century. He skipped from the crest of one wave of victory to another till he met with his death in May 1545. If he had not died that year at Kalinjar, he might have died the next year at Asir or a year later at Daulatabad, or some years later at Goa. If he had been spared for 10 years more, he might perhaps have built up an unshakable imperial structure and initiated administrative reforms leaving no room for an Akbar a decade after him.
It is sheer human weakness to wish for a useful career to continue longer on the assumption that all that had begun so well might have ended much better. Sher Shah’s reign of five years had already sufficed to establish his claim as the greatest ruler of medieval India next to Akbar and it is highly problematic whether Sher Shah could have equalled or excelled Akbar if he was given another fifty years of lease of life. This is because Sher Shah, as a man, was a compound made up of much of Aurangzeb minus his political bigotry and of Akbar in lesser proportion and also because the spirit of the age and that of his own people would never have produced nor tolerated more of an Akbar, the philosopher. In an uphill fight against religious and political conservatism, against the deep-rooted tradition of a three-hundred year old communal state, Sher Shah had not the same advantages as those left by him and his successors to the Mughals.
Besides his own revolutionary mental make-up, Akbar’s greatest assets as a religious reformer, were his blissful ignorance of the ethics of Islam and the presence of the “intellectual knaves” like Abul Fazl and Sharif Amuli to bait the Ulema. Sher Shah was a well- read theologian and his attitude to Islam was such that he would perhaps have summarily hanged Akbar and Abul Fazl for their utterances.
It is not possible to say whether the senility of a prolonged life would not have perverted Sher Shah’s personal piety into the political bigotry of Aurangzeb. He was already 60 and this is an age when an Easterner’s capacity takes a mischievous turn even under a modern democracy in the East. A longer lease of life might have affected his position adversely in history as he might have died bearing ill-will to either the majority or the minority community of India, as was to be the fate of Akbar and Aurangzeb after him.
Hence, it need not be regretted that Sher Shah died too soon with an unfulfilled destiny which is always an uncertain factor in human affairs. Sher Shah died in the heat of action with his mind concentrated on a single object which was attained before he breathed his last. His reign was short, but its importance was almost as great and far-reaching as Akbar’s rule of half a century.
His dynasty survived him barely a decade but the Indian Empire carved with his sword and moulded by his statesmanship evolved enduring institutions and went on expanding and progressing in spite of the change of masters, first Mughals and then the British. Sher Shah’s memory did not fade as long as the Rupaiya and the Paisa remained the Indian currency and so long as the revenue system of the country was not affected by later experiments.
No Qasidah (parnegyrical poems) of Badayuni and Nizam-ud-Din Ahmed need to be quoted and none need search for an epitaph “o form an estimate of him. Sher Shah inscribed his epitaph to tablet of Time and Terrain by but: King his highway of fame from Sonargaon to the Nilab, by constructing Serais for the comfort of travellers, by his solicitude for the welfare of the peasantry and by providing equal opportunity for the Afghan and Bainya to rise to the highest office in the State.
Principal Sri Ram Sharma does into agree with the view that Sher Shah Suri was a nation builder. The idea of a nation state had not yet taken root in Europe and to apply it to India of Sher Shah was unjust both to his times and himself. A ruler who went on levying the Jizya, who did not think it necessary to keep faith with a Hindu chief and who proclaimed his victories by converting a temple into a mosque, had yet to learn the elementary principles of a secular state.  |
According to Dr. R.P. Tripathi, “if Sher Shah had lived longer, he might have taken the wind out of Akbar’s sails. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest statesmen among the Sultans of Delhi. He paved the way for the highly enlightened policy of Akbar. He was the true precursor of Akbar.
Dr. Tripathi quotes with approval the view of Crookes that”…. he (Sher Shah) introduced such extensive reforms in his short reign of five years is a wonderful proof of his executive ability.” | Dr. R.P. Tripathi rightly says that Sher Shah was undoubtedly the builder of the second Afghan Empire.
At least during the life-time, he united the Afghan tribes into a nation and recovered from them their lost empire. However, he did nothing positive which could create enthusiasm among or inspire his non-Muslim subjects to honour him as their ruler or consider him the symbol of j national unity in the wider sense of the term.” 
Sometimes, an effort has been made to give too much of praise to Sher Shah. It is stated that “Sher Shah may justly dispute with Akbar the claim of being the first who attempted to build up an Indian nation by reconciling the followers of the rival creeds.” Unfortunately, there is nothing to substantiate such a view.
As a matter of fact, Sher Shah had no clear concept of a nation. He never dreamt of founding an Indian nation. There was no such thing as national patriotism which guided his actions. His reforms were guided by expediency. Sir Wolseley Haig was not right when he said that Sher Shah was the greatest to the Muslim rulers of India. As a matter of fact, that place is occupied by Akbar and none else.