Flat White

The mad Sultan

16 February 2021

1:19 PM

16 February 2021

1:19 PM

Deeply read in religion, philosophy, and politics, the Sultan was also impatient and cruel. Does this remind you of anyone? Perhaps holed up in a grand palace at the top of a hill in, say, I dunno, Spring Street? 

The Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq is synonymous with “irrational tyrant” in the Desi (Indian-subcontinental) world. Reigning from 1325 to 1351 in present-day India, he was described as an enlightened, yet “inhuman eccentric” known for changing his mind at the unravelling of a turban. This is ringing some bells. They sound like police sirens. I hope a grandmother isn’t sitting on a park bench somewhere. 

One of his first decrees was moving the seat of power from Delhi to modern-day Maharashtra, over 1,500 kilometres away. This snap decision, presented without any warning and probably over a big social weekend, upset absolutely everyone and killed thousands. 

Before long, Generals detected a hyper-strain of hyper-aggressive virulent Mongol hordes at his eastern borders. To quarantine this “deadly enemy,” he raised an army of over 370,000. Instead of immediate deployment, which made actual sense, they sat idle in a sort of lockdown for a year. He wanted to cross the Himalayas into China but was forced to retreat instead. He also couldn’t pay them – more on that later. 

In his administration, he didn’t hire competent people. His court was composed of barbers, cooks, weavers, and winemakers; all about as knowledgeable in public administration as a bunch of people who’ve only studied politics at university and/or worked for a union (and never at an actual union job.) 

He even hired foreigners into his court – again, where have we heard this before? He also doled out extreme and cruel punishments to those who displayed any disloyalty like saying his testimony before an inquiry couldn’t be trusted, or something. 

Then, there was the bait and switch that could accurately be described as the mother of all switcheroos.  

Tughlaq minted brass and copper coins that he insisted was the same value as gold and copper sovereigns. His failed expeditions into China meant that the kingdom was deprived of its rightful precious metals. He’d depleted the treasury since he had his army on a sort of Job Keeper subsidy for a year without any meaningful action, as well as giving gilded gifts to his regional enforcers.  

The economy predictably collapsed. Fixing prices for produce, digging wells, and giving peasants advances, or let’s say, a “business resilience package” for seeds and cattle came too late. As peasants revolted against him, it strengthened his resolve to restore public order with muscle and blade. Yeah, this is getting spooky now. 

Tughlaq entered the waning years of his reign dealing with frequent uprisings and rebellions. His erratic, irrational policy-on-the-run discontented his nobles, his army, and religious leaders. 

Ever the spin merchant, he loaned money to farmers to grow crops even though the science behind it was suspect: wheat in place of barley, sugarcane in place of wheat, grapes and dates in place of sugarcane. This also failed because his hand-picked development team didn’t know what they were doing and took all the money and ran. 

With all this in mind, I only hope “Andrewsing it” or “Doing an Andrews” is synonymous with massive failure while trying to cover it up and never taking responsibility takes up residence in Australian parlance.  

Because as we can all see, our benevolent Sultan is a massive, utter Tughlaq. 

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