Category Archives: Research Publication

Alauddin’s Cantonment: Siri

A century of Mongol invasions has paved the way for Delhi to be a colossal military camp. The Mongol raids of Balban’s era were the work of independent groupings based in and around Afghanistan. They were brought under Qaidu and Dua towards the end of the century that resulted in a significant boost in Mongol striking power. In 1299-1300, Dua’s son invaded India and moved directly to Delhi. Alauddin Kahlji’s reign witnessed an increase in the military establishment. Different sources attribute different value to the strength of the Sultanate militia. They are tabulated as follows:

Sl.noSources/ PersonalitiesAttributed strength
1Iranian Sources- Beginning of 14th century3,00,000
2Iranian Sources- 20 years later4,75,000
3Umari9,00,000
4Al-Safadi6,00,000
5Mufaddal7,00,000
6Barani4,70,000

Keeping a formidable standing army was not very easy. The requirements of soldiers needed to be met. For instance, Juzzani reported that Balban raided Hindu territories just to amass booty for the maintenance of a large army. 

Sunken City Siri: Alauddin Khilji's Dar-ul Khilafat – My Heritage Walks
Siri Fort

Alauddin Khalji was known for his economic intervention even though it was aimed at supporting his army. Firstly, the entire doab region was designated as the ‘State land’. Secondly, the revenue derived from the State land was exclusively devoted to the maintenance of the troops. Thirdly, the revenue was also collected in form of the produce of the peasants and it led to an increased capacity of the State granaries. This has led to deflation that resulted in lower prices of goods in the Capital. His economic measures abolished intermediaries between the government and the cultivators and this resulted in an increase of state revenue that would’ve been lost to the intermediaries, middlemen and agents.

The very first reference to Siri was made by Amir Khusraw who mentions Siri as a site that existed between Delhi-i-Kuhna (Old Delhi) and Khilokri. 

The Mongol commander Dua dies in Delhi on his return march nonetheless, his lieutenant Taraghai subjected the outskirts of the city to a two-month-long investment. The exposed position of Delhi came to the limelight after this event and Alauddin moved his residence to Siri, towards the North-East and he built a new fortress there. 

Ziauddin Barani suggests that albeit his investments and large-scale construction activities in Old Delhi, Alauddin Khalji didn’t like living there. Fed up with the resistance of the entrenched elites and chose to live outside the city. 

Siri was critical in preserving Alauddin Kahlji’s authority. Firstly, the shifting of residence to Siri gave Alauddin Khalji a chance to escape from the entrenched political elites of the old city. Secondly, Siri was the best location for deploying a huge standing army that could counter the threat of Mongol invasions. Thirdly, the Sultan could monitor politics in the old Delhi from a safer distance. 

The water requirements in the new cantonment city were met by the re-excavation of Iltumish’s Hauz-i-Shamsi by removing large amounts of sand and silt from the tank. Also, the alluvial soil in Siri made it easier to dig wells compared to the rocky terrain of old Delhi. 

After the demise of Alauddin Khalji, Mubarak Shah Khalji consolidated his position after his potential competitors were erased after an intra-dispensational conflict. Mubarak Shah developed Siri as his capital and he gave Siri an urban splendour. Firstly, he commissioned a new congregational mosque in Siri. Secondly, he refurbished the fortifications of Siri and thirdly, Siri came to be known as the ‘residence of the Caliph’, owing to the grandiose title of ‘Khaifa’ assumed by Mubarak Shah
Mubarak Shah Khalji was murdered in Siri by Khusraw Khan Bawari and Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq succeeded him to the throne of the Sultanate. Tughlaq kept his capital at Siri to emphasise continuity with the Khalji regime and to gain support from the erstwhile political elites and military commanders. Later, he shifted his capital to Tughlaqabad. Further, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq enclosed Siri along with Qutb Delhi (Old Delhi) and Tughlaqabad within a fortification wall and named it Jahanpanah.

Complicated Understanding of the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’

All might be pretty familiar with the political usage of the terms ‘left’ and the ‘right’ with hundreds of political parties being established in these lines. However, the concept of the left-right divide is pretty complex and controversial. The complexity is explained in terms of two graphs in this article. Moreover, the main differences between the two are also enumerated. 

After the legendary landmark of the French Revolution, the first meeting of the Estates-General took place in 1789. In the meeting, the entrenched elites occupied the position right to that of the presiding officer whereas the common people occupied the position to the left of the same. This relative position of a set of people with opposing ideologies with respect to the presiding officer then came to mark the left-right divide. 

The leftists were proponents of change. They attempted to produce a change in society. Also, they wanted the change to happen at a very fast pace and so, they were proponents of radical change. In addition to that, they were hardcore proponents of total change. Whereas some leftists support violent change with the use of controlled violence for social change, others were supporters of democratic change. The leftists believed in the social-contract theory that argued that society and State are anthropogenic products or human-made products and are answerable to them. They despised the divine origins of society and the State. Also, they believed that the power to rule wasn’t given by God and the power to rule flows from the below- from the working people. 

On the other hand, the Rightists were a heterogeneous group that differed in terms of ideologies. Broadly, they can be divided into three groups. Firstly, the Status Quoists or conservatives believed that the present or the existing social order must continue. They believed that the social hierarchy is a natural product and any change to the existing order will destroy the naturally ordained equilibrium. They aspire for social stability and argue that any tinkering with the existing social hierarchy would result in social instability. Secondly, the Revivalists believed in reviving the grandeur of the past. They tend to glorify the past and they argue that social change will come from the revival of the ancient past. They believe that the pathetic present is the result of the abandoned past. They give examples of social construction and dynamism and technological advancements from mythologies. Nonetheless, they support democratic and non-violent changes. Thirdly, the Recationists or the Fascists were violent, frenetic and intolerant revivalists who justified violence as a medium of social change. Here, social change refers to reviving the lost cultural glory. 

The linear spectrum
Why exactly are left and right political wing mutually exclusive? - Quora
The horseshoe spectrum of political ideologies suggest that the ultra-left and the ultra-right ideologies are not like two opposing ends of a linear spectrum, but closely resemble one another, similar to the ends of a horseshoe. Here, the Communism and Fascism represent ultra-left and ultra-right ideologies while the socialism and conservatism represent the left and the right respectively. Liberalism represent central or mixed ideology. Here, it’s worth noting that welfare liberalism is a leftist ideology whereas libertarianism is a rightist ideology.

The following facts make this division complicated:

  1. Some group of Rightists are proponents of change
  2. Some groups of leftists and certain Rightists believe in change through democracy whereas others of the same ranks believe in change through violence. 
  3. The Leftists are the proponents of liberty, equality and fraternity but supports economic intervention and fiscal regulations. On the other hand, the Rightists argue for hierarchy and social order but are proponents of free and unregulated markets.

The third point makes this division far more complicated. While liberty, equality, fraternity along with the free market economy are the cardinal principles of liberalism, it should be concluded that both the leftists and the rightists support liberal ideas. This makes liberalism more or less a neutral and central concept located in the middle of both the leftists and the rightists.

Sl.noParticularsLeftistsRightists
1ValuesLiberty, equality and fraternitySocial order, hierarchy and authority
2Views on social progress through changeOptimisticPessimistic
3EconomyRegulated economyFree market economy
4Nature of the StateInterventionist StateRestricted State
5Origin of the StateSocial contractGod/Nature

The Dichotomy of ‘Good lie’ and ‘Bad lie’

“….Was it the time I realized that adults were not
all they seemed to be,
They talked of love and preached of love,
But did not act so lovingly….”

As Markus Natten had beautifully pointed out in the above lines, adults find their place in the long rolls of hypocrites. They talk of love and preach of love, but these are only confined to words. One of the most cardinal preaching of the adults is on an essentially contested topic of ‘truth’. They always ask us to speak the truth and punish us for not doing so. However, does this really mean that adults are the epitome of righteousness and truth to an extent that they only speak the truth? Well, obviously, the most rational answer is ‘no’. All aren’t Mahatma Gandhi no? Then what backs the essence of truthfulness or righteousness imparted by the adults to the younger generation? How is it legitimized? 

Family is considered to be the lowest unit of social interaction. It’s the lowest social organization. If it is the miniature version of the society, the family will be, ipso facto, communitarian in spirit. As always, some liberal values are to be compromised in a communitarian atmosphere. Consequently, the size of the families started reducing and today, we can find people living alone preserving their sacrosanct individuality. The more the size of the family, the more communitarian it is and the more liberty, rights and independence are compromised. Family hence becomes a sphere of power- where power is feloniously exercised by the elders and the youngest ones and mostly women being mute recipients of the communitarian power thus exercised. All power relations are marked by hierarchy and family thus becomes a hierarchy of the elders over the younger ones and sometimes that of men over women.  The hierarchy of men over women in the family was challenged by the second wave feminists with a powerful slogan of ‘the personal is the political’. But what can the younger ones do? Simply being mute victims of the authoritarian, totalitarian and communitarian decision-making process, they’re left with the least representation even on matters regarding their life, liberty and property. 

The Concept of Social Institution - Mass Communication Talk

Coming back to the notion of truth and lie, the adult’s lie is often legitimized as a ‘good lie’. A ‘good lie’ is something that can be told, preached and are legally plausible. As opposed to this concept is the ‘bad lie’ that cannot be told, cannot be preached and invites punishment. But what makes a lie a ‘good lie’ or a ‘bad lie’? As far as I’ve observed, there can be two ways to determine what’s a ‘good lie’ and what’s a ‘bad lie’. Firstly, the lie told by the adults comes under the banner of a ‘good lie’ whereas the same lie told by the younger ones become a ‘bad lie’. What is to be noted in this case is age is the criteria that determine the nature of your lie.  Secondly, the lie which the children are made to say on behalf of the adults also comes under the category of a ‘good lie’. However, if the same lie is told by the child without the directions of the ‘high command’, then it is criticized to be a ‘bad lie’. 

Another interesting concept about this distinction is that the concept is not equally applicable to all situations. What all constitute a ‘good lie’ and what constitutes a ‘bad lie’ are determined from time to time by the adults. Also, a ‘good lie’ in my case needn’t be a ‘good lie’ in your case. Forget it. It’s you and me. A ‘good lie’ in my case today may not be a ‘good lie’ tomorrow and a ‘good lie’ in my case may not be so in my brother’s case. What is to be extrapolated from the situation is that the concept of ‘good lie’ and ‘bad lie’ are flexible- flexible to the overpowering whims and fancies of the adults and obviously, to the disadvantage of the children. 

The Significance of the Family as a Social Institution - Rushdoony Radio -  Podcast.co

In toto, what makes a lie qualified to be a ‘good lie’ simply depends upon the person who says it or the person by whose supervision it is said. This concept changes from time to time and place to place and even from person to person and families to families. This is quite natural, owing to the communitarian structure of the family. In the modern era, for social institutions like families to survive, it is necessary to democratize the structure. Internal decision-making processes shall be democratized and sacrosanct rights are to be protected with reasonable justifications. Also, any encroachment in the realm of such rights shall not be tolerated and the burden of justification shall be placed upon the adults. May the liberal ideas liberally sprinkle upon the social institution of the family. 

The Ambivalence of Indian Primeministership

“As Prime Minister, I accept responsibility for every single act of the government, including every bad act, every act of nepotism, and every act of corruption…
...As Prime Minister, I’m completely responsible for every good act and every bad act that this government may have done”.
                                                                                                                                                -Jawaharlal Nehru

The Indian Prime Minister is considered to be one of the most powerful Prime Ministers in the world. The Indian system of governance spirals upon the Westminster style of British governance, conferring a wide range of sprawling prerogatives to the Prime Minister. As far as India is concerned, the Prime Minister remains as the avowed symbol of the principle of democratic representation. The Cabinet system of government draws its institutional validity from the Prime Minister’s constitutional primacy. Irrespective of the nature of the government, the cabinet depends on the Prime Minister for its collective dynamism. The centrality of the role of the Prime Minister is pre-eminent on the dominant role that the constitution confers on the Prime Minister. Articles 74 and 75 of the Constitution of India makes the Prime Minister a very powerful head of the Government. Being the leader of the majority party in the Lok Sabha, the Prime Minister is also the leader of the Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister has the prerogative to choose her Cabinet colleagues and she can literally hire and fire them at will. She chairs the cabinet meeting and heads all major sub-committees of the Cabinet. She can advise the President to dissolve the Lok Sabha. Also, she’s the venerated head of the Cabinet secretariat and as the Minister for Personnel, she can control the Indian Administration Service. Also, she’s the head of the Administrative Appointments Committee of the Cabinet and has the last say in appointing the Governors. Also, she’s a grand federal overseer owing to the natural centripetal bias of the constitution. Also, the NITI Aayog is overtly inclined to her office. The Special Protection Act of 1985 virtually elevates the Indian Prime Minister to the status of a semi-God whose physical safety takes precedence over everything else. 

With such a plethora of powers confined to a single person, it’s not surprising to see the Indian State becoming a centralized, centripetal and unitary one during the national emergency of 1975. Prime Ministers such as Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi successfully asserted their position as an ‘elected monarch’. During the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi, it was said that ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’. Even the preamble of the constitution was amended in her tenure. It was mockingly said that ‘the only man in the cabinet of Indira Gandhi was herself’. The Cabinet system of government was reduced to a prime ministerial form of government where the office of the Prime Minister was nothing less than the edifice of an ‘elected monarch’. However, these events appear pretty normal considering the scope of powers vested in the Prime Minister. 

The era of coalitions remains a cardinal peripeteia of Indian Politics. Gone are the days when the Cabinet was used synonymously with the Prime Minister. With the advent of coalition politics, governments became weak and unstable and so as the Prime Minister. The structure of a weak Prime Minister dilutes the rigour of the Parliamentary control over the executive. This era witnessed a systematic erosion in the authority of the Prime Minister. 

The United Front government was led by the then Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda. During his prime ministership, he just casually surrendered his prerogative of choosing his own Cabinet as the United Front bosses nominated the Cabinet members. Gowda was replaced by I K Gujral and like Gowda, he was stripped from his constitutional prerogative of choosing his ministers. His inactiveness and weakness are evident in the following lines:

“The Prime Minister-designate I K Gujral was sleeping in the Andhra Pradesh Bhavan whereas the United Front bosses were haggling over the ministerial portfolios in the next room”

Mr Sharad Yadav, a minister as well as the President of the ruling Janata Dal opposed his own Prime Minister who wanted to introduce the women’s reservation bill. He commented:

“He’s only a Prime Minister, not God”.

In 1998, Mrs Jayalalitha named the cabinet members from Tamil Nadu. Mrs Jayalalitha was at loggerheads with the Prime Minister as she demanded the dismissal of Mr Ramamurthy from the Petroleum portfolio supported by an argument that he was in the cabinet as part of the ‘Jayalalitha quota’ and it’s her right to reshuffle the composition of her quota anytime. After the 1999 ‘Vajpayee vote’, the Prime Minister had no other choice but to give quotas to all the twenty-six parties that constituted the National Democratic Alliance in various ministerial portfolios. There was an NDA coordinating committee constituting of leaders from all the twenty-six parties that formed the alliance and it was chaired by the then Prime Minister Vajpayee but was convened by George Fernandez. It is worth noting that:

“A Prime Minister in a coalition government has even less of an elbow room”

Mr Suresh Prabhu was the minister for Power in the Vajpayee government and was asked to step down by the Shiv Sena Boss (and not the Prime Minister) and his successor was also announced by the Shiv Sena. The Prime Minister had no control over this melee and the changes in the cabinet were done to the satisfaction of the Shiv Sena boss. It was obvious that:

“The Shiv Sena quota in the cabinet was for the Shiv Sena bosses to fill and juggle with the Prime Minister being a mute spectator”

The appointment of LK Advani as the Deputy Prime Minister in 2002 was at the expense of a crumbling Prime Ministerial prerogative. The erosion of the Prime Ministerial authority can be well-understood by the following lines about this appointment:

“It was nothing more than a de facto situation being converted to a de jure reality”

In toto, the Indian Prime Minister, once venerated as an ‘elected monarch’ is reduced to the status of Lord Morley’s primus inter pares during the coalition era. The present Prime Minister, Mr Modi is also one of the strongest Prime Ministers India or even the whole world had ever seen. With enormous powers conferred to the office of the Prime Minister by the Constitution, the concept becomes ambivalent on witnessing weak and incapacitated Prime Ministers of the coalition governments. Hence, a coalition government, ipso facto, creates a weak and wobbly chair for the Prime Minister. Also, the coalition governments may even make a strong Prime Minister behave in a weak manner. It is to be noted that the Prime Ministerial supremacy is closely linked with parliamentary accountability and the erosion of the former will naturally result in the erosion of the latter. The very perception, objective and concept of the Westminster model get diluted in a coalition arrangement. 

The Prime Ministers of India

References:

  • M.R. Madhavan (2017), ‘Parliament’, in D. Kapur, P.B. Mehta and M Vaishnav (eds.) Rethinking Public Institutions in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 67-103.
  • A. Thiruvengadam, (2017), The Constitution of India, A Contextual Analysis, Oxford: Bloomsbury [Ch.2 Parliament and the Executive, pp.39-70]
  • S.K. Chaube (2009), The Making and Working of the Indian Constitution, Delhi: National Book Trust [Ch. VIII: The Union Government I: The Executive, pp.100-131].
  • J. Manor (1994), ‘The Prime Minister and the President’, in B. Dua and J. Manor (eds.) Nehru to the Nineties: The Changing Office of the Prime Minister in India, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, pp. 20-47.
  • H. Khare (2003), ‘Prime Minister and the Parliament: Redefining Accountability in the Age of Coalition Government’, in A. Mehra and G. Kueck (eds.) The Indian Parliament: A Comparative Perspective, New Delhi: Konark, pp. 350-368.

KR Narayan: Assertive but Not Aggressive

“A President who chooses to play politics can make himself a formidable power because the only restraint which the parliament can exercise upon him is impeachment which requires a 3/4th majority and a President who has played his political game with skill can never fail to obtain such sufficient support in the Parliament to thwart (this)”

The Indian Republic is an advocate of the Westminster style of governance. This style of governance, adapted from the British version, elevates the Prime Minister to the status of a de facto elected monarch with the President, being a de jure executive, acts as a ‘rubber stamp’ of the Cabinet. However, due to certain unique trends in Indian Politics, this Westminster system can elevate the de jure authority into a de facto ruler with sprawling powers. 

The Indian Constitution confers three discretionary powers to the President of India. Firstly, she can ask the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister to reconsider a piece of advice rendered to her. However, she is bound to sign the bill if it is resubmitted with or without considering her suggestions. Nonetheless, the Constitution of India doesn’t specify any time limit for the President to give assent to a bill, hence, she has the prerogative to withhold assent to the same. This is known as the pocket veto. Secondly, the President of India acts as a referee in the formation of the government. It is in her discretion to decide whether she should call the leader of the largest coalition or the leader of the largest party to form the government. Thirdly, it is in her jurisdiction to decide whether to grant or deny the dissolution request of the Prime Minister. 

The presidential activism had witnessed a substantive rise during the era of hung parliaments and coalition governments. While KR Narayan assumed the role of the primum civis in 1997, he announced that he intends to be a ‘working President’. He began to assert himself from the very next year when the Janata government led by IK Gujral asked him to impose Art. 356 (President’s rule) in the state of Uttar Pradesh. He sent the proposal back with a request to reconsider the same. Furthermore, he publicly announced that he ‘was not a rubber stamp’. 

In India, the President of the Republic of India traditionally addresses the nation on 14th August. By convention, she sends her text to the government for vetting. In 1998, KR Narayan chose not to make such an address and substituted it with an interview as it cannot be vetted in advance by the government. During the interview, he publicly proclaimed his discomfort with the Hindu nationalist ideology of the ruling party. The next day, at a meeting in the Central Hall of the Parliament to mark the end of India’s 50 years of Independent existence, he gave an address that was not vetted by the government. He criticized the people holding the public office (indirectly referring to the then government) who saw it as ‘an opportunity to strike gold’. Also, in 1999, KR Narayan asked the Prime Minister to establish through a vote in the Lok Sabha that he still had majority support.

In March 2000, President Clinton visited India. Narayan not only departed from the text prepared by the Ministry of External Affairs but after a series of positive references to the US, he remarked that:

“Globalization was fast reducing the world into a global village but one that did not need a headman”.

The speech stirred up a storm of anxiety in India’s External Affairs Ministry and the proclamation provoked rebukes from newspapers that had supported his earlier outspokenness. 

James Manor identifies three reasons behind the extra-constitutional assertiveness of KR Narayan. Firstly, he believed that the legitimacy of the government is in some doubt and it was his responsibility to raise moral concerns. Secondly, he comes from a disadvantaged community and he might’ve thought that he had a special responsibility to support the disadvantaged. Thirdly, he believed that he had been elected by a wider constituency- even though he was indirectly elected. He believed that a large number of MP’s and state legislators in his support constituted a larger political base than the BJP in power possessed. 

In toto, Presidential assertiveness is a reality in Indian Politics. With the weakening Prime Ministerial authority supplemented by a hung parliament where no majority would be easily obtainable, an ambitious President may play politics and can use his discretion to assist someone in becoming the Prime Minister on the understanding that the latter would permit the head of the State to wield greater influence in the matters of the government than the constitution intends. Such a President may even seize effective control over the government and its day-to-day affairs, surpassing the Council of Ministers. As mentioned in the beginning quotation, the only way to exercise restraint on the President of India is to impeach him and a President who knows to play politics can easily muster support in the Parliament, necessary to thwart the resolution. Also, it’s nearly impossible to obtain a 3/4th majority in a hung parliament led by a coalition government. Political uncertainty and instability at the national level, therefore, can produce assertive and strong Presidents, compromising the hitherto unrivalled authority of Prime Ministers, reducing the latter into the status of primus inter pares

References:

  • S.K. Chaube (2009), The Making and Working of the Indian Constitution, Delhi: National Book Trust [Ch. VIII: The Union Government I: The Executive, pp.100-131].
  • J. Manor, (2017), ‘The Presidency’, in D. Kapur, P.B. Mehta and M Vaishnav (eds.) Rethinking Public Institutions in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 33-66.
  • J. Manor (1994), ‘The Prime Minister and the President’, in B. Dua and J. Manor (eds.) Nehru to the Nineties: The Changing Office of the Prime Minister in India, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, pp. 20-47.
  • H. Khare (2003), ‘Prime Minister and the Parliament: Redefining Accountability in the Age of Coalition Government’, in A. Mehra and G. Kueck (eds.) The Indian Parliament: A Comparative Perspective, New Delhi: Konark, pp. 350-368.

Growth and Evolution of the Panchayati Raj Institutions in India

Panchayati Raj system is, mostly or maybe a refined and accommodated version of the self-rule that existed years ago. The very first evidence of the same comes from the Rigveda dating around 1,700 BC that confirms the existence of sabhas or self-governing village bodies.  In 1870, the Mayo Resolution aimed at decentralization of power owing to the Company’s burden to deal with the activities at the lowest rungs and the increasing demands of a division of power from the subjects. The Rippon Resolution of 1882 aimed at enhancing administrative efficiency and political literacy. After the revolt of 1857, due to intense financial pressure and takeover of the Indian administration by the British Crown, the road and public works of other kind were devolved to local bodies or city councils. In 1907, a royal commission on decentralization was initiated on strengthening the local bodies. However, the Montague-Chelmsford reforms followed by the Government of India act of 1935 placed the subject of local bodies under the jurisdiction to be exercised by the provinces and then, different provinces had their own measures in preserving or destroying the same. 

In the interim period, Mahatma Gandhi envisioned a highly decentralized polity with extensive political and economic autonomy to the villages. He used the term ‘Gram Swaraj’, envisaging a string of self-sufficient village republics. According to him, the village republics were the only way to meet the basic needs of the people. He envisioned a hierarchy-less and anti-pyramidal structure where life becomes an oceanic circle with the individual at the centre who’s ready to perish for the village. In addition to that, Mahatma Gandhi urged for production activities based on the available local resources. 

Gandhian views were considered outside the realm of practical politics and were discarded while framing the constitution. As a concession to the advocates of the village Republics, the Panchayati Raj system was incorporated in part IV of the Constitution of India that dealt with the Directive Principles of State Policy. The state governments were, hence encouraged (and not mandated) to organize Panchayats within the proposed federal structure. The critics of the Village Republics argued that the weakening of the centre would result in unleashing of centrifugal forces that could threaten the very foundation of the new nation that formed after an unprecedented partition and ongoing attempts to integrate the princely states into the Union of India. One such critic was Dr B R Ambedkar who insisted that village republics were the cause of India’s ruin and empowering them would perpetuate the dominance by the upper class. He discarded villages as a ‘sink of localism, den of ignorance and narrow-mindedness’. The Inclusion of Panchayati Raj into the Directive Principles, therefore, can be seen as a compromising attempt among Ambedkarites and Gandhians. 

The first phase of the post-independence era witnessed the implementation of various community development programmes (1952) that was reviewed by the Balwant Rai Metha Committee of the Planning Commission of India. The prime reason behind instituting a committee to review the performance of the Community Development Programmes was the lagging in performance of the same owing to its bureaucratic organization. The report remarked:

Community development can only be real when the community understands its problems, realizes its responsibilities, exercises necessary powers through its chosen representatives and maintains constant and intelligent vigilance on local administration. 

The committee report further argues that the programmes thus initiated would be effective only if there’s an agency at the village level representing the entire community, assume certain responsibilities and offer leadership for implementing developmental programmes. The study team led by Balwant Rai Metha also recommended the three-tier structure of the Panchayati Raj system. 

In 1957, Panchayati Raj was inaugurated by Nehru in a district in Rajasthan that declined after five years. The Rajasthan experiment mirrored the fact that the Panchayats were riddled with group rivalry and factionalism and ensured that the entrenched elite groups remain in power. Also, attention was diverted to the most urgent problems from droughts and food crisis to the Indi-China war. From 1962, the Panchayats declined further. The failure of Community Development Programmes joined hands with a sharp cut in financial supply for meeting the needs of food security and war. The period from 1964 to 1980 also witnessed neglect to the Panchayats. Elections were postponed and the local leaders linked themselves with the state parties for providing vote banks. The Panchayats were left with little responsibility for planning and few powers to raise resources. On the other hand, the Government used its bureaucratic machinery to carry out various Centrally Sponsored Schemes (Small Farmers Development Agency, Drought Prone Area Programme and Tribal Development Programmes are some examples of Centrally Sponsored Schemes) and poverty alleviation programmes. The poverty alleviation programmes that gained considerable momentum during the fifth five year plan period were implemented at the local level by the state and the district administration. 

The second phase of the post-independent era started with the end of one-party dominance at the centre. The Janata party rule of 1977 witnessed political coalitions represented by regional parties. The five-year plan of 1978-83 aimed at progressive decentralization supplemented by the creation of full-time planning machinery at block and district levels. In 1978, Ashok Metha Committee was instituted for further recommendations for decentralization. The committee proposed a system with districts as the unit of administration and planning. They modified the three-tier system by removing the intermediate tier. Also, they urged for the functioning of political parties at the district level. The then governments of West Bengal, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh responded politically to the decentralization attempts made at the centre. They started organizing panchayat samitis and started resuming the elections that were put off. Also, they devolved some powers to the Panchayats. The over-enthusiasm exhibited by West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh were politically motivated owing to the constant threat from the centre. The congress governments of both the states feared dismissal by the Janata government at the centre. On the other hand, Karnataka attempted to make the district level the third tier of the federal system but this idea was short-lived as the party which proposed the same lost the subsequent elections. The 1977 coalition, ipso facto stopped at demands for decentralization at the district level and was reluctant to decentralize further. 

In 1982, the Planning Commission released a Working Group Report on District Planning followed by the institution of the GVK Rao committee. The committee recommended that the Panchayati Raj institutions shall be re-activated and supported supplemented by a Block development office that was to be central to rural development. In 1986, the L M Shingvi committee was instituted that recommended the constitutional recognition of the Panchayati Raj Institutions. 

The third phase of the post-independent era witnessed the beginning of coalition politics. In 1989, the 64th Amendment Bill to the Constitution of India was drafted. The bill accepted the proposed three-tier structure and attempted to confer constitutional recognition to the Panchayati Raj Institutions. However, the proposed amendment was defeated in the Rajya Sabha that saw the bill as the centre’s attempt to directly intervene at the local level, bypassing the states, through the Centrally Sponsored Schemes. They perceived it as an encroachment on the rights of the State to legislate on the matters of the Panchayats. 

Finally, the 73rd and 74th amendment of 1993 awarded constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj institution. The Act made it mandatory for each state to constitute local bodies according to the three-tier structure. The 11th and the 12th schedule of the Constitution of India enumerated the subjects of responsibilities to be devolved to the Panchayati Raj institutions as legislated by the states. Furthermore, in 1996, the Panchayati Extension to Scheduled Areas Act of 1996 was passed to institute Panchayati Raj Institutions in the areas covered in the 5th schedule. 

A Glimpse of The Liberal and Marxist View of Politics

Liberalism and Marxism are two cardinal and polar concepts in Political Science. Both have their own views of Politics. Both these ideologies perceive politics in a different manner. Whereas liberalism evolved after the breakdown of feudalism and nurtured by the Renaissance era, it gives primacy to the ‘individual’. Liberalism views individuals as the macrocosm of political activities. Classical liberalists believe in the concept of ‘abstract individualism’ where individuals are thought to be autonomous, atomic, asocial, self-reliant and self-sufficient beings. 

Marxism vs. Liberalism - An Interview eBook: Wells, H. G., Stalin, Joseph:  Amazon.in: Kindle Store

On the other hand, developed through the writings of Marx and Engels, Marxism view class as the basic unit of the socio-political community. Marxism prioritizes class/community over individuals and is critical to the liberal concept of abstract individualism./ Marxists are of a view that the prevailing political ideology, the institution of State and individual notions, emotion and intellection are controlled and nourished by the economic base formed by the nature and mode of production. They believe that individuals live under a ‘false conscience’ where the means of production influence human behaviour, thoughts and actions, thus refuting the claim of autonomous individuality. They believe that there exists no autonomous individual and the substructure or the economic base force them to make choices. This idea further developed into the concept of ideological hegemony by Gramsci and the concept of ‘soft power’ by Joseph Nye. 

Whereas liberals view politics as an instrument of reconciliation and conflict settlement, Marxists use politics to politicize conflicts. According to liberals, self-interested individuals constitute the society and are prone to conflict of opinion and choices. On the other hand, Marxists view conflicts as the beginning of social change. According to them, conflicts mirror the fact that the oppressed, suppressed and the depressed became free from the ‘false consciousness’ by gaining ‘class consciousness’ of themselves being exploited by the elites. They become aware of their exploitation and reverts to revolution. The revolution alters the economic base and consequently, changes the superstructure. 

Moreover, Liberals view the institution of State as an anthropogenic product or created by human beings similar to roads, buildings and billboards. They believe that a balanced and free society will never develop as the individuals are self-interested and a sovereign state is required to protect them and their rights. John Locke once remarked that ‘where there’s no law, there’s no freedom’. Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau further developed this concept of State and devised a social contract theory explaining the origin and function of the State constituted by the people. Thomas Paine calls State a ‘necessary evil’. While classical liberals or hardcore libertarians argue for a non-interventionist state confined to maintaining law and order and defence saying that the government that governs the least is the best, the welfare liberals are in favour of affirmative actions and welfare State empowered to and obliged to ensure social good by protecting individual rights. Hobbes is of the view that the State is required to prevent a state of war between self-interested, crooked and violent individuals. Locke argues for a State that protects three basic rights of its citizens: life, liberty and property. Rousseau is of the view that a sovereign State is necessary to bring social harmony. 

On the other hand, the Marxists have a dual opinion on the role of a capitalist State. It is well-reflected in the legendary Miliband-Poulantza’s debate. Marxist view the capitalist State as the oppressor of the proletariat. While Miliband proposed an instrumentalist view of the capital State arguing that the State functions to serve the capitalist class owing to the social origins of the members of the government and their personal and familial ties with the capitalist bourgeoisie. Poulantzas proposes a structural model of the Capitalist State where it is argued that the State is an objectively capitalistic entity that will serve the interests of the capitalists irrespective of the personal ties or familial relations with the bourgeoisie. It’s further argued that the institution of State strives to protect capitalism. In addition to that, Poulantzas are of the view that if the members of the Government coincide with the bourgeoisie, it’s nothing but sheer coincidence. 

The fifth stage in dialectical materialism as proposed by Marx is called ‘communism’. Whereas he gives two stages of communism- the first phase or lower communism and the second phase or higher communism. The lower communism is characterised by workers governing themselves through democratically elected communes. Marx considers this as a temporary stage that will be replaced by higher communism. Lower communism is associated with socialism by Lenin and the communes took the form of the Communist party. Although the Communist party was supposed to be a temporary one in the original view of Marx and even Lenin, it became a permanent, totalitarian and repressive police state under Stalin. However, Marx claimed that the communes are temporary bodies and will cease to exist when higher communism is achieved. According to Marx, the State will ‘wither away’ and he envisages a classless, stateless, moneyless and ideology less society. Hence, Marx views the State as an ‘unnecessary evil’. 

While liberals argue for a capitalist economy with private ownership in line with the famous aphorism, ‘laissez-faire is the only fair’, Marxists envisages a socialist economy with collective ownership of the means of production. Also, the higher communism urges for a money-less society. 

Sl.noMarxismLiberalism
1Class as the lowest unit of political communityIndividual as the lowest and the cardinal unit of political community
2Individuals are constrained and conditioned by the economic baseAbstract individualism
3The politicization of conflict leading to a revolution that alters the economic baseReconciliation of conflicts through discussions, deliberations, debates, arguments and compromise
4State as a capitalist entityState as a product of social contract
5State as an unnecessary evil that will wither away when higher communism is achievedState as a necessary evil
6Socialist means of productionlaissez-faire is the only fair
7common property resourcesPrivate property

Developing Cityscape of Delhi in the 13th and 14th Centuries

“Oh, Allah! Possessor of Kingdom, You give the Kingdom to whom you will and take the kingdom from whom you will”
                                                                                                                                                                  - Isami

The diverse natural wealth in Delhi has attracted a diverse body of settlers and rich archaeological excavations in the areas such as Indrapat and confirmed the continued existence of settlements in the area for centuries. The excavations in Delhi revealed remnants of an unusual rubble fortification, dating to Tomaras and Chauhans of the pre-Sultanate period. The pre-Sultanate records of the 12th and 13th centuries discuss Delhi as a city located in the south-western ridge of the Aravallis. The Tomara capital of Lalkot and Qila Rai Pithora of the Chauhans emerged as the Delhi-i-Kuhna of the 13th century. 

This article emphasises major shifts in the transformation of the cityscape of Delhi in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The reasons attributed to the same are many beginning with the thick forest lands and large resources that acted as a natural defence. Juzzani described these forests as natural agents ‘separating the path of the invading army’. The 1883-84 Gazzetter of Delhi described the importance of the bhangar and the khadar lands known for sustaining agriculture and produce for the city residents. The settlement along the Indrapat region might’ve especially profited from its association with the Mahabharata epic. Moreover, the settling of Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya in Ghiyaspur contributed to the development of the city. Political turmoil, factional warfare and the quest for independence of the new Sultans from the entrenched elites and orthodox power-groups of the earlier Sultans gave rise to frequent shifting of residence/capitals. Consequently, the cyclical rise and fall of dynasties. Overpopulation also contributed to the same. As Narayani Gupta famously remarked, the city of Delhi has many gates to come in and not even a single gate to move out. Moreover, the large-scale construction activities, as dictated by Sunil Kumar, was a necessity dictated by the ways in which society and politics were structured at that time. The threat of invasion from the Mongols also contributed to the development of suburbs and cantonment towns adjacent to or in the city of Delhi. One of the cardinal aspects for the evolution of the cityscape was the scarcity of water, owing to which the settlements were shifting towards the East nearer to the river Yamuna. The cityscape got new ease of life with developing trade, commerce and technology. Also, changing population composition with new groups coming to power and subsequent change in culture and traditions also contributed to the same. 

Map showing the medieval cities of Delhi

Delhi-i-Kuhna was a prosperous city with a currency called Dhilliwala that had a wide circulation. It was a strategically located area with forests offering natural security. Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated in 1192 at Terrain and Qutubuddin Aibak occupied Qila Rai Pithora and developed Delhi-i-Kuhna with Jami Masjid, Qutb Minar and a new fort. Adjacent to the fort were madrasas and there were markets for cloth merchants outside its gates. 

To gain independence from the entrenched elite groups, Rukunuddin Firoz shifted his capital to Khilokri. The Shamsi commanders executed him and placed Razzia Sultana on the throne followed by three more Shamsi puppets. Shamsi manipulation ended with Balban and his son, Kaiqubad shifted to Khilokri. Juzzani described the city as sher-i-nau or the new city. After Kaiqubad, Jalaluddin Khalji assumed the throne and chose to live in Khilokri. Also, Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya built his hospice at Ghiyaspur which became a suburb of Khilokri with its northward extension. 

Delhi-i-Kuhna witnessed a large-scale construction activity at the time of Alauddin Khalji. Barani mentions that he didn’t like to stay in Qutb Delhi, exasperated by the resistance of the entrenched elites, he chose to reside in the garrison town, Siri. Siri was critical in preserving his authority and served as a cantonment to deploy a standing army to counter Mongol invasions under Qaidu. Mubarak Shah Khalji succeeded Alauddin Kahlji and developed Siri further. Siri was then known as the ‘residence of the Caliph’ as Mubarak Shah assumed the grandiose title of ‘Khalifa’. Furthermore, Khusraw Khan Bawari and his successor, Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq continued to reside in Siri
The increasing population in Delhi and Siri made Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq build Tughlaqabad. The advantage of this site was in the stone quarries present that translate as a valuable building material. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq constructed the fort of Adilabad and Qutb Delhi with Siri and Tughlaqabad were enclosed by a fortification and the region was named as Jahanpanah. A reservoir for ensuring hassle-free water supply was also built. Owing to the population explosion in Delhi, Tughlaq moved to Daulatabad in Deccan. Firuz Shah Tughlaq built Ferozabad upon the banks of the river Yamuna to shift his capital to an economically prudent location that would reduce the cost of water supply. 

“The waters of Euphrates and Nile would’ve been insufficient to meet the needs of the increasing population of Qutb Delhi”.

To respond to this evergreen problem of water supply, Iltumish laid out a large tank known as Hauz-i-Shamsi or Hauz-i-Sultani that eventually dried up. Firuz Shah Tughlaq revived this tank while he built Ferozabad. In Siri, the alluvial soil made it easier to dig wells. To supplement well-water, Alauddin Khalji built Hauz-i-Alai or Hauz-i-Khas, a square tank about two miles to the North of Qutb Delhi. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq further built the Satpula dam to the Southern wall of Jahanpanah. The problem of water supply also had shifted settlements to the North, nearer to the river Yamuna

By the 1220s and 1230s, Muslim urban civilization from Khurasan, Transoxiana, Sistan, Afghanistan, etc. sought refuge in Delhi. However, by the 1240s and 1250s, the major share of them was replaced by Mongols and their auxiliaries. The changing population composition had also resulted in the diffusion of cultures and the creation of a composite culture. 

Coming to the economy, Alauddin Khalji attempted to remove the intermediaries and to establish a direct relationship with the producers. Peter Jackson suggests that these attempts were to create a cantonment city that depended on the taxes and supplies from the producers. The period of the 13th and the 14th centuries witnessed the growth in size and population of the towns. Also, there was a significant expansion in craft production and commerce. Ibn Battuta described Delhi as the largest city of the Islamic East. The arrival of the spinning wheel from Iran in the 13th century and the use of the carder’s bow and weaver’s treadles pointed to the larger use of clothes by the ordinary people. Sericulture and manufacture of silk clothes were boosted and carpet weaving on vertical loom and paper manufacture developed. By the 14th century, sweet sellers of Delhi could pack their preparations in papers. Architecture gained considerable momentum with the use of cementing lime, vaulted roofing with the use of the true arch and dome. Also, immigration and enslavement made the growth of urban crafts possible. The growth of commerce at this time can be explained with the larger coinage. 

The residence of some Delhi Sultans are as follows: 

MonarchCapital/ Residence of the Monarch
Qutubuddin Aibak:Lahore
IltumishDelhi-i-Kuhna
Ruknuddin FirozKhilokri
Razzia Sultana:Delhi-i-Kuhna
Kaiqubad:Delhi-i-Kuhna → Khilokri
Alauddin Khalji:Delhi-i-Kuhna → Siri
Ghiyasuddin TughlaqSiri → Tughlaqabad
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq:Tughlaqabad → Adilabad → Delhi-i-Kuhna → Jahanpanah
Firuz Shah TughlaqJahanpanah → Firuzabad
P.S. The shifting residences are only mentioned. 

References:

References:

  • Ali, Athar. (1985). “Capital of the Sultans: Delhi through the 13th and 14th Centuries”, in R.E. Frykenberg, ed., Delhi Through the Age: Essays in Urban History, Culture and Society, Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 34-44
  • Habib, Irfan. (1978). ‘Economic History of the Delhi Sultanate — an Essay in Interpretation’, Indian Historical Review vol. 4, pp. 287-303.
  • Kumar, Sunil. (2011). “Courts, Capitals and Kingship: Delhi and its Sultans in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries CE” in Albrecht Fuess and Jan Peter Hartung. (eds.).Court Cultures in the Muslim World: Seventh to Nineteenth Centuries, London: Routledge, pp. 123-148
  • Kumar, Sunil. (2019) ”The Tyranny of Meta-Narratives; Re-reading a History of Sultanate Delhi”, in Kumkum Roy and NainaDayal.(Ed.).Questioning Paradigms, Constructing Histories: A Festschrift for Romila Thapar, Aleph Book Company, pp 222-235.
  • Jackson, Peter. (1986). ‘Delhi: The Problem of a Vast Military Encampment’, in R.E. Frykenberg (ed.). Delhi Through the Ages: Essays in Urban History, Culture, and Society, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp.18-33.
  • Haidar, Najaf. (2014). ‘Persian Histories and a Lost City of Delhi’, Studies in People’s History, vol. 1, pp. 163–171
  • Welch, Anthony and Howard Crane. (1983). “The Tughluqs: Master Builders of the Delhi Sultanate“: Muqarnas, vol. 1 pp. 123-166.

Khilokri- A lost city

“Oh, King! You’ve built such a wall around Sher-i-nau

That stone can reach the moon from the pinnacle (of its towers)”

Amir Khusraw

Delhi is known for its proverbial seven cities albeit it lacks precision. The ruins of the city of Khilokri, however, have not survived the wrath of time. However, the city has significantly helped in the socio-cultural development of the Sultanate capital of Delhi. The city came to the limelight when it was favoured for residence by Sultan Kaiqubad. 

The early settlements in Khilokri are, however, not insignificant. Qutubuddin Bhaktiyar Kaki was staying in Multan with his preceptor, Bahauddin Zakariya when the city was besieged by the Mongols. Consequently, he set off for Delhi and settled at Khilokri. Two leading theologians of Iltumish’s court visited him frequently but were troubled by the distance. With Iltumish’s help, they brought Kaki to Qutb Delhi (The present-day Old Delhi or Shahjahanabad) and got a house for him next to the Izzuddin’s mosque. Firishta writes that Kaki had settled in Khilokri due to ‘proximity to water’ and was unwilling to move to Old Delhi but he eventually gave in and settled there. 

Ruknuddin Firoz succeeded Iltumish as the Sultan of Delhi. A conspiracy against his rule was held in Khilokri by several officials of the old sect/dispensation. Khilokri was no longer a Sufi city and had shed all the vestiges of Kaki. Now, the city was a cantonment-like town. To suppress the rebellion, the Sultan marched with a multitude of armed men to Khilokri only to be executed. Razzia Sultana, the first and the only woman claimant of the Delhi Sultanate festooned the throne. However, she was sacked for showing signs of rebellion against the entrenched Iltumish’s military commanders or Shamsi sect and three more Shamsi puppets were placed in quick succession. 

When the emissaries of the Mongol conqueror of Iran and Iraq arrived at Delhi to meet Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud, the entire route from Old Delhi to Khilokri was embellished with an array of soldiers and civilian militia. Juzzani twice mentioned the city as the ‘sher-i-nau’ or the ‘new city’. The riparian plains of Khilokri was indeed an excellent location far from the hustle-bustle of the overpopulated Qutb Delhi. 

The fresh founding of the city comes from the accounts of Ziyauddin Barani in his magnum opus, Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi. He credits Sultan Kaiqubad as the founding father of Khilokri. He describes him as a ‘handsome young man of excellent qualities with a heart filled with the desire to enjoy the pleasures of life’. On the banks of river Yamuna, Kaiqubad laid foundations of a large palace and a splendid garden. He moved there and started living with his auxiliaries. The nobilities started building palaces in the quarters they occupied and the heads of each profession moved from Delhii-Kuhna or the Old Delhi to Khilokri, making it populous and flourishing. Eventually, singers, jesters and performers started migrating to the city. In the due course of time, wine houses became full and recreational places came up in the city. Sources suggest that the price of wine increased ten-fold. Everybody was busy seeking the sensual pleasure of the materialistic world supplemented by an enormous demand for wine and perfume. 

However, there’s no evidence suggesting that Qutb Delhi ceased to be the capital of the Sultanate. The imperial mint continued to be located in Qutb Delhi and the coins mentioning the name of Sultan Kaiqubad were found from Qutb Delhi. 

Nau Roz is celebrated to mark the beginning of the Iranian Solar year. A long poem by Amir Khusraw describes the celebration of the same in Khilokri

Eventually, Kaiqubad was murdered and the intra-dispensational conflict placed Jalaluddin Khalji on the throne of Delhi Sultanate. Barani mentions that fearing the hostilities of the city residents to the new ruler, Jalaluddin Khalji chose to reside in Khilokri. The nobles of Qutb Delhi travelled to Khilokri to offer allegiance to the newly enthroned emperor. The reign of Jalaluddin Khalji witnessed a new round of construction activities in Khilokri. Firstly, he ordered the completion of the palace commissioned by Kaiqubad. Secondly, he commissioned a splendid garden in front of the palace by the banks of the river Yamuna. Thirdly, a fort was built inlaid with stone walls and watchtowers each of which were placed under the control of a noble. In consequence of the imperial favour conferred to Khilokri, markets began to be built on all sides of the city. Another layer of houses was built by the nobles and officers of the new Khalji dispensation. Merchants started to migrate to Khilokri and started building markets. The population of Khilokri was increasing to an extent that a new mosque was built especially for the Friday congregational prayers. It is further evident that the term ‘sehr-i-nau’ for Khilokri reclined the Qutb Delhi to the status of Delhi-i-Kuhna or Old Delhi. 

Furthermore, Sheikh Nizammudin Auliya built his hospice in Ghiyaspur guided by a ‘divine voice’. After the founding of Khilokri by Sultan Kaiqubad, the population of Ghiyaspur started rising substantially. The distance from Ghiyaspur to Khilokri was close to half a kuroh or 1.458 kilometres. Sources suggest that Sheikh Nizammudin Auliya would walk from Ghiyaspur to Khilokri for the Friday prayers. It is also found that Sheikh Nizammudin Auliya got a house in front of the Friday Mosque at Khilokri. Finally, Ghiyaspur became a suburb of Khilokri on its northward extension. 

References 

  • Ali, Athar. (1985). “Capital of the Sultans: Delhi through the 13th and 14th Centuries”, in R.E. Frykenberg, ed., Delhi Through the Age: Essays in Urban History, Culture and Society, Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 34-44
  • Kumar, Sunil. (2011). “Courts, Capitals and Kingship: Delhi and its Sultans in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries CE” in Albrecht Fuess and Jan Peter Hartung. (eds.).Court Cultures in the Muslim World: Seventh to Nineteenth Centuries, London: Routledge, pp. 123-148
  • Kumar, Sunil. (2019) ”The Tyranny of Meta-Narratives; Re-reading a History of Sultanate Delhi”, in Kumkum Roy and NainaDayal.(Ed.).Questioning Paradigms, Constructing Histories: A Festschrift for Romila Thapar, Aleph Book Company, pp 222-235.
  • Haidar, Najaf. (2014). ‘Persian Histories and a Lost City of Delhi’, Studies in People’s History, vol. 1, pp. 163–171

The Mehrauli Mystery

The Mehrauli Iron Pillar

We all might be well aware of the Mehrauli Iron Pillar at Delhi. Known for its anti-rust surface, the 23’8’’ pillar has been of equal importance to students and researchers of both Arts and Science. The Gupta pillar is currently located in the courtyard of Jami Masjid at the Qutb complex. The pillar is tapering towards the top with a diameter of 16 inches at the bottom and 12 inches at the top. Also, it is surmounted by an inverted lotus of 3’6’’ that was crowned by an emblem. The main inscription of the pillar is beautifully engraved in six lines in Bhrami script. James Princep identified the King who commissioned it to be Dhava whereas Cunningham claimed it to be Bhava. However, further studies refute both the claims and suggest that it was commissioned by king Chandra, possibly Chandragupta Vikramaditya or Chandragupta II.

The book III of Prithviraj Raso, the biography of Prithviraj Chauhan written by his court poet Chand Bardai narrated the episode of killi-dhilli-katha. In line with the same, Anangpala Tomara ordered to dig out the pillar which was thought to be a long nail pierced on the Serpent king Vasuki. When it was dug out, blood flew from the ground and the terrified king ordered to replace the same but it couldn’t be nailed firmly. When restored, only nineteen finger’s length of the pillar went into the ground, leaving it wobbly and unstable. It was prophesied that the Kingdom will be annexed by the Chauhans followed by the Turks after nineteen generations. It also suggests that Delhi got its name owing to that ‘loose’ pillar. 

The pillar seems to be formidably crafted prima facie. However, if one fixes her gaze upon the top of the pillar or if she sees the top-view of the pillar, it can be identified that there is a hollow- suggesting that something that crowned the surmounting inverted lotus was carved out or was destroyed over time. This article attempts to recreate the original structure that might’ve been crowning the pillar. 

The hollow portion at the top of the Mehrauli pillar
The hollow

To recreate the original structure of the pillar, one may lend significant attention to the content of the six-line inscription exaltingly crafted on its surface by Chandragupta II.

The six-line Gupta inscription found on the surface of the Mehrauli pillar

The translation of the inscription is as follows:

(Verse 1) 
On whose arm fame was inscribed by the sword, when in battle in the Vanga country, he repulsed with his breast the enemies who, joining together, had advanced against him; by whom, crossing the seven Mouths of the Sindhu, the Vahlikas were conquered in the battle; by the breeze of whose valour the Southern Ocean is still perfumed…

(Verse 2)
 He, the lord of men, whose body, as though weary, has departed from this earth to another world (heaven) won by his deeds, but who remains on this earth in his fame; whose great glory, the result of his destruction of his enemies, do not leave this earth like the heat (from the smouldering embers) of a now quiet fire in a great forest…

(Verse 3) 
By that King, who acquired supreme sovereignty on earth for a very long time by his own prowess (and) who, having the name Chandra and beauty of countenance resembling the full-moon, having fixed his mind with devotion on Vishnu, this lofty standard of lord Vishnu was set up on the Vishnupada hill…

One may kindly note the phrases in bold letters. These are to be used as pivotal clues in determining the structure that crowned this ‘lofty standard of Lord Vishnu’. 

The Gupta Inscription on the Iron Pillar

One may note the name of King Chandra mentioned in the inscription. This indicates that the pillar or the ‘lofty standard of Lord Vishnu’ was erected by him. However, the second stanza is melancholic as it hints that the King has expired and thus, it’s possible that the inscription initially had the first stanza when the pillar was erected and the next two were added by his successor, Kumaragupta. The third Stanza further suggests that the pillar was erected as a standard in front of a Vishnu temple and on comparing with similar standards erected in other Vishnu temples, it’s concluded that the column was crowned by a Vaishnava emblem. 

Now, on close analysis of various coins issued by Chandragupta II, the Garuda type coin cannot be ignored. Being a hardcore devotee of Lord Vishnu and as most of the Vaishnava temples of the present-day has the structure of Garuda, the mythical eagle or the avowed vehicle of Lord Vishnu crowing the flag-staff guarding the temple, it is possible that the structure of the Garuda might’ve crowned the column.

Garuda coin of Chandragupta II
The possible reconstruction of the Mehrauli pillar with bird-like Garuda structure

However, there can be two versions of this Garuda structure. The first one can be the eagle-like or bird-like Garuda as depicted in the Garuda-type coins issued by Chandragupta II and the second being an anthropomorphic Garuda as installed in Eran, an ancient city in present-day Madhya Pradesh. 

(a)- The possible reconstruction of Mehrauli pillar with the anthropomorphic Garuda found in Eran. (d)- Eran Garuda stambha

However, one may refute this statement by suggesting that there exists no evidence of broken claws or feet of either bird-like Garuda or Anthropomorphic Garuda is not present at the top of the pillar. This invites the possibility of some other structure crowning the Mehrauli pillar.

The third stanza also suggests that the pillar was erected on Vishnupadagiri or the Vishnupada Hill. One may note that there’s no such hill in Delhi that suggests that the pillar is not in-situ. Similar to the Delhi-Topra and Delhi-Meerut pillar, it might’ve also been relocated, mostly by Anangpala Tomara. However, most historians identify the so-called Vishnupada hill with present-day Udayagiri, another ancient site in Madhya Pradesh. 

While large-scale excavations were conducted at Udayagiri in 1914, several structures representing a disk similar to the Sudarshana-chakra, the divine discus of Lord Vishnu were found. 

(a), (b)- The broken fragments of chakra-like structure unearthed from Udayagiri

Firstly, broken structures with part of the circular disk in one and a lotus in another were unearthed. On comparing it with other similar chakras unearthed and on close analysis, it was found that the chakra carried either twenty-seven or twenty-eight smaller disks that decorated the larger chakra.

Reconstruction of Udayagiri Nakshatra Chakra with both twenty-seven and twenty-eight small disks

Secondly, a magnificent structure of Lord Vishnu to the left of the entrance of the Udayagiri’s cave number six was found and he was holding a chakra in his left arm which was resting on a box-like pedestal similar to the pedestal atop the Mehrauli pillar.

(a)- The structure of Lord Vishnu to the left of the entrance of the Udayagiri’s cave number six
(b)- the box-like pedestal similar to that of Mehrauli pillar
The Box-like pedestal on the Mehrauli pillar

Another structure, resembling the lion capital was found during the excavation and it was supposed to have held a similar chakra on the top.

The Udayagiri lion capital

This hilltop capital at Udayagiri is further reconstructed with The lion capital placed over an abacus with the nakshatra-chakra (The chakra possessing twenty-seven/ twenty-eight smaller disks similar to the twenty-seven or twenty-eight nakshatras or birth stars) crowning the lion capital.

The possible reconstruction of Udayagiri hilltop capital

Similar reconstruction can be attempted for the Mehrauli pillar. 

Possible reconstruction of the Mehrauli pillar with the Nakshatra Chakra

However, the presence of a similarly reconstructed chakra alignment of Udayagiri hill capital may not be plausible to reconstruct the Mehrauli structure. For that, one may again analyze the Gupta coins of Chandragupta II. One of the coins, namely, the Chakravikrama type is worth considering. The coin depicts king Chandragupta Vikramaditya (Chandragupta II) standing to the right of a Chakrapurusha (possessor of Chakra), mostly Lord Vishnu. The coin depicts the Chakrapurusha conferring three chakras or three disks to the Gupta king himself.

The Chakravikrama type coin
The Chakravikrama type coin

Albeit being an attempt to relate himself with the divine in the quest for greater legitimacy for his rule, the same coin may be used to establish the relation with Chandragupta Vikramaditya and the chakra. The inscription suggesting him to be a devotee of Lord Vishnu also validates this argument. If so, one may reconstruct the Mehrauli iron pillar with the nakshatra-chakra found in Udayagiri

In toto, the Mehrauli iron pillar with an enigmatic hollow at the top has been a mystery yet unsolved. While some argue the presence of a Garuda, others suggest the presence of Nakshatrachakra or Sudarshana chakra. The arguments of the latter on the absence of claws or feet of the Garuda invalidates the arguments of the former prima facie, however, it can be claimed that the Garuda rested on yet another abacus and breaking away of that abacus that carried the claws or feet of the Garuda left the existing pillar without the same. Also, whether the pillar is in-situ or ex-situ is hotly debated along with the location of Vishnupadagiri. Hence, it’s difficult to reconstruct the original structure that crowned the Mehrauli pillar backed by foolproof pieces of evidence and historical and technological explanations. Nonetheless, the Garuda and the Nakshatra Chakra remains to be contested structures that might’ve crowned the pillar that makes the mystery of Mehrauli remain a mystery. 

References:

  • Upinder Shingh. (2006). Ancient Delhi, Delhi: Oxford University Press
  • R Balasubramanyam, Meera I Dass and Ellen M Raven, ‘The Original Image Atop the Delhi Iron Pillar’, Indian Journal of History of Science, 39.2 (2004) pp. 177-203
  • J N Agarwal, ‘Some Observations on the Mehrauli Iron Pillar’, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 51, No. 1/4 (1970), pp. 189-191 (3 pages); Published By Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
  • Uday Vasant Dokras, ‘THE IRON PILLAR OF DELHI-MYSTERY OF DESIGN OR an OOP-ART-GIFT FROM ALIENS’, researchgate.net 

Image credits

  • R Balasubramanyam, Meera I Dass and Ellen M Raven, ‘The Original Image Atop the Delhi Iron Pillar’, Indian Journal of History of Science, 39.2 (2004) pp. 177-203
  • The Archaeological Survey of India
  • Kern Institute Leiden and G Foekema
  • Google Images