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Delhi Sultnate ruler Alauddin Khilji has been in the news for a few days – for the wrong reasons, of course – with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Deepika Padukone-starrer Padmavati riling fringe groups like Rajasthan’s Rajput Karni Sena, which claims the movie distorts history to show Queen Padmavati in a poor light.
Padmavati, with Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor in lead roles, showcases the love story of Rajput king Ratan Singh and his wife. Fringe group Karni Sena though alleges that the film distorts Rajput history.
While widespread protests across the country, including by Karni Sena, has seen the producers of the film deferring the release date indefinitely, it might be pertinent to revisit the books of history to explore the reasons beyond cinematic portrayal for Khilji to remembered today.
The nephew and son-in-law of Jalaluddin Khilji, the founder of the Khilji dynasty, Alauddin Khilji (1296-1316) is credited with bringing several reforms and regulating markets to control the prices of essential food items. He is said to be the first ruler to address the problem of price control in a systematic manner to maintain stable prices for a decade.
Here are a few of Khilji’s economic and market reforms listed after a reading of Satish Chandra's book, Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals-Delhi Sultanat (1206-1526):
1. Agri market regulation: Khilji regulated agricultural market in the area extending from Dipalpur and Lahore to Kara near modern-day Allahabad. All the land in between was brought under Khalisa and the land revenue was fixed at half the production value and measurement of the land. No extra duties were levied. Khilji’s agrarian reforms are said to have brought villages close to the government (Delhi sultanate), and created a more integrated relationship between the town and the country. In today’s modern system, the government procures food items from farmers, mainly from villages, and distributes among citizens for food security.
2. Multiple market structure: According to Ziauddin Barani (1285-1357), a Muslim political thinker of the Delhi Sultanate during Muhammad bin Tughlaq and Firuz Shah's reign, Alauddin Khilji set up three markets in Delhi – one for food grains, another for cloth and expensive items like sugar, ghee, oil and dry fruits etc, and a third one for horses, slaves and cattle. This decentralisation of market, in today’s more organised set-up is more pronounced, with specific items being sold in different markets. Cattle fairs like those in Pushkar and Sonepur, for example, are known for sale of cattle, horses, elephants, etc.
3. Food price control: Khilji kept a tab on the prices of food by setting up a mechanism to control the supply of food grains from villages, hiring grain merchants (known as karwanis or banjaras), who transported food grains from villages to Delhi for further distribution among citizens. Today, the Food Corporation of India procures food grains from farmers by providing them a minimum support price for their produce.
4. Crackdown on hoarding: Khilji set up royal stores in Delhi to maintain a sufficient stock of food grains so that traders did not try to create an artificial shortage to hike prices and indulge in profiteering. The grains were first stored locally and then sent to Delhi. Today, we have the FCI, which is tasked with ensuring food security in the country. Besides, we also have government-run fair-price stores across the country.
5. Cloth market reforms: Khilji also worked to reform the cloth market, informs Satish Chandra in his book Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals-Delhi Sultanat (1206-1526). Khilji granted royal patronage of two million tankas to the rich Multani merchants who brought commodities from far-off places, including foreign countries, on the condition that they would not sell their wares to intermediaries. They were to sell their goods only at Sarai-adl, a designated market for cloth, at prices fixed by the Delhi Sultanate. The power and responsibility of obeying the conditions prescribed by the Khliji administration were given to the merchants alone. Similarly, nowadays, we have the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI) representing the Indian apparel industry, with a membership base of over 20,000 companies. In 1978, CMAI played an important role in the creation of the Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC), which regulates the promotion of the country’s garment exports.