Indian History Part 59 The Lodi Dynasty Section V IBRAHIM LODI: THE TWILIGHT SULTAN

Canberra, 19 November 2017


Sikandar Lodi had many sons, the eldest being Ibrahim Khan and the second Jalal Khan, both born to the same mother. They were also considered to be the most capable amongst the young princes. Ibrahim Khan has been described as intelligent, courageous, generous and the embodiment of praiseworthy moral qualities. In early life itself he was marked for kingship. The Afghan nobles, the wellspring of Lodi power, continued to be freedom loving and on Sikandar’s death asserted their right to choose the next sultan. They elected Ibrahim unanimously as the sultan, and Ibrahim was crowned as Ibrahim Shah Lodi. However, their unanimity of choice did not stop them from placing Jalal Khan as the independent ruler of the territories east and south of Jaunpur. Jalal was already the governor of Kalpi and this division of territory effectively curtailed Ibrahim’s ability to assume full sovereignty of the Sultanate.

The reason for the division enforced by the nobles is not entirely clear. Where explanations have been provided in some chronicles, they do not seem plausible or believable and cannot be authenticated. The most likely reason has its roots in the reign of Sikandar Lodi. He had not been kind to the nobles and had vehemently curtailed their independence, while severely punishing wrong-doers. The nobles did not want a repeat of the same situation and presumed that by creating a two-headed monarchy, they would be able to curtail the power of both the rulers. It is certain that given their issues with Sikandar, the nobles were wary of Ibrahim’s possible future actions and wanted to ensure that he could not exert complete control over them. There is another version of the establishment of this dual monarchy, which states that the nobles persuaded Ibrahim to partition the empire and to give Jalal independent charge of Jaunpur. This is only another way of stating that the nobles decided to partition the empire between the two brothers and did so.

The Afghan Nobility

The Afghan nobles were not a homogenous group. Each one of them was fundamentally loyal to his tribe and clan, essentially belonging completely to the clan as opposed to the broader concept of being ‘Afghan’. They did come together when their individual interests coincided, but more often than not acted in a petty, narrow, and partisan manner.

By the time Ibrahim Lodi was ascending the throne, the Lodis considered themselves the ‘ruling class’ and the rest of the nobility and the clans as belonging to a class that could be considered ‘servants of the Lodis’. This situation was obviously not acceptable to the fiercely independent Afghans, more used to being treated at par with the sultan, who they had elevated to the position. The division of the empire between Delhi and Jaunpur effectively reduced the power of the Delhi Sultan and brought the collective and individual power and prestige of the Afghan nobles closer to that held by the Sultan.

Ibrahim accepted the division without any protest. He was crowned on 21 (or 22) November 1517 in Agra, which was followed by a celebration, reported as the grandest ever held in the entire history of the Delhi Sultanate. This was the last hurrah of the Sultanate, whose twilight had come to pass with the accession of Ibrahim Lodi.

Civil War

After Ibrahim was enthroned, Jalal Khan and his nobles started their journey, initially to Kalpi and then to Jaunpur, to claim his inheritance. After about a month, Khan-i-Jahan Nuhani, the governor of Rapri and a loyal noble of Sikandar Lodi, came to Agra, ostensibly to congratulate Ibrahim on his becoming the Sultan. He took the opportunity to address the nobles of the court and convinced them of the folly of having a dual monarchy and dividing the empire. He was able to sway them towards repudiating the deal, especially since the nobles loyal to Jalal Khan had departed with him to Jaunpur. This impassioned plea for unity of rule also contained the seeds of an impending civil war.

Ibrahim, on the advice of his nobles, send a message to Jalal to return to Agra in order to re-negotiate the partition of the Sultanate. Jalal Khan, on the advice of nobles loyal to him, refused to return to Agra or to consider renegotiating the already agreed partition deal. Ibrahim, was a shrewd person and had already realised that the Afghan nobles were playing a game to their own tune in order to increase their hold on power at the cost of the monarch’s diminishing hold on the state. He now decided to crush the nobles and make them powerless, which he saw as the only way to ensure that he could rule without interference. Accordingly he unleashed a relentless ‘war’ on senior Afghan nobles while at the same time initiating steps to bring Jalal Khan under control.

He instituted three firm steps to restrict the power of Jalal. First, he send a courteous request to Jalal to come to Agra; second, he send another ‘firman’, a royal order, to all nobles in the eastern part of the empire asking them not to recognise Jalal Khan’s authority as the ruler Jaunpur, he also sent lavish gifts to the senior nobles along with the firman, gradually turning them against Jalal; and third, he imprisoned all his brothers to ensure that none of them created trouble because of ambition to usurp the throne while he was busy containing Jalal. Jalal Khan was taken aback by the turn of events and the emerging situation that was becoming unfavourable to him.

Jalal Khan was also a competent prince and therefore dealt with the summons to Agra with caution and diplomacy. He moved to Kalpi, his old governance, and refused to move out, camping there to shore up his strength. However, he was not at peace since some of his nobles were seen to be prone to following Ibrahim’s orders. Jalal’s position was precarious and he knew it. Jalal weighed his options and realised that he had no option but to abandon diplomacy and therefore he openly declared his hostility towards Ibrahim. He strengthened his army with the help of the zamindars who had rebelled against the Lodis earlier. Then he had himself crowned as Sultan Jalal ud-Din and had coins struck in his name to declare and reinforce his independent status.

Ibrahim also was not wasting time and decided to take action. He carried out another coronation to impress upon the people the fact that there was only one legitimate Sultan for the entire empire. He conferred gifts, jagirs and titles on the nobles and military officers, thereby binding them to his monarchy. He also gave money to the common soldiers and the general population, while being generous in looking after the poor and the needy. Ibrahim’s court now rivalled the grandeur that was obvious during the reigns of Balban and Ala ud-Din Khilji. He further introduced a new custom that prohibited any noble from sitting down when the Sultan was present in court.

Having established his position as the unquestioned Sultan he now put in place his action plan to deal with Jalal Khan. He sent and army under Azam Humayun Sarwani’s command to attack Jalal ud-Din. However, Azam Humayun’s son was the Vizier of Jalal ud-Din, who persuade his father to abandon the siege and subsequently to join forces with the Jaunpur army. This action was to have a devastating effect on the fortunes of the Sarwani clan a few years later. Buoyed by this turn of events, Jalal attacked Avadh, a province of the Delhi Sultanate. The governor of Avadh, Said Khan fled to Lucknow and reported to Ibrahim. This brought the hostility between the brothers into open conflict.

On the surface it would seem that the civil war that was now inevitable was the result of the aggressive actions of Jalal ud-Din. In truth, the reality was that Jalal was forced to initiate this action because of the breach of faith by Sultan Ibrahim Lodi. Ibrahim now set out personally to confront the Jaunpur forces. Before moving out of Agra, he send all his imprisoned brothers to the fort at Hansi, to continue as prisoners of the state but kept in comfort. Ibrahim marched with his army to Bhongaon, where Azam Humayun and his son defected back to the Delhi army. The Delhi army was already large and was now strengthened further by the Sarwani forces joining it.

Perceiving his worsening situation, Jalal ud-Din adopted a strong strategy. Gathering all his available forces he marched towards Agra, which was now undefended—devoid of troops and the Sultan. However, this move also left Kalpi defenceless, which was attacked and sacked with great gusto by the Delhi forces. Meanwhile Jalal laid siege to Agra. The commander of the fort, Adam Khan fought and kept the Jaunpur forces at bay for a little while. Then he managed to buy time by smooth talking Jalal into inaction and thus saved the city from being sacked and pillaged. Even though Jalal possessed a superior force to the one defending Agra, Adam Khan managed to convince him into surrendering all the royal signs of sovereignty, even though the Jaunpur nobles and military officers tried to dissuade Jalal ud-Din from doing so. Adam Khan promised Jalal that Ibrahim would let him keep control of his part of the empire, if he did not sack Agra.

On Jalal accepting these terms his large army disbanded on their own, realising that they would be sacrificed to the fury of Ibrahim, if this peace deal was to come to fruition. Adam Khan presented the agreed terms and conditions for cessation of the war to Ibrahim Lodi, who was unwilling to come to any terms with his brother. He knew that long-term safety lay in the complete destruction of Jalal who, if left alone, could in time develop into a potential rival to the throne. He also understood very clearly that only the removal of Jalal from the scene would put an end to the Civil War and the on-going intrigue of the Afghan nobles. He therefore rejected the peace deal brought about through Adam Khan’s proposals. In doing so Ibrahim behaved in a discourteous and impolitic manner, even by the norms of the age. Jalal ud-Din, now without an army, fled to Gwalior seeking safety and shelter with the Raja. Ibrahim Lodi was now the unquestioned Sultan of the entire Sultanate. However, this victory came at the cost of his losing the trust of all the nobles, who realised that Ibrahim was not one to keep his word.

The Subjugation of Gwalior

Having warded off the immediate threat and neutralised Jalal, Ibrahim turned his attention to the management of the kingdom. However, his brother’s rebellion and the intransigent nature of the Afghan nobles who continued to intrigue had embittered the Sultan. He became increasingly authoritative and arbitrary in his decisions. In one such decision, he dismissed Mian Bhua, the loyal and trusted Vizier of Sikandar Lodi and imprisoned him. The old man soon died in captivity and the nobles believed that he had been poisoned, a suspicion that Ibrahim was not able to allay satisfactorily. After a time of capricious rule, Ibrahim felt that he had set the internal affairs of state in order and turned his attention to Gwalior.

Sikandar Lodi had called a council of war to capture Gwalior just before he took ill and died. In fact that was the reason for all the princes, most governors and the senior nobles to have been present in Agra at the time of his death. Their presence in Agra had also facilitated the quick accession of Ibrahim to the throne. There were two reasons for Ibrahim Lodi wanting to invade and capture Gwalior. First was the dynastic rivalry between the kingdoms, buttressed by the inherent expansionist policy followed by all the Lodi sultans. The second, and more immediate reason was that Jalal had sought, and been given, refuge in Gwalior. Jalal had been sheltered by Raja Man Singh, who had subsequently died and was succeeded by his son, Raja Vikramaditya. In Ibrahim Lodi’s mind, Gwalior was an aberration and had to be defeated.

Once again, Ibrahim deputed Azam Humayun Sarwani to capture the fort of Gwalior. Gwalior, now ruled by Raja Vikramaditya, ‘the illustrious son of a distinguished father’, prepared to defend his kingdom. Gwalior was besieged and vicious fighting ensued. Witnessing the ferocious battle, Jalal ud-Din, ever the chivalrous prince, moved to Malwa in order to reduce the burden on his hosts.

The End of Jalal ud-Din

Jalal ud-Din moved from Gwalior and sought shelter with Mahmud Khilji II, ruling Malwa. The kingdom of Malwa was in the throes of a fierce civil war—Mahmud was fighting for survival against his powerful vizier Medini Rai. Perhaps because of this pre-occupation, or on purpose, Mahmud did not give any importance to Jalal and also did not provide or even promise any assistance for him to attempt regaining his inheritance.

Disappointed with Mahmud Khilji, Jalal moved east to Garha Katanga (now a village about 23 miles from Jabalpur on the Jabalpur-Sagar road). This was Gond territory and the Gond king, Sangram Shah, had Jalal ud-Din arrested and send him to Agra in chains to gain Ibrahim Lodi’s friendship. Ibrahim, humiliated Jalal by having him brought to the durbar (royal court) with his hand tied behind his back. Thereafter he was ordered to be incarcerated in the fort at Hansi with his other brothers. However, Jalal never reached Hansi, on the way to the fort he was murdered by being poisoned on the orders of the Ibrahim Lodi.

In Gwalior, the fort was breached and unable to withstand the Delhi army, Raja Vikramaditya sued for peace. Ibrahim Lodi annexed Gwalior to the Sultanate but granted Vikramaditya the fief of Shamsabad to rule. However, he was annoyed with the fact that Jalal ud-Din had managed to escape. He suspected Azam Humayun and his son of complicity in Jalal’s escape to Malwa and of double-dealing during the campaign. The suspicion was based on their earlier defection to Jalal ud-Din’s camp. He recalled them to Agra and cast them in prison. This gave cause for another rebellion by the nobles.

The Rebellion of the Nobles

Azam Humayun’s and his son’s disgrace alarmed the other nobles, already dissatisfied with Ibrahim’s high-handed behaviour. There was rampant discontentment with Ibrahim’s arbitrary actions. The nobles raised the banner of rebellion under the leadership of Islam Khan, another son of Azad Humayun. The rebel army consisted of 40,000 cavalry and 500 elephants, outnumbering the royal forces.

Before the rebellion could escalate into a full-fledged civil war, Shaikh Raju Bokhari, a holy man of repute, offered to negotiate a settlement to the dispute. The rebels demanded the release of Azad Humayun Sarwani in return for disbanding their army. On hearing the demand, Ibrahim flew into a rage and ordered his commanders to ‘exterminate’ the rebels. The armies of Behar, Ghazipur and Oudh joint together to fight the rebels. A fierce battle ensued. Chroniclers claim the battle to have been the largest that had so far been fought on the sub-continent. In the end the rebels were defeated and the insurrection suppressed, with heavy losses on both sides.

Contemporary chroniclers describe the reason for the rebellion as the ingratitude of the nobles. They paper over and do not mention the extreme cruelty and obstinacy displayed by Ibrahim Lodi that was the real reason for the insurrection and the civil war that followed. The Sultan exulted on breaking the strength of the nobles who opposed him while rewarding those who had fought on his side. However, he did not appreciate the fact that by this one single act of wrecking the nobles’ power he had also destroyed the core of the Sultanate army on which the strength and stability of his Empire was founded. Further, rather than learn the grim lesson of the rebellion and understand the percolating discontent and distrust of his nobles, Ibrahim regarded the victory over the rebels as an endorsement and a victory of his policies. He became even more ruthless in his dealings with the nobles.

Ibrahim Lodi now committed himself to a policy of persecution of the nobles who he even remotely suspected of being disloyal. He had an inherently suspicious nature that was exacerbated by the rebellion of the nobles. He imprisoned or killed senior nobles without even attempting to provide a reason and without any appreciation of the service that they had rendered to his father and the Sultanate. In his entrenched self-conceit, he believed that he could rule without the assistance of the nobles and wanted to crush the entire nobility. For the same reason he did not appreciate that his actions were weakening the very edifice that upheld the Sultanate.

The war with Gwalior, which was proclaimed as a great victory was actually won with a very thin margin. The ‘victorious’ Sultan had to be very diplomatic in dealing with the Raja, something that was anathema to Ibrahim. The fact that diplomacy was resorted to itself demonstrates the precariousness of the victory and its aftermath. Even though the Sultanate was going through internal convulsions, Ibrahim Lodi now decided to go to war with Rana Sangram Singh (popularly called Rana Sangha) of Mewar.

War with Mewar

Mewar was the most powerful Rajput country of the time. Rana Sangha, the king, was well-known across the sub-continent for his personal bravery, his prowess as a commander and for his strategic astuteness. The civil war in Malwa had polarised the states of North India with Rana Sangha interfering on the side of Medini Rai and the Lodi Sultans supporting Mahmud Khilji II. In fact the Rajput king and the Lodis, both coveted Malwa territory. Sikandar Lodi had sided with Khilji and Ibrahim had inherited the animosity towards the Rajputs from his father. Effectively, Mewar and the Sultanate were ranged on opposite sides of the civil war in Malwa. Khilji had also asked Gujarat for help and a body of troops had been send to Malwa by the Gujarat ruler. However, the combined armies of Delhi and Gujarat were defeated in battle and Medini Rai was installed on the throne of Malwa. Even so, the conflict between Delhi and Mewar had not been put to bed and had continued sporadically.

During the civil war in the Sultanate, Rana Sangha had encroached on Delhi territory and annexed some parts. Ibrahim decided to set this issue right and marched against Mewar. In the battle that ensued in Khatoli, near Gwalior, Ibrahim Lodi was soundly defeated by Rana Sangha and had to beat a hasty retreat. However, further skirmishes led to an indecisive state of affairs, with no clear victor.  In the Battle of Khatoli, Rana Sangha lost his left arm and was hit by an arrow that lodged in his leg that maimed him, leaving him lame for life. However, the Rajput army captured Ghiyas ud-Din, a prince of the Lodi house. Both the Rana and the Sultan were angry at the indecisiveness of the battle and war was inevitable. The very next year, 1518-19, Ibrahim renewed hostilities.

Ibrahim despatched a large army towards Mewar, which was met by the Rajput forces at Dholpur. In the ensuing battle, the Rajput army held the upper hand from the beginning. The Lodi generals were disunited and did not act on a common plan, with one general Husain Farmuli deserting to join the Mewar forces. The Lodi army suffered a crushing defeat and retreated, pursued all the way to Bayana by Rana Sangha’s forces. Ibrahim Lodi now interfered personally and stopped the rout, raising the morale of the Sultanate forces. He also persuaded Farmuli to leave the Mewar forces and re-join the Delhi army. There is a mention in an Islamic chronicle that Husain Farmuli decided to go back to the Sultan’s forces because of the slights he received at Rana Sangha’s court. There were a few minor and indecisive battles fought after this major confrontation, before the war ended.

Bayana became the northern border of Mewar with the kingdom now being bound by River Sinde in the east and the kingdom of Malwa in the south. After the battle had ended, Ibrahim had Husain Farmuli, at that time was the governor of Chanderi, murdered. Rana Sangha took this opportunity to annex Chanderi to his kingdom, a feat achieved without much of opposition to be overcome. With the loss of Chanderi, the Lodi kingdom lost its southern most outpost. In this drawn out war with Mewar, Ibrahim Lodi lost a fair bit of territory, expended enormous resources as compared to the Rajput king and suffered an irreparable setback to his reputation. Rana Sangha is credited with having won 18 pitched battles against Delhi and Malwa, out of which at least two, fought at Bakrol and Ghatoli, were against forces personally led by Ibrahim Lodi. These are confirmed statistics. These defeats affected the Sultan’s power and prestige, while at the same time the internal governance of the Sultanate was weakening by the constant friction with the nobles.

An Improbable Story

One Islamic account that provides an explanation of Husain Farmuli re-joining Ibrahim Lodi states that the Lodi army won a hard fought and vicious battle that culminated in Rana Sangha fleeing the battlefield after being wounded. The account proclaims this as a great victory for the Sultanate forces. However, this statement is not corroborated by any other chronicle or report and also does not rate even a mention in the Rajput chronicles. The statement cannot be considered true.

The Rajput accounts confirm the frequent wars between Delhi and Mewar without providing much details of individual encounters or their outcomes. It could be believed that most of the skirmishes were indecisive and only of minor consequence in nature. It is also certain that both sides would not accept and record a ‘defeat’ in their own chronicles. The bardic chroniclers of Rajputana eulogise the enormous military resources of Mewar, a fact that is acknowledged in Muslim writers as well. The bards also extol Rana Sangha’s battlefield expertise and command capabilities, both of which are also acknowledged by the reports of the Sultanate. Considering this authentic information, it can be concluded that the reported ‘massive’ victory of Ibrahim Lodi’s Delhi forces did not take place. The account is apocryphal in the face of no corroboration from other independent sources.

A Diminishing Empire

The murder of Husain Farmuli, close to the suspicious deaths on Mian Bhua and Azam Humayun in prison, bred a culture of suspicion within the nobles of Delhi. Darya Khan Nuhani, the governor of Bihar rebelled, although he died soon after the revolt. His son Bahadur Shah continued the rebellion and declared independence from Delhi, issuing his own coins. Many other nobles joined him in the rebellion and it is reported that the rebel army grew in size to 100,000 cavalry and associated other forces. Bolstered by this strength, Bahadur Shah captured the entire upper Ganga country and controlled the region from Bihar to Sambhal, about 80 miles from Delhi. Over a period of time, under the title Sultan Muhammad Shah, he became very powerful, fighting several battles against the Delhi forces in which he always emerged victorious. The east was now out of Ibrahim’s control. On the other border, the Rajputs under Rana Sangha were far too strong to be brought into submission. The Sultanate was clearly diminishing in size and stature.

At this juncture, Ibrahim ordered Daulat Khan Lodi, the governor of Punjab to come to Agra, since he was in arrears in payment of compulsory tribute to the Sultan. Daulat Khan was the son of Tatar Khan who had been the governor of Punjab for over 20 years under Sikandar Lodi and had effectively kept the north-west frontier secure for the Sultanate. Daulat felt that the Sultan’s intentions were not honourable and send his son Dilawar in his stead to Agra. Ibrahim was enraged and threated both son and father with dire consequences if his order was not obeyed forthwith. Dilawar managed to escape from Agra and reported the Sultan’s intentions to his father. Daulat Khan realised that he was Ibrahim Lodi’s next target and therefore, invited Babur ruling in Kabul to invade the Sultanate and destroy the dynastic power of the Lodi’s. He send the invitation to Babur through his son Dilawar Khan. This set in motion an irreversible set of events that was to change the history of the sub-continent forever. The invitation to Babur was also the death knell of the three-centuries-old Delhi Sultanate.

Fall of the Lodi Dynasty

Although internal dissentions were pulling the Sultanate apart, the real threat to Ibrahim Lodi, his dynasty, and to the very existence of the Sultanate itself emanated from outside India—in the guise of Babur, the ruler of Kabul. The direct and immediate cause was the discontent of the nobles, spearheaded by Daulat Khan who was caught between Scylla and Charybdis. If he obeyed the Sultan and went to Agra, he would in all likelihood be imprisoned and later murdered; and if he rebelled outright, he did not have the strength to prevail against the Lodi forces, even in its reduced state, and therefore the end-state would be the same. The invitation to Babur seemed the best, and only, option open to the governor of Punjab. It is interesting that around the same time Alam Khan, a disaffected uncle of Ibrahim Lodi, had made a similar request to Babur to bring down the Delhi Sultan.

The invitations to take action came at an opportune moment for Babur. His kingdom was being threatened by Uzbeks from the west whose military power he could not hope to resist. For some time Babur had been considering India as a possible refuge from the Uzbek menace. (The early life and rise of Babur to the rulership of Kabul is covered in detail in a subsequent volume in this series.) Babur therefore decided to invade Punjab, in alliance with Daulat Khan. Daulat Khan, Alam Khan and Rana Sangha all knew, or would have at least suspected, Babur’s ultimate intentions—to annex North India for himself. However, in order to destroy Ibrahim Lodi’s power, they turned a blind eye to that possibility and even encouraged the Mughal’s designs on India. This attitude, especially of the Rajput king, Rana Sangha, remains an inexplicable fact in the long history of the Indian sub-continent. There is a report, not fully confirmable, which claims that Rana Sangha also had send an envoy to Babur requesting his help to remove Ibrahim from the throne of Delhi. Ibrahim Lodi got wind of the alliance being built against him in Punjab and immediately stopped his on-going campaign in the East. He send an army to Punjab to subdue Daulat Khan and also to repel any foreign invaders. Daulat Khan was driven out of Lahore, which was occupied by imperial forces.

Alam Khan was pursuing his own personal ambitions while also cooperating with Daulat Khan in facilitating Babur’s invasion. In 1524, Alam Khan had been invited by some disgruntled nobles to assume the throne of Delhi with the title Sultan Ala ud-Din. The fact remained that he was a Sultan without a throne. Alam Khan had met Babur in Kabul and proposed that he would let Babur keep Punjab as a prize for helping him gain the throne of Delhi. The sequence of events as it happened are reported differently in different chronicles and records. The fact remains that even before his invasion, Babur was well aware that almost everyone of consequence hated Ibrahim Lodi, the Sultan ruling from Delhi/Agra.

In 1524, Babur marched through the Khyber Pass and reached Lahore, destroying the countryside along his conquering march. Ibrahim’s army stationed in Lahore gave battle, but was easily defeated. Babur sacked Lahore, then burned it. There was mayhem for four days in Lahore after which he marched to Deopalpur. There Babur put the entire garrison to the sword. At Deopalpur, Daulat Khan who had fled from Lahore when the Sultanate army captured it, met with Babur. Daulat was dismayed at the manner in which Babur had sacked Lahore and devastated the countryside. To add insult to injury, instead of handing over Punjab to Daulat Khan, Babur annexed the province to his own kingdom and appointed his officers to administer Punjab. Daulat realised that although he had wanted Ibrahim Lodi to be ruined, it was his own fiefdom that Babur had annexed. The disillusionment was complete when Babur assigned Jalandhar and Sultanpur to Daulat Khan and kept Lahore for himself. This broke whatever semblance of an alliance that existed between Babur and Daulat Khan.

Daulat Khan now planned to attack Babur, to regain his territories and also to salvage his pride and prestige. However, his own son, Dilawar Khan, informed Babur of his father’s intentions. Fearing Babur’s wrath Daulat Khan went into hiding. After securing Punjab, Babur returned to Kabul to quell the trouble brewing there and to prepare for another, more permanent, invasion of Hindustan. The only objective of the previous expedition had been to secure Punjab as a safe haven and refuge in the case of an Uzbek invasion of Kabul. Babur now planned the next expedition to conquer and rule Hindustan, his ambition kindled by what he had observed in the campaign of 1524.

On Babur’s departure from Punjab, Daulat Khan emerged from hiding and wanted to rebel against Babur’s annexation of Punjab. However, he was on his own and could not trust any of the other nobles, including his own son. He could not trust Babur to treat him properly and he could not now join forces with Ibrahim since their rift had become far too wide for effective reconciliation. In a state of disgrace he commenced a rebellion and struggle, in isolation, to re-capture his lost territories. He had some initial success—he defeated Dilawar Khan and captured Sultanpur and drove out Alam Khan from Deopalpur, even though he failed to seize Sialkot. Alam Khan fled to Kabul and returned to Punjab with Babur sending instructions to his forces there to help Alam secure the throne of Delhi. This was a far-fetched order and therefore it is debatable whether Babur actually meant it or was only placating a bothersome ally.

In the event Daulat Khan persuaded Alam Khan to join forces with him and the combined army marched to Delhi. They managed to defeat the Delhi army, commanded by Ibrahim himself, in a concerted night attack. However, the Lodi Sultan was a tough commander and managed to rally his forces. By sheer determination, demonstrated courage and efficient leadership, he managed to counter attack and defeat the superior forces of Punjab. Daulat Khan fled the battlefield and joined Babur’s camp, now as a pardoned vassal with no independent status.

In November 1525, Babur re-entered Hindustan, consolidated his hold on Punjab, and rapidly moved towards Delhi. He camped at a place between the River Yamuna and the town of Panipat, a mere 80 miles from Delhi. Babur’s arrival near Delhi caused consternation amongst the nobles. The nobles were once again divided with many of them making overtures towards Babur and promising him assistance.

Ibrahim Lodi moved his army north and camped south of Panipat, in good defensive positions to prevent further advance of Babur’s army towards Delhi. There is a story that some astrologers predicted that Lodi would be defeated, which prompted Ibrahim to order a celebration in his camp to boost the sagging morale of his forces. Battle was inevitable. The Battle of Panipat, in later history called the ‘First Battle of Panipat’, was fought on 20 April 1526 and was fiercely contested.

The Lack of Foresight and Unity

The more powerful kings of North India do not seem to have realised the threat that was on their doorsteps. They failed to appreciate Babur’s intentions fuelled by vaulting ambition and the fact that they were all facing an existentialist threat. No one grasped the seriousness of the situation and nor did they visualise the darkness that was about to engulf each one of them.

Rana Sangha, perhaps the most powerful military commander of the lot and also a better strategist than anyone else, was sanguine about establishing Rajput superiority after the battle, irrespective of the outcome and the victor. Bahadur Shah, the prince of Gujarat, was physically present at Panipat with a force of more than a 1000 cavalry. He watched the battle without interfering, content with figuring out the outcome. Mahmud Khilji of Malwa did not even mobilise his forces. The kings of Mewar, Malwa and Gujarat were busy formulating their own plans to further their petty interests after the battle was over.

Unity against a foreign aggressor was not a phrase in their vocabulary or rule book.

In the battle, the smaller, but more agile force of Babur won a decisive victory through the employment of innovative and clever tactics. This historic victory was achieved because of the superior fighting technique of the Mughal army, the skilful employment of cavalry and superiority in firepower through the use of artillery. Ibrahim Lodi fell in battle—the first and only Sultan to die on the battlefield. Babur admired Ibrahim Lodi’s valour and personal courage and had him buried with great honour at the spot where he had fallen. [The tomb has now become a minor pilgrimage centre.]

Babur send his son Humayun to occupy and secure the fort at Agra and himself joined him later. On 10 May 1526, Babur entered Agra ceremoniously and took up residence in the palace as the ‘Emperor of Hindustan’. The three-century long turbulent history of the Delhi Sultanate had come to an inglorious end. The Afghan hegemony in the rule of Delhi was broken and the Sultanate passed on to the hands of the Chagatai Turks, who were better known as the Mughals.

Ibrahim Lodi – The Last Sultan

Ibrahim Lodi was a man of contrasts. In his personal life, his conduct was unblemished. He was kind to his subjects and a considerate ruler by medieval standards. His kingdom continued to prosper despite some alarmingly naïve decisions and a state of stability and peace prevailed for the initial part of his reign. He also administered justice as well as any of his predecessors. Ibrahim was intelligent, an able administrator and endowed with personal courage and battlefield bravery.

At the same time he was rash and impolitic in his decisions. He attempted to establish absolutism in the Sultanate when the circumstances pointed towards being more congenial. The attempt was therefore premature. This move towards centralisation of power was followed by the policy of repression of the nobles without the Sultan putting in place other policies that would have strengthened the administration and the army, as the power and support of the nobles for the Sultan waned.  The initiative was bound to fail, as it eventually did.

His lack of foresight was demonstrated by his alienating the nobles even when the threat to the kingdom from foreign invasion was apparent for nearly five years. Ibrahim’s inability to grasp future trends proved disastrous for him personally, the dynasty and for the Sultanate.

Ibrahim Lodi’s fundamental fault lay in the fact that he could not fully understand the character traits of the Afghan nobles who were the foundational support base of the Lodi dynasty. His attempts ate instilling vigorous discipline and strict ceremonial procedures at court—a distinct contrast from the informal court of his grandfather—was anathema to the free-spirited Afghan nobles. His insistence on formalities was one of the primary reasons for the rebellion of the nobles. Ibrahim’s institution of insolent and brutal punishment against the rebellion further alienated the nobles, on whose support the basis of the Lodi rule rested. With the destruction of the foundation of his power, almost like a self-inflicted death wish,  Lodi lost his life and kingdom.









About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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