Monday December 18, 2017

Chanakya: Lessons for the modern diplomat from a classical strategist

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By Gaurav Sharma

The annals of Classical or early phase of Indian history is replete with literary master-pieces. Contrary to popular belief, not all of these ancient Indian texts sermonize religious doctrines or philosophize spiritual truths.

Some works focus entirely upon reality as is seen by the naked eye. The Arthashastra, is one such unique piece of Indian literature that is brutally honest in its approach towards life, as visualized within the ambit of power.

The pragmatic treatise on the art of statecraft and governance, summarily shatters that Western cliche that Indians were primarily a bunch of ethereal spiritual thinkers in neglect of their material existence.

While focussing solely on worldly matters, the Arthashastra puts forth a comprehensive and ruthless strategy for achieving power.

The strategies for achieving power include the four great pillars of dealing with neighbouring powers, a mixture of : appeasement(Saama), gift or bribery(Daan), division or split(Bheda) and reward or punishment(Danda).

Such a strategy not only provided an unprecedented wealth of detail about early India but was also instrumental in inspiring the Nationalists or freedom fighters of India to establish a realpolitik for an aspiring India in the 20th century.

“The discovery of the Arthashastra was crucial in building the consciousness of Indian nationalists, in constructing a sense of India’s past and in setting the tone for what modern India can stand for”, says Indian diplomat Shiv Shankar Menon to BBC.

Authored by Chankaya, also known as  Kautilya and Vishnu Gupta, the Arthashastra is a treatise that was written somewhere around the 4th century BC.

A historical Sanskrit play called Mudrarakshasa narrates the fascinating role that Chanakya played in the ascent of Chandragupta Maurya into power. The play’s literal meaning, the “The Signet of the Minister” signifies the cunning tactics through which Chanakya changes the landscape of the Indian subcontinent.

It is believed that after being ridiculed by the of the Nanda dynasty, Chanakya untied his Shikha or lock of hair, considered as the symbol of discerning intellect, and vowed not to tie it back until he crushed the Nanda kingdom.

Indeed, through his guile and wit, Chanakya devises a shrewd political strategy of isolating his enemy’s allies. By using a deadly concoction of spying and deceit, Chanakya is gradually able to force Rakshasha, the last minister of the Nanda dynasty to surrender.

The conception of usurping power, as laid forth in the Mudrarakshasa and the Arthashastra, as a whole, bodes much lesson for the modern day geopolitical and diplomatic warfare that each country is inextricably involved in.

Many compare the Arthashastra with Machiavelli’s The Prince, a 16th Century political treatise which disrupted the western moral and religious beliefs by propounding harsh political pragmatism.

Max Weber, a German sociologist however opines such a comparison as naive.

“Truly radical “Machiavellianism”, in the popular sense of that word, is classically expressed in Indian literature in the Arthasastra of Kautilya: compared to it, Machiavelli’s The Prince is harmless”, says Weber in his essay Politics as a Vocation.

Comparing with different accounts of power and politics, such as Aristotle and Plato, in the same historical era, finds a unique perspective in the Arthashastra.

Merciless instructions such as, “An arrow released by an archer may kill a single person, but a strategy unleashed by a wise man, kills even those still in the womb”, are some of eccentric prescriptions that distinguish Chanakya’s doctrine from popular notions on power.

Chanakya describes a king or a ruler as someone who desires to conquer or yearns for power. For expanding power the king must hold a great deal of wealth, yet he stops short of advocating a free market.

In fact, Chanakya is deeply suspicious of traders. He explicitly warns the kings to be vigilant to the practise of under-invoicing, a tactic undertaken by traders to avoid custom duty.

When caught under-invoicing, Chanakya proposes a strict penalty of eight-times the custom duty. He goes a step further, by advising the ruler to keep all economic activities under check, closely reminiscent of the socialist model of governance.

On corruption, Chanakya describes more than forty ways of embezzlement and advises the ruler to keep a watchful eye on the state officials.

In a splendid simili, the master political strategist encapsulates the impossibility of detecting corruption: Just as a fish moving inside water cannot be known when drinking water, even so, officers appointed for performing work cannot be known when appropriating money.

Employing another imaginative analogy, Chankaya brings to fore the dubious ways in which officers might be working: It might be possible to know trace the path travelled by birds, but not the ways of officers moving with their intentions concealed.

The need for the ruler to establish smooth relations with the ruled, is given paramount importance in Kautilyan governance.

The guidelines for ceding mistrust and uncertainty among the populace include creation of an aura of miraculous power, making liberal use of illusions and manipulations through spies.

In the unlikely event of exposition of the wrongs committed by the king, a hefty punishment is to be meted out to the reprobates. These include whip lashes, scorpion bites, burning joints, heating in the sun for days, stroking with cane among other tortuous measures.

To eliminate the risk of assassination, the ruler can and should use a double, a preventive act already employed by politicians of the modern age.

Chanakya’s conception of power can be compared to a giant banyan tree which towers above as a shining beacon of majestic power but the whose roots lie embedded in an intricate web of secrecy, manipulation and constant spying.

This is very much how governments function in today’s day and age. There is a visibly pretty side of diplomatic dialogues and peace talks with a dark underbelly of spy networks which perpetually monitor the citizenry and other power structures.

In a broader context, Chanakya visualized and solved the same problems that we are facing today: A multi-polar world comprising of a complex mixture of bureaucracy, citizenry and diplomacy, all seething with an underlying current of vicious power.

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Sushma Helps Parents of Ailing Indian Abroad Get Visas

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has come to the aid of an Indian hospitalised in France with blood infection, and helped his parents get visas to visit him

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Sushma Swaraj, External affairs minister of India. Wikimedia
  • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has come to the aid of an Indian hospitalised in France 
  • She helped the blood infection patient’s parents get visas to visit him
  • Akali Dal leader and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee General Secretary Manjinder S. Sirsa had brought the condition of Singh to her notice

New Delhi, July 31, 2017: Reaching out to yet another distressed national abroad, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has come to the aid of an Indian hospitalised in France with blood infection, and helped his parents get visas to visit him.

“Sardarji – Aapka France ka visa ho gaya hai. Bhagwan kare apka Beta jaldi theek ho jaye (Sardarji, your visas for France have been arranged. I pray to god that your son gets well soon,” Sushma Swaraj tweeted addressing the parents of Amrinder Singh.

On Monday, Akali Dal leader and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee General Secretary Manjinder S. Sirsa had brought the condition of Singh to her notice.

Also ReadSushma Swaraj to offer help to a person in Pakistan who highlighted his Infant’s Health Condition on Social Media

Sushma Swaraj then directed the Indian Embassy in France to help Singh.

“Amrinder’s family wishes to travel to France to save their son’s life as he is battling with blood infection,” Sirsa had tweeted.

He had also shared a video by family members of Singh who he said was “having a tough time in France owing to health problems”.

On Friday, Sirsa expressed his gratitude on seeing the minister’s message that they have been given visas.

“Deep gratitude to @SushmaSwaraj Ji for such swift action for granting visa to parents of Amrinder Singh who is in a France hospital,” he tweeted.

“This case has reaffirmed faith of people in compassionate nature of NDA Govt. @SushmaSwaraj Ji u hv given a new hope to these parents,” he stated. (IANS)

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Here’s Why Yoga is the Potential Game Changer in India’s Soft Power!

India is the land of culture and spirituality, known for its richness and legacies around the globe

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India's soft power
  • The Yoga day celebrations across the globe is a sign of India’s increasing influence through soft power
  • India’s culture and worldview has made an impact on the western societies as well
  • The revival of Yoga as a soft power tool has started a new era of change 

July 12, 2017: India is seen in the world as a hub of cultural importance and historical legacies. The spiritual and natural teachings of India have influenced different parts of the world and to an extent shaped their philosophies.

In the Indochina and Indonesian region, subsets of Indian culture reached out. The presence of these is still seen in China and Japan. Gradually, it spread west to the Central Asian region. India bridged the trade between East and the West, also inserting its cultural teachings and rituals in the process. It was through trade that Indian Vedic system landed in Europe, thereby greatly influencing it.

The rise of academic philosophy in the 1800s came to the East and particularly India, to form a perspective on life. Many of these philosophers also admired India and its teachings.

It was Swami Vivekanand’s visit to the west, in 1893, that brought the Indian philosophical thought, centered around Yoga, to the Western spotlight.

Vivekanand’s work on universal consciousness went on to later inspire Einstein’s masterpiece. He introduced Yoga as a form of spiritual awakening, and it instantly touched upon the masses of the western society.

Vivekananda’s Yoga was also a major player in the Indian freedom struggle. Opposed by the alien rulers, Yoga was a symbol of Indian traditions and rituals, something to stick to in a situation of foreign dominance.

ALSO READ: Here is an Elephant inspired by PM Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan!

Since the popularity of Yoga, many Hindu teachers and gurus have traveled abroad, spreading the ideology. These were sometimes coupled with Dharmic and Vedic teachings. Teachings of Bhagwad Gita have also had a great influence on the people.

This Indian lifestyle got more attention with the introduction of Ayurveda (a natural way of living), Mantras, Kirtans, and Indian folklores.

More than hundred million people in the world practice different forms of Yoga today. Names like Paramahansa Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Sri Aurobindo, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Satya Sai Baba, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mata Amritanandamayi, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, and many others are familiar with the Westerners from various countries.

The sovereign state of India had never reaped the advantages of this soft power. The governments have mostly put minimal efforts to benefit out of Yoga. It has always been the Hindu thought that has been subject to emphasis and priority.

All that has changed in the past few years. The present Government of India’s Yoga initiatives has brought the country’s soft power approach to a new era. International Yoga Day’s success is beyond comprehension for any former political regime.

The changing face of India owes a lot to the revival of Yoga and its significance. This cultural gift to the world will provide more scope for India to climb further up the diplomatic ladder.

– by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394

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Long-awaited India-Afghan Air Freight Corridor Opening Soon

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India-Afghan Air Freight Corridor
Modi-Ghani Talks on Air Freight Corridor between India and Afghanistan. Twitter

New Delhi, June 16, 2017: The long-awaited India-Afghan air freight corridor will take off in the next few days, the government said on Friday.

“The freight corridor between India and Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a reality,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay told the weekly media briefing here.

The first Indian flight, which will fly over the Pakistani airspace like civilian planes do, will take off either this weekend or early next week, he said, adding that to start with it could be a monthly flight or fortnightly.

The idea is not to start a daily flight at the moment, Baglay said, adding there are difficulties in reaching Kabul by road.

Standard Operating Procedures will be in force, he said.

It will carry Indian products to Afghanistan and vice versa, Baglay added.

The air corridor plan has long been in the making since there are difficulties in reaching Kabul by road. (IANS)