Chanakya: Lessons for the modern diplomat from a classical strategist

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chanakya

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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What is the Future of US-India Relations? Here’s the Answer

The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations

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India USA
Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Howdy Modi' event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump's 'Namaste Trump' event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. Wikimedia Commons

BY FRANK F. ISLAM

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

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Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

India USA
It is essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. Wikimedia Commons

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

India USA
To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style. Wikimedia Commons

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

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Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

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The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be. (IANS)

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Here’s how Diplomats can Improve Diplomacy in India

Diplomats can do with better home connectivity

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Diplomacy India
Diplomacy can be helpful to advance and develop India. Pixabay

BY D.C. PATHAK

Diplomacy primarily is an instrument for advancing the cause of the nation’s economic and security policy — foreign policy quite simply is the product of the country’s economic and security concerns. The government of the day formulates a policy accordingly and our envoys implement it with all the suavity they can bring to bear in the handling of foreign entities. Sometimes a doctrinaire approach could override the national security angle — Prime Minister I.K. Gujral adopted a Pak policy that ignored the available Intelligence to the effect that Pak ISI had planned to replicate the success of Afghan Jehad in Kashmir by pumping in Mujahideen into the Valley. The ‘covert’ offensive of Pakistan later developed into the Kargil invasion.

Normally speaking, however, our foreign policy — even though it has inputs from abroad — is formulated at home taking into account what is good or adverse for the nation. Our diplomats also, therefore, would do well not only to have a total picture of India’s security threat scenario but also a well grounded knowledge of domestic developments that impinged on India’s national integration, internal security and domestic stability in a strategic sense. The course of events in sensitive areas like Kashmir, North East and Sikkim — apart from happenings on our borders — that could attract international attention have to be closely tracked by them in an ongoing fashion. Diplomacy has to fully grasp the wider bearings of these domestic episodes to be able to measure up to the task of handling the perceptions of the world community on them — wherever it became necessary.

India Diplomats
The foreign policy of India is formulated at home taking into account what is good or adverse for the nation. Pixabay

‘Mission and delivery’ — the words used by Prime Minister Modi in his recent address to the Probationers of Indian Civil Services including the IFS, at Kevadia in Gujarat on the National Unity Day, are significant both for the members of the foreign policy establishment as well as the bureaucracy working on the home turf. A correct understanding of the objective that a diplomat or a bureaucrat was to serve in any position and do it in the best possible way, is crucial for success.

The system of updating our diplomats on the readings of our external and internal situation is already in existence and it includes, among other things, regular briefings provided to them by our National Security set-up and the ministries concerned. It is in this context that the reported remarks of a senior Indian diplomat at Washington on the situation in Kashmir — as it prevailed after the abrogation of Art 370 of the Constitution by Parliament — have raised eyebrows within and outside the government. At a dinner meeting with people connected with a forthcoming Indian film on Kashmir that focused on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, he is said to have held out an assurance that the latter could return to the Valley soon adding that ‘if the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it’ and that ‘it has happened in the Middle East’. The audience had many Kashmiri Pandits who complemented Prime Minister Modi for showing the courage to declare that ‘we don’t need Art 370 and 35A’.

Now, by no stretch of imagination, can Jammu and Kashmir, which is a state of India, invite comparison with Israel and Palestine — two countries carved out of a common land. Even if the Valley is preponderantly Muslim and Jammu is dominated by Hindus, they are parts of the same integral state that belongs to India. The ouster of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley is known to have been caused by the Pak ISI-controlled militants at a time when Pakistan had called for Jehad in Kashmir. The democratic leadership elected to rule the state of J&K was complicit with the Pak agents and separatists in permitting the atrocities on the Kashmiri Pandits who had to migrate to another part of the state for shelter — not to another country across the borders. They became refugees in their own state because of the government’s failure to give them protection — they were not like the Jews ousted by the Palestinian authority from its country. In the case of Kashmiri Pandits, it is now a question of the government of J&K as well as the Centre correcting a grave wrong of the past and ensuring — in the post-370 environ — that they felt free to come back to the Valley and resettle there in total protection. This, in turn, is connected with the success of counter-terror operations and elimination of Pak agents from the state. The sovereign Indian State has to do this — regardless of whatever it takes to accomplish the task.

India BRICS
India is a member of BRICS. Pixabay

The Indian diplomat probably intended to only convey that strongest measures will be taken to resettle the Kashmiri Pandits in the face of a continuing threat of terrorism in the Valley. The unintended parallel with the Israel-Palestine scenario that he drew tended to give an international dimension to Kashmir — this is the whole point about understanding the strategic import of an issue at home. The democratic world led by US had already accepted the integration of J&K with the rest of the country as an internal matter of India. J&K is not divided in a Hindu part and a Muslim territory and is an integral state housing many faiths. A communally-based outcome of the ‘Kashmir issue’ as propagated by Pakistan can never be accepted by democratic India.

There is no damage done but the takeaway from all of this is that Indian diplomats have to remain constantly grounded in what was happening within the country. It is a matter of great satisfaction that the Centre has enriched the content of the Foundation Course at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) at Mussoorie in terms of the inclusion of presentations on strategic affairs and India’s national security.

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This course is the common initial phase of training for all Civil Services, including the IFS, and gives them a lasting base of knowledge of all that was happening in the country as well as the outside world, in these spheres. Subsequent interactions between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs, if held in a more organised way — possibly under the aegis of National Security Council Secretariat(NSCS) — should help to keep our diplomatic establishment abreast of all the internal developments here that could have a bearing on our foreign policy. (IANS)

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China Takes Panda Diplomacy to Moscow

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is on a three-day state visit to Russia

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China, Panda, diplomacy, Moscow
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a ceremony at which Xi was presented with an honorary degree from St. Petersburg State University in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 6, 2019. VOA

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is on a three-day state visit to Russia aimed at underscoring Russian-Sino cooperation — and his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin — in the face of strained relations with the United States.

“In the past six years, we have met nearly 30 times,” said Xi of the Russian leader.

“Russia is the country that I have visited the most times, and President Putin is my best friend and colleague,” added Xi.

While ostensibly timed to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties, the state visit comes as both leaders bristle over their treatment by the U.S., which has levied sanctions against Russia since 2014 and currently is engaged in a trade war with China.

China, Panda, diplomacy, Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the ceremony at which Chinese President Xi Jinping was presented with an honorary degree from St. Petersburg State University at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 6, 2019. VOA

“People generally tend to go to the places where they are liked,” said Mikhail Korostikov, Asia-Pacific observer for the Kommersant daily newspaper, in explaining the personal chemistry between Putin and Xi. “But the conflict with the U.S. that both countries are facing made them closer.”

Military ties

Indeed, beyond their grudges with Washington, a shared worldview on global security has helped both sides overcome distrust that once plagued the Soviet-China relationship, which fractured over differing interpretations of communist ideology and border disputes.

Case in point: inclusion of 3,200 Chinese troops alongside 300,000 Russians in the Kremlin’s massive Vostok-2018 military training exercise in Russia’s Far East last year, according to official sources.

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From their perch at the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China now regularly form a global counterweight to the U.S. on thorny issues such as Syria, North Korea and Iran — a point noted by Putin in a statement after meeting with Xi on Wednesday.

“In discussing important international and regional problems, I can say that in most of them, the views of Russia and China are aligned or very close,” said the Russian leader.

So, too, increasingly, are their economies.

Russian ‘pivot’

China, Panda, diplomacy, Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, attend a welcoming ceremony for two Chinese giant pandas, male Ru Yi and female Ding Ding, at the Moscow Zoo on June 5, 2019. VOA

In the wake of Western sanctions levied over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin announced Russia would “pivot” its economy toward Asia.

Russian officials now tout trade deals with China worth more than $100 billion annually — making China Russia’s top trading partner — as proof Russia has weathered the storm. Russia is only 10th on China’s list, with the United States first.

Xi also will appear alongside Putin at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday. While the Chinese delegation to the event is 1,000 strong, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Huntsman Jr., is boycotting the event over the detention of an American businessman in Moscow.

Yet, in all likelihood, the lasting image of the state visit will prove to be Ru Yi and Ding Ding, two giant pandas from China’s Sichuan province that Xi gifted on loan to the Moscow Zoo for the next 15 years.

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With the gesture, Xi tapped into China’s famed panda diplomacy — the use of furry diplomatic gifts to help repair relationships or forge ties anew.

It certainly seemed to have the desired effect on the Russian leader.

“When we talk of pandas,” noted Putin, “we always end up with a smile on our faces.” (VOA)