Sunday January 26, 2020

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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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.

Also Read- Here’s How Bollywood Reacts to CAA Protests

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)