Swarajya in conversation with Sanjeev Sanyal on the political economy outlined by Chanakya and why his libertarianism was better than Ashoka’s interventionism.
Sanjeev Sanyal is a firm believer in a strong but limited state and an advocate of the ‘Chanakyan’ state. He believes that it is very important to revisit the Arthashastra in the construction of modern political thought. While the specifics can be credited to the age and technology of Kautilya’s times, there are several noteworthy points to understand in Arthashastra.
Kautilya believes that the role of the state is to make sure that it does not have a Matsya Nyaya, where the big fish eats the small fish. Enforcement of contracts, the justice system, consumer protection and protection of property rights are the important things that the state should be doing, not welfarism. He says that while the state has enormous power in doing these things, it should also be a limited state. Chanakya believes that the state has no business in interfering in the lives of people.
In contrast to this are Ashoka’s Edicts, in which Ashoka behaves like an interventionist. Ashoka believed that he was the father of his subjects and that his subjects needed the Dharma Mahamantas to look after them. Sanjeev Sanyal believes that the Indian Republic is an ‘Ashokan’ state – weak and all pervasive.
Chanakya built the Mauryan empire and it collapsed under Ashoka’s reign.
Sanjeev Sanyal goes on to say that if Kautilya was to come back now, he would say that the poor would be much better protected by a functional judicial system than by a system of welfarist subsidies. Otherwise, the big fish will eat the small fish.
Just as it is impossible to tell if a fish is drinking water while it is swimming around, it is impossible to tell if a government official is eating money from the state coffers. The basic truth of government is that the government official is corrupt.
Sanyal concludes by saying that the Arthashastra is a part of our heritage and that it is very important to reexamine the political economy outlined by Kautilya.