Would a reading of Chanakya help?
Continuing the series of extracts from the Arthashastra, this article will explain the Rajamandala theory of Chanakya and see if we can view modern geopolitics through its prism.
This is one of the most significant and enduring theoretical constructs of Chanakya. In books six and seven, the ‘world’ around the ‘king’ is visualised and the policies or gunas to engage with this world in the most successful way possible, are set down.
In the context of the vijigishu or the king, the aim is to secure an increase in his own power at the cost of his natural enemy/enemies on his way to becoming a world conqueror. He is to adopt policies guided solely by this consideration. The interest of his own state is the supreme criterion, all else subordinate to this.
There are two ways of understanding the circle of kings which makes up the ‘world’ relevant to the vijigishu, although both of them posit 12 constituents of this mandala.
In the first view, there are 12 kings, the vijigishu (would-be conqueror), the ari (enemy), mitra (ally), arimitra (enemy’s ally), mitramitra (ally’s ally), arimitramitra (ally of the enemy’s ally), parshnigraha (enemy in the rear), akranda (ally in the rear), parshnigrahasara (ally of the enemy in the rear), akrandasara (ally of the ally in the rear), madhyama (middle king between state and enemy and stronger than both), udasina (king lying outside, stronger than the vijigishu, ari and madhyama).
In the alternative view, there are four principal kings, the vijigishu, the ari, the madhyama and the udasina. All of them have a mitra and a mitramitra. There are therefore four sets of three kings each, making 12 in all.
The number 12 is meant less as a numerical statement of the number of kings than a classification of the kind of relationships which can arise when a state tries to establish its supremacy over other states. In the modern context, we may take conquest to mean achieving the strategic foreign policy objectives of the state on the global stage.
The Arthashastra itself seems to refer more to the first conceptualisation than the second.
For the purposes of a modern reading, however, it would be instructive and interesting to fit modern geopolitics into the second framework and see how the foreign policy measures advised by Chanakya could play out in today’s world.
The classification virtually suggests itself; if India is to be the state trying to promote its interests, the vijigishu, then the ari or enemy is Pakistan, the madhyama, China and the udasina, the US.
Keeping this in mind, one can examine the methods or gunas for containing the enemy and promoting state interests set out in the Arthashastra. One can also see if India’s foreign policy has appropriately evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of itself, its enemies and allies.
One has to keep in mind the fact that this is not a question of a simplistic geographic application of the mandala theory, either in concentric circles or in a straight line, as is often done. It is more a question of interstate relations and clash or convergence of interests.
The six methods of dealing with other constituent states in the circle are sandhi (peace), vigraha (hostility), asana (remaining quiet), yana (military expedition), sanshraya (seeking shelter) and dvaidhibhava (a combination of sandhi and vigraha).
The normal rules are that sandhi is to be followed when one is weaker than the enemy. It is forced on one because of comparative weakness, but is a temporary measure to be abrogated when one has grown in strength.
Hostility or vigraha can be simply defensive or actively offensive and is to be used if the vijigishu is stronger than the enemy.
Asana is used when both the states are equal in power, it means waiting in the hope that the enemy becomes weaker.
If one is very strong, then yana should be resorted to – it goes hand in hand with vigraha. Sanshraya is to be used if one is much weaker than the enemy and cannot defeat it. Dvaidhibhava is recommended when, with the help of another source, one’s enemy can be fought, so sandhi with one state runs congruent to vigraha with another. This is not a separate policy but merely a combination of two policies to be used when circumstances warrant.
Let us attempt an analysis of a burning issue of today, India’s policy towards Pakistan, in the context of this ancient formulation from the Arthashastra.
Pakistan may be designated as the enemy or ari for the purpose of this analysis. It is an enemy which is weaker than India. However, the policy being followed vis a vis Pakistan for the past 30 years, at least, has been either sandhi or asana; there are even shades of sanshraya or asking for shelter, in appealing to one of the two erstwhile superpowers or currently, to the single superpower, the US.
Chanakya would have recommended either vigraha or yana or dvaidhibhava, the ways in which to deal with weaker enemy states (regardless of the nuclear posturing; neither in conventional military strength or economics or soft power can Pakistan hope to beat India).
Yana, mounting a military expedition was spectacularly successful in 1971 but the gains were frittered away.
Dvaidhibhava can be tried by allying with the udasina, the US, which would have to be weaned away from its support to Pakistan and persuaded to help or remain neutral in any hostilities with it or on the diplomatic stage.
The fact that India lurches from vigraha, to sandhi to asana does it no strategic good in its relations with Pakistan.
At the moment it is Pakistan, the ari, which, in alliance with the madhyama (China) and the udasina (the US), is playing a Kautilyan game with India at the receiving end.
The same analysis will yield different results if China is put in the box of the ari, and Pakistan made an ally of the enemy. The role of madhyama could conceivably be fulfilled by Japan or the EU and the udasin by the US. The results of the analysis would be radically different given the differing strengths of the respective countries and their policies towards India.
Indian foreign policy mandarins must and should carry out a detailed Kautilyan analysis taking into account not only the other three countries mentioned here but others, too; from our (current) mitras Afghanistan and Bangladesh to the outlying circles of the Middle East, Russia, Central Asia, the EU, Japan, Australia etc, and develop the appropriate method for dealing with them, keeping our foreign policy and national objectives in mind.
It is a truism that there are no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests. No one understood this better than Chanakya. The be all and end all of foreign policy is always the advancement of the nation.
In his words, the appropriate use of the six measures of foreign policy enables the vijigishu to play with the other kings as he pleases, they become, as it were, tied to him by the chains of his intellectual powers.
In modern terms, and it is astonishing how easily this 2,300-year-old theoretical formulation lends itself to a deeper understanding of modern politics, the use of Chanakyan methods will make India an agile and a skilful player of all the great games in progress, for the one end of furthering its own interests.
After two decades in the Indian Revenue Service Sumedha Verma Ojha now follows her passion, Ancient India; writing and speaking across the world on ancient Indian history, society, women, religion and the epics. Her Mauryan series is ‘Urnabhih’; a Valmiki Ramayan in English and a book on the ‘modern’ women of ancient India will be out soon.
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