The Ingenious ‘Upayas’ In The Arthashastra Could Still Be Used In Administration Today

by Sumedha Verma Ojha - Sep 16, 2016 05:16 PM +05:30 IST
The Ingenious ‘Upayas’ In The Arthashastra Could Still Be Used  In Administration TodayPhoto: Wikimedia Commons
  • The management of foreign policy and external relations could well take a leaf out of the Arthashastra and use all the four devices or ‘upayas’ to achieve diplomatic objectives.

In an earlier article on the Arthashastra, ‘artha’ was explained as one of the goals of individual human existence. Understood in an extended universal sense, it assumes the form of the desire for well-being in general, which can be made possible only by the state. The state has the two-fold aim of palana (administration) and labha (acquisition of territory) if this well-being is to be achieved.

In the context of the second of these two aims, Kautilya’s Arthashastra deals with defence and external relations of the state at length. Defence and foreign relations are intertwined; if the vijigishu, the all-conquering king with a powerful army (as envisaged in the Arthashastra), wants to extend his territory and expand his influence — how should he interact with other states? Foreign policy is summed up in the famous ‘rajamandala’ theory, which details the way to conduct relations with each type of constituent of the ‘circle of kings’. These relations are established and carried on with the help of envoys, and policies can be classified into six gunas; sandhi (the policy of peace), vigraha (the policy of hostility), asana (the policy of remaining quiet), yana (marching on an expedition), sanshraya (seeking shelter) and dvaidhibhava (combined policy of sandhi and vigraha).

Intimately connected with these are the four means, or upayas, which can be used to make an antagonist bend to the will of the vijigishu; saman, dana, danda and bheda, translated as conciliation, gifts, dissension and force. They appear to be even more ancient than the concept of the six gunas and more universal in their application, although there are clear similarities between them and the gunas. Saman is a policy of peace similar to sandhi, danda is vigraha combined with yana.

The gunas are applicable only to foreign policy while upayas have a wider application and can be used to secure the submission of anyone, be it a recalcitrant son, brother or kinsman, or a rebellious chief, a neighbouring prince or foreign chieftain. It is mostly bheda and, tangentially, the other three upayas that we shall look at here, leaving other topics for a future exposition.

The upayas are defined in Book Two.

Saman or ‘conciliation’ can be achieved in five ways, praising merits, mention of relationships, pointing out of mutual benefits, showing advantages and placing oneself at the other’s disposal.

Dana consists of conferring benefits of money.

Bheda or ‘dissension’ is creating apprehension and reprimanding.

Danda or ‘force’ is killing, tormenting and seizure of property.

Each earlier one in this group is less forceful than the succeeding ones. Conciliation is one-fold; gifts are two-fold, being preceded by conciliation; dissension is three-fold, being preceded by conciliation and gifts. Force is four-fold, being preceded by all the other three. This is the natural order of using these means — saman, dana, bheda and danda. However, they can be used in many combinations — as per the situation— and against the natural order, if necessary.

Using the means singly and in different combinations yield 15 ways of using them in the natural order and a similar number of ways of using them against the natural order; 30 combinations in all!

They are to be used as per the situation and the targeted party — saman could be best for enemy officers mistrusted by their king, dana for winning over the treacherous from their sovereign, bheda would break up confederacies most effectively while danda should be used against a stronger enemy.

Although all the means are discussed in the text, it is bheda which crops up the most often, in keeping with Kautilya’s predilection for intrigue and espionage. Sowing dissension through the spy network and then reaping the benefits is a cheap and bloodless way of conquest, saving the kosh or the ‘treasury of the state’ for other uses. This upaya is discussed mainly in Books 7, 9, 11 and 12. We shall consider all of these keeping the most detailed, Book 11, for the last.

Book Seven, which discusses the measures of foreign policy, also has a discussion on the means of achieving these through the means or upayas. When in conflict, saman and dana should be used against weak kings and bheda and danda against stronger kings. If the opposition consists of a confederacy of kings, bheda is but the most natural method of breaking up this enemy confederacy.

A most interesting example of the breakup of a confederacy is found in the Mudrarakshasa, a historical play written by Shudraka in the fifth century CE, about the ascension of Chandragupta Maurya to the throne of Pataliputra and its aftermath. Faced with a confederation of five kings led by the Paurava Malayketu, ready to march against the newly-installed Chandragupta and reinforced by the defection of the former Prime Minister of Magadha, Rakshasa, to its side — Chanakya uses bheda masterfully. Mistrust between the constituent kings is created through misinformation, confusion and lies till the confederation breaks up. Again, this play is also an example of bheda used against Rakshasa to manipulate him into joining forces with the Mauryas, and agreeing to become Chandragupta’s Prime Minister. It is a most entertaining example of this upaya playing out in a real-world scenario.

Book Nine: If, as a measure of foreign policy, the vijigishu has decided to employ yana and march on an expedition against an antagonist, there are certain precautions to be taken and thought to be put into it. The king has to consider the relative strengths of power, place and time and various dangers of conspiracy and revolt from all sides, from officers, traitors, enemies, etc. There are dangers which bring advantages or disadvantages or uncertainty with them and the thoroughness with which they have been dealt with is a lesson on comprehensive defensive thinking. This book, on the activities of a king about to march on an expedition, discusses how to overcome these dangers using the four upayas in different combinations, as most appropriate to the given person or situation. 

As always, secret agents are a weapon to be deployed to create dissension among conspiring elements, be they internal or external, single or in groups. The skilful use of rumours of poisoning and assassination, false remarks against a conspirator supposedly by a co-conspirator, inducements to betray, gossip, sending of forged letters, honouring one conspirator to inspire jealousy and anger in another; all these are to be cleverly used. There is no end to the deviousness and manipulation. The methods and combination of using upayas mentioned above are explained clearly in this book.

Book 12: This deals with a situation where the vijigishu finds himself attacked by a stronger king; in such a case again, the use of three upayas — saman, dana and bheda is recommended to be used.

Book 11: Sanghas, or oligarchies, were the proto-democratic republics of ancient India. They were forces to be reckoned with not only in the post Vedic Mahajanapada period but also in the Mauryan age. An echo of the prestige and power attached to them lingered till the Gupta period when Chandragupta I issued a special coin on his marriage to a princess of the Licchhavi sangha.

According to Kautilya, the gain of a sangha as a friend is best among the gains of an army and an ally; for they, being closely knit, are unassailable for enemies. He mentions the Kambojas, Surashtras, Ksatriyas, Srenis and others who live by an economic vocation and the Licchhavis, Vrijjis, Mallas, Madrakas, Kukuras and Kurus and Panchalas and others who make use of the title of kings.

He advises the vijigishu that he should win over those of them who are friendly with saman and dana and those hostile through bheda and danda. The stealthy use of force, upamsudanda is also recommended.

These sanghas were characterised by collective leadership and the idea was to sow dissension amongst the chiefs, weaken and divide them. After this, the weaker elements were to be removed and settled away from their territory.

Strife between chiefs was to be fomented by many different methods, for instance, secretly killing one chief and blaming it on another. Murder could be made plausible by provoking lust for the same woman— a secret agent— and exploiting the resulting jealousy. Multiple scenarios and methods for achieving this end are drawn up and explained. Arousing ambition and using it against the sangha members is also described. For instance, the ambitious son of a chief could be told that he was actually the son of a king but kept hidden for fear of enemies; he could be convinced to fight with the sangha members to achieve kingship.

The understanding and exploitation of human nature at its most stark is on display in this section.

After fomenting strife and internal fighting, the vijigishu is advised to assist the weaker party with money and arms, make him fight with the hostile group and urge him to kill his rivals.

Once the sangha becomes weak with infighting, it is easy for the vijigishu to take it over. The Arthashastra is a compendium of political and economic theories; which includes precepts of earlier teachers and gurus who are mentioned through a critique of their pronouncements. The section on oligarchies is a good example of the incorporation of possible pre-existing theories which were based on the extant political formations. During the time of the Buddha, predating the Mauryas and the Kautilya Arthashastra, the most powerful Mahajanapadas were Magadha and Vaishali which were in a constant state of war with each other— a war of attrition neither could win.

In the sixth century BCE, Magadha was a monarchy ruled by Bimbisara and, later, his son, Ajatshatru, while Vaishali was the capital of the Vrijji Confederacy which consisted of a number of sanghas. The Licchhavi sangha was the most important constituent of this confederacy and had to be broken up if Vaishali was to be conquered.

Ajatshatru tried to defeat Vaishali on many occasions but failed. The city was almost invincible. He finally sent his minister Vassakara to ask Gautam Buddha for advice. The Buddha responded by saying that as long as the Vrijjis followed the Seven Conditions of Welfare ( ‘satta aparihaniya dhamma’) no one could defeat them. Most important amongst these were meeting in concord, rising in concord, carrying out all undertakings in concord and acting in accordance with the established institutions of the Vrijjis; in other words, cleaving hard to their unity.

Rightly and shrewdly inferring that the unity of the sangha had to be broken, Vasskara and Ajatshatru made use of the upaya of bheda.

King Chetaka, who Ajatsatru had been unable to defeat, was leading the confederacy defending the impregnable city of Vaishali. Using the services of the ganika Magadhika, the monk Kulvalaka was enticed into betraying Vaishali.

He then entered the city disguised as an astrologer, sowed ferment and dissatisfaction amongst the sangha members, convinced some of the townspeople to uproot the chaitya devoted to the deity Munisuvrata and helped Ajatshatru and his forces to enter the city in the confusion. Vaishali was conquered through the use of bheda and danda.

Another version of this legend has Ajatshatru accomplishing the end of breaking up the Licchhavi chiefs’ unity through his own intrigues with the leading ganika of Vaishali, Amrapali.

It seems clear, therefore, that the importance of confederacies and sanghas predates the Mauryas and some of the political precepts explained in the Arthashastra have roots in earlier political formations. The significance of the sanghas was, of course, to endure for many centuries after Ajatsatru.

The four ‘upayas’ of the Arthashastra had a precise political application and have been explained with examples from politics and history of the first millennium BCE. Further consideration will also yield the fact, however, that these ‘upayas’ are applicable to many modern situations as well. The management of foreign policy and external relations could well take a leaf out of this book and use all the four means to achieve diplomatic objectives.

In multilateral fora such as the World Trade Organisation or the United Nations, where groups of countries with common interests vote together, these means can be used to break up those groups and attract support for India’s policies. In corporate battles, in annual general meetings and boardrooms, too, Chanakya’s four upayas can be at the side of the one who wants to conquer, ready to show the way.

These means are nothing but the way to shape the external environment to be more amenable to one’s own will and desire; be it an individual or a nation, and can be used as such. However, a note of caution: it would be prudent to not take the Arthashastra too literally in this modern age. Assassination and poisoning would definitely not be approved of whether in a corporate boardroom or the United Nations General Assembly.

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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