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In this article, Ayush Pratap discusses Why every student of law specialising in international law must read Chanakya.

“A man is great by deeds not by birth”
– Chanakya (350-275 BCE)

Chanakya – Philosopher, Economist and a Jurist

Nothing vindicates belief better than reality. 2400 years ago, Kautilya compiled the Arthashastraand with it he proved to be a kingmaker as he enabled the inception of the Gupta dynasty by destroying the Nanda empire The Arthashatra encapsulates the science dealing with state affairs in the internal as well as the external sphere i.e. it is the science of statecraft or of politics and administration. It endured the test of time and it has since withstood the test of credibility. When a thinker exemplifies his vision and foresights it is crucial and extremely useful to understand the elements of this thought that has contemporary relevance. If we can learn and assimilate even a fraction of the wisdom that Kautilya embodied it would be an enriching experience. The problems that existed then persist in a more widespread and magnified manner in the contemporary world.

Modern day world is mired with innumerable economic, social and political problems. These problems have been approached with a wrong orientation and as an outcome these problems continue to thrive. Nonetheless, many of the problems continue to be with us and have assumed more serious forms than before. The question that arises is that “Does Arthashastra holds the capability of becoming a torchbearer to find solutions to contemporary problems? This question might be completely obsolete for some readers and some must be quite perplexed doubting the relevance of ideas in the text which is dated some 2400 years ago. Technology has grown by giant strides but the core social fabric of the society continues to be the same as it was 2400 years ago.

Kautilya developed his economic ideas by taking into consideration the social, economic and political conditions of his time but Kautilya’s Arthashastra contains some universal truths that transcend the boundaries of time and space. In fact, its relevance has increased and is increasing day by day with the modem day problems becoming even more tangled than it was before. Arthashastra is the product of centuries of evolved strategic thinking. Kautilya’s Arthashastra is a “Magnum opus” which encapsulates the science dealing with state affairs in the internal as well as the external sphere i.e. it is the science of statecraft or of politics and administration. It is a classical work of Strategic Management and can be considered as the foundational text for modern day

International Relations

Chanakya’s word still hold a meaning and especially when India has been victim of frequent political upheaval. It seems ironical that the country which was unified centuries back single-handedly by this genius is today facing mutiny from within. We frequently complain about the rising prominence of foreign powers in our internal affairs deteriorating the stability of our country. The very basic treatise of diplomacy by Chanakya seems more than appropriate. The golden words of Chanakya “Every neighbouring state is an enemy and the enemy’s enemy is a friend” reveals the secret of foreign policy.
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Not only did Chanakya transformed the face of politics and economics through his Arthshastra but he also had outlined measures to improve lives of common citizens by his wise words of Chanakya Neeti. As there has been a destructive manipulation of religion in our common life by the self- proclaimed saints, his words “God is not present in idols. Your feelings are your god”. As our society faces common epidemic of distorting relations, these words comes as precautionary step “Never make friends with people who are above or below you in status”. Such friendships will never give you any happiness” as one should know “There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth” At this point of time when people are running in the rat race of success, find themselves getting away from family and friends, these words seems to be the guiding force. The words the of this exemplary genius holds true in our life even today. The time ripe to be on the path of knowledge and self-assessment as he himself says, “One should learn from other’s mistakes as life is short for experimenting with yourself”. Kautilya says, the king shall never allow people to swerve from their duties. He also places significant emphasis on the fact that science of public administration is also connected with the 4 Vedas and Anvikshiki. Anvikshiki is the lamp illuminating all knowledge and the means of all actions. It is the foundation of all dharmas.

Today it is well acknowledged that a nation’s power is not solely reliant on military might alone. A nation’s comprehensive power includes geographical landscape, the natural resources it possess within its frontiers, industrial and technological development, size of economy, size and skill of its population and its national leadership besides its military power. Similar is the thought process of Kautilya who in Arthashastra states that there are seven Prakritis (elements) that builds the state and are the reasons behind its progress. These must be free of Vyasanas (calamities) for a state to grow and prosper. Thus, he did not place all his eggs in the military basket alone.

The seven constituent Prakritis (elements) of a state are the King (Swami), Councillors, Ministers and other high officials (Amatya), Territory of state and population (Janpada), Fortified towns and cities (Durg), Treasury or wealth (Kosa), Forces defence, law and order (Danda) and the allies or consultants (Mitra). The king and his ministers signify leadership, the army and the fortified city signify physical security, and the country includes the geographical expanse, its resources and the people who inhabit it. All the elements are quintessential for effective functioning of a state and even if one of them malfunctions the whole state would fall apart. The elements have contemporary relevance as these seven elements can be construed as seven pillars of success in any arena be it business or our educational system.

Kautilya‟s teachings on Sama, Dhan, Dand and Bhed (the four Upayas)

Kautilya‟s teachings on Sama, Dhan, Bhed and Dand (the four Upayas) have coherence in modern day use of diplomatic and coercive power. The four methods could be used singly or in combination of two or three or all together.


Sama it essentially involves elements of psychological and perception management thus winning over the hearts and minds of the adversary / potential adversary. It can be sensed repeatedly in statements or actions of world leaders eg Obama espousing “strategic reassurance” with respect to China, Prime Minister Modi inviting all the leaders of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation countries (SAARC) for his inauguration and following it up with his first two overseas visits to immediate neighbours – “best friend” Bhutan and Nepal.

Dhan means (Placating with Gifts)

“Favour and exemptions or employment in works is gifts”, Dhan is a foolproof way of winning over allies / adversaries / fence sitters. The nuclear deal India signed with US, against severe hurdles, the grant of Major Non–Northern Alliance Treaty organisation Ally status to pakistan by the United states, India relinquishing claims over Katchathivu to SriLanka, according of Most Favoured Nation Status to other countries, launching the “South Asia Satellite”, signing defence deals, facilitating sanction of International Monetary Fund /World Bank loans, grants and aids, swift response during calamities like Tsunami, evacuation of all nationalities from Yemen or simply Obama celebrating Diwali and Gurupurab in White House are a few of the numerous examples of Dhan‟ in action.

Bhed (Sowing the seed of Dissension)

Kautilya states that creating apprehension and reprimanding is dissension. Thus Bhed plays on the mind, feeding on fear, suspicion, hatred or enmity. Secret agents employing overt and covert means and propaganda/ psychological warfare are best suited to create dissensions in the opponent’s ranks. Countries do not talk about the use of Bhed (dissension) in public, but in actual practice, use it liberally to divide the people within a country or break up alliances amongst nations. Pakistan’s attempts in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and North East is an outstanding example of employing Bhed (dissension). The skilful weaning away of erstwhile Warsaw Pact states and breakaway states of Union of Soviet Socialistic Republic and Yugoslavia by the United States led Northern Alliance Treaty Organisation is another such example.

Dand (Use of Force)

The use of force to resolve conflicts needs no elaboration. However, use of force is a measure of last resort when all else has failed, as war would entail losses in men and material even to the victor. Thus, Chanakya, though repeatedly in this Shastra emphasizes on outwitting an opponent but firmly asserts war as a weapon of last resort. Today, countries try to exhaust all available means short of force (Dand) to influence the behaviour of another state. Diplomacy as in the case of Doklam and economic sanctions as in the case of North Korea are permitted to run their course before the option of the use of military force is exercised.

Kautilya was a statesman of one of a kind in the east especially in India. While he made a great contribution to statecraft and challenging the Hindu religious thinking by vilifying morals in war and justifying the end. It is quite evident that Kautilya’s teachings have significant relevance, both in the present and foreseeable future, for the conduct of strategic policy and warfare in the International and more so in the Indian context. Kautilya‟s Arthashastra is a treatise rooted in Indian sub continent and is the distilled, recorded wisdom of a number of centuries of warfare, administration and diplomacy. He could neither have visualized the use of air, water, space and cyber space as frontiers of warfare nor foreseen the employment of Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear weapons or tanks. A detailed study of Kautilya‟s Arthashastra enriches one‟s knowledge of warfare, diplomacy and administration. It also triggers a number of thoughts and emotions. Why has the nation neglected homegrown thinking and embraced things foreign? Is the neglect due to ignorance or it was a result of a deep study? Kautilya’s thinking has definitely shaped the future writings but I wonder what happened to the Indian diplomacy and policies of the statesman of India.

The Kautilyan strategies were seldom applied when the Mughals invaded from the middle-east and later the British conquered India. The key question is can Arthashastra be applied in democracies or is it applicable only to Autocracies. Why is that Plato, Aristotle, Kautilya and Machiavelli all advocate the rule of the king supreme and state as the ultimate power? In my opinion art of war and diplomacy is still applicable but one needs to realize that the social structures are changing faster than they did in earlier times.

I would conclude by his note on statecraft which says, “A wise king trained in politics, will, even if he possesses a small territory, conquer the whole earth with the help of the best fitted elements of his sovereignty and will never be defeated.”




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