Thursday, 16 December 2010

Vetting the Cabinet: Ancient Techniques for a Modern Necessity

Book 1, Chapter 9 continued...

Quick recap of the four techniques that Chanakya provides for vetting members of a king's cabinet:

1. Test on grounds of virtue or righteousness or the test of dharma,
2. Test on grounds of greed or the test of artha,
3. Test based on physical lust or pleasure, or the test of kama,
4. Test based on fear, or the test by bhaya.

Once again, Chanakya reverts to his four key pillars of governance: wisdom, wealth, punishment and secrecy. It is also useful to link back these four tests to the four purusharthas discussed earlier in this blog, with the final test - of fear - linking to the most intrinsic yet subtle motivations for human life (moksha). This fourth - link between bhaya and moksha - is the most interesting philosophical leaps in Chanakya's work moving from political philosophy to issues of cultural ideals; I hope to develop further in the reading.

In the second part of this current chapter, Chanakya explains the appointments that ought to follow successes in each of these tests. Once again, this suggests that a king may vet cabinet members for their strengths and weakness on all or any of these grounds. More interesting is the assumption that failure on one of the tests does not necessarily bar a person from occupying a government post, but rather is used as a guide to the most appropriate government portfolios.

According to Chanakya, here are the appointments based on successes of each of the four varieties of tests:

1. Those who successfully pass the test of dharma ought to be appointed to positions dealing with law enforcement, including the judiciary. In fact, these candidates are best suited, according to the philosopher, for duties that require ethical rigour but also potentially very difficult decisions of violent punishments.

2. Those who successfully pass the test of artha are to be appointed to fiscal positions, in charge of treasury, tax collection, revenue generation and other functions in the state's management of finances.

3. Those who successfully pass the test of kama are to be appointed to oversee functioning of businesses and enterprises linked to luxury, including pleasure houses, courtesans, gambling, liquor production, and management of controlled substances in the state. In addition, these candidates are also best suited to manage the king's own living and working quarters.

An aside: I find this the most fascinating aspect of Chanakya's treatise: he views unsavoury activities as not to be banned but to be regulated by the state and thus made to contribute to the treasury. I find the innate practicality of this stance far more to my tastes than the Abrahamic texts informed and morality based laws that most states (especially western democracies and modern India) attempt to implement.

4. Those who pass the test of bhaya must be appointed to defence, protection and security areas of the goverment.

Chanakya recommends that those who pass all four tests should be granted ministerial or senior positions within the king's cabinet.

However, in a display of ruthless realpolitik, he points out that those who fail these tests are not necessarily to be discarded. Instead, he recommends that those fail the four tests ought to be appointed to manage far flung enterprises including forestry and mining, both areas that are labour intensive as well as removed from the court and capital. In context of Chanakya's later discussion of political assasssinations, this also suggests that the king may decided to get rid of such disloyal advisors in a politically expedient way without giving rise to criticism or controversy.

Once again, Chanakya refers to earlier theorists and points out that the king must also take into account the abilities and talents of those who have passed the tests and appoint them accordingly to appropriate posts. So simply passing a temperament test ought not to be the sole criterion for appointment!

Moreover, Chanakya also calls on earlier theorists (once again indicating that much of earlier political thought is now lost to us) to emphasise a key point: at no point in the tests should the king allow himself or the consort to be used in any way. This distance ensures that no ill-feeling is attached to the king and an impression of equality is maintained in the court.

He provides a further warning to the king in carrying out the four tests, advising that these be done with a maximum level of discretion. Using the metaphor of poison dissolved in water, he points out that sometimes, the mere accusation of misbehaviour or disloyalty may prompt a person to behave in that manner.

To ensure that such a person can be contained and brought back into the fold, the king must retain a distance from those conducting the test. While the secret service of the state may be used, it is necessary that the royal house remain above the practical machinations of governance, if not in practice then in image.

This chapter begins to address one of the key points of Chanakya's statecraft teachings: that of the use of secret service and spies. As mentioned earlier, secrecy is one of the four key pillars for his statecraft policy. However, unlike many later (and Western) political thinkers, Chanakya is quite clear about the ways in which spies may be used for internal and external policy making and implementation.

The next chapter begins to enter into details of formation of secret service and appointment of spies.

Till very soon...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Vetting the King's Cabinet: Ancient Techniques for a Modern Necessity

First of all, apologies for the long silence since my last post. Unfortunately bureaucratic matters have taken up a lot of the past couple of months. However, onwards...

Book 1, Chapter 9:

Quite contrary to the modern practise of vetting cabinet appointments and advisors before their appointment, this chapter suggests secret ways of testing the loyalty of key appointments after they have taken up their posts. However, unlike the current practice, the vetting is meant to not check up on potential, background or indeed character traits but rather ensure loyalty and appropriate behaviour once the advisors have taken up their positions. For this, Chanakya suggests three key ways of testing loyalties and behaviour of cabinet members. Moreover, he provides specific instructions for each of these.

Before describing each of the tests, it is necessary to note that the motivations and ideas for these are guided once again by the crucial principle of the "purusharthas."

The first of these is under a very curious definition of "the virtuous solution" or the "test of virtue" or "Dharma" Chanakya suggests that the king reach a secret agreement with the royal priest and find a false pretext for dismissing him/her from the post, thus freeing the priest to appear as the injured party and carry out a secret task.

In turn, the priest then approaches any suspicious advisor, or indeed all advisors in turn, to declare the king as lacking in virtue and incapable of governance. The priest also suggests that the king ought to be replaced by a better person, determined by all the advisors. The priest must also misinform the advisors that he has spoken to the rest of the cabinet who are in agreement with such a seditous plan.

Here it is crucial to note that kingship was not necessarily determined solely by lineage in classical India. A system of limited democracy seems to have prevailed amongst the elite members of the court. In other parts of the region, a rudimentary form of democracy allowed the people to choose and/or dethrone the ruler. This early system survived at least in some of the Rajputana till the medieval era, with documents from the Sisodia court at Chittorgarh suggesting that the nobles played a crucial part in the ascension of a king.

Chanakya continues with his "test of virtue" by explaining that once a traitor is identified, mostly by his/her gullibility and agreement to the plan proposed by the royal priest, the king should soon after ensnare that advisor in some scandal and relieve him of his post.

Here it is crucial to note that, in the whole process, the advisor is never confronted openly, nor is there any suggestion of a public trial. Instead, the advisor is simply dispatched, gently and on other pretexts. This route does allow the king a lot of discretion in not only removing an advisor from the cabinet but also re-instating them to an equal or higher post should the circumstances change.

The second test is the "test of greed" (or Artha). For this test, the king uses his military chief for a similar purpose, first dismissing him and then allowing him to incite other cabinet members to rebellion. The difference here is the motivation: unlike the priest who uses persuasion and accusations of a lack of virtue against the king, the military chief is granted state funds to lure any treacherous advisors. The military chief uses the spy services to contact the cabinet members, offering them lucre in exchange for their support. The traitors are again dismissed from their posts on false charges.

The third test is the "test of lust" (or Kama). For this test, the king makes use of a female ascestic who is closely linked with the royal family and the court. Indeed, in context of Chanakya's civil code which suggests an ease of divorces, prevalence of remarriages, as well as no particular disfavour attached to widowhood, this may suggest a possible area where middle-aged or older single women - widowed or divorced - were politically active.

The ascetic establishes contact with the advisors, and sets up a honey trap. She lures the advisor with sexual intimacy, but then offers potential for money, progress, status as rewards for the advisor revolting against the king.

The fourth technique is a "test of fear." For this, the king uses one advisor who organises a boat trip, hunting trip or some other entertainment. The king not only prohibits the entertainment but also insults the organiser publicly. After this, the kings' spies approach the disappointed and annoyed advisors in guise of young students who wish for an uprising against an unjust king.

In this final option, the use of students or "brahmacharis" or those who have not yet come of age is of particular interest. I have found no other explanation in other texts, but the verse itself suggests that this last technique may work best for the younger advisors who are likely to be angered or disappointed easily.

In the remaining verses, Chanakya specifies the kinds of tasks that should be granted to the advisors who pass each test. The phrasing of these verses suggests that the advisors may be re-instated in specific positions should they fail one test but succeed in another. One risk, to me at least, of this technique is that the king may spend his first months or year in office with constant cabinet reshuffles. But, perhaps, this is a less risky option than having poor or disloyal advisors occupying the wrong office.

I hope to post the second half of the chapter later in the week. Till then, keep well.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Key principles of Other Cabinet Appointments

Book 1, Chapter 8 (cont’d):

After exhaustively listing all the necessary qualities and qualifications for the prime minister, Chanakya uses the rest of this chapter for discussing other cabinet appointments as well as the selection of the royal priest.

Oddly enough, after the exhaustive list provided in the first verse regarding the prime minister’s post, the rest of the chapter seems rather perfunctory. It appears that Chanakya assumes that the king will apply the basics as pointed out earlier to the rest of his/her cabinet.

However, he does emphasise that the king must investigate the background, attitudes, loyalties and abilities of those he plans on appointing to cabinet posts. This verse seems to posit the necessity of “background checks” for all cabinet ministers, as the candidate’s aptness for the post must be confirmed by speaking with neighbours, colleagues, friends, and others in his private and professional circles.

More importantly, this background check is not only intended for politically expedient motives of confirming loyalties or ideological views. Instead, the check should be to confirm the candidate’s knowledge and abilities as well as his/her ways of thinking and acting. Indeed, here Chanakya suggests that debating competitions, professional tests and social gatherings ought to be used to test a candidate’s self-confidence, problem-solving style and aptitude, as well as their personal characteristics of patience, determination and leadership qualities.

A final point: Chanakya suggests that the king meet the candidate personally to determine their ability to not only be “sweet-spoken” but also to check for the capacity for vengefulness. I suppose after the gruelling tests the candidate would have been subjected to by this point, testing for vengefulness is a good idea!

I am beginning to wonder whether Chanakya had developed an HR competencies form and interview process? If so, it would possibly be the earliest and most comprehensive one in existence.

There is a quick digressive verse at this point in the chapter where Chanakya points out that the king has three bases for decision-making: first hand data gathered by personally witnessing an act; second hand information brought to the ruler by others; and finally, the experience gained by successfully completing a task which then provides experiential basis for any future tasks of a similar nature.

This difference is necessary for a ruler to keep in mind as no one human being is capable of carrying out all the tasks necessary for successfully running a kingdom. The king must successfully delegate administrative responsibilities or suffer two major adverse consequences: become overburdened by duties, and lose confidence of the cabinet who begin to believe that they are untrustworthy. For these reasons, stead, a king must know how to appoint the best cabinet possible to carry out the necessary duties.

Not surprisingly, as a final point, Chanakya points out a rather selfish advantage of appointing a good cabinet: the unpopular decisions are seen as being taken by the minister rather than the king, thus sparing him from popular anger.

Hmmmm... I am beginning to see that the Con-Lib coalition is making full use of this idea. In fact, I would highly recommend that Nick Clegg read Chanakya, if only to learn how to survive the Cameron-realpolitik.

The final verse in this chapter addresses the issue of appointing the royal priest. Here the interesting point is not only that the list of qualities required contains the usual knowledge of the four Vedas and astrology, as well as meditative abilities, but that the royal priest must also be fully knowledgeable in political sciences (Chanakya uses the term “dand-niti” or the term for political theory and practice here).

Of course, in addition to the personal qualities, the royal priest must also be “high born” suggesting that family lineage of the priest may provide political advantage to the king. Perhaps, here Chanakya is aware of his own times when Chandragupta Maurya lacked the family connections that may have provided political leverage in his newly acquired empire? Furthermore, Chanakya suggests that the king must maintain filial relationship with the royal priest, treating him like a teacher (guru) or father. Again, echoes of the personal?

A strange aside in this verse: that the king should trust the royal priest with his personal safety. This definitely suggests that for Chanakya, the royal priest not only has a religious and spiritual function but also a political and possibly even a military one. In conjunction with the earlier statement about choosing a high born candidate, this may suggest that Chanakya was fully aware of the “warrior-priest” phenomenon and even quite supportive of this, albeit not in a royal role.

His stand seems to go against the grain as much of the Indian political tradition warns against “priest-kings” or those who combine the Brahmin-Kshatriya traits. However, this verse seems to suggest that although the combination would be dangerous (and possibly totalitarian) in case of the king, it can be followed through in case of the royal priest by appointing a candidate with Kshatriya-Brahmin values.

The final verse explains the advantages of appointing the appropriate royal priest. A good royal priest not only protects the king but also ensures that the deities are kept content with the appropriate rituals. Finally, a successful royal priest ensures that the poor in the realm are kept loyal and happy by ensuring that wealth is redistributed amongst them.

This ends the theoretical aspect of cabinet appointments. The next chapter appears to be taken from a classical human resources manual as it explains the processes of testing the cabinet candidates.

Hope to be able to post on that chapter very soon so watch this space!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Appointment of the Prime Minister: Real Politik Continues

Book 1, Chapter 8

Apologies once again but deadlines intervened. But lets forge ahead nevertheless.

Chapter 8 provides a sort of job description and personnel profile for three key appointments: the prime minister, key members of cabinet and the royal priest.

Chanakya spends most time detailing the qualities that a king should seek in his prime minister or the official who will be the head of the executive branch. The very long list of qualifications for this post range from professional abilities, natural talents as well as personal type. The list that I reproduce below is fascinating not only in its far ranging criteria but also for the priorities it places on various aspects:

1. This official must not only be from the state but also deeply connected to it.
2. Free of any major addictions and bad habits. Chanakya especially considers alcoholism and drug use and promiscuity, beyond the rather wide range of permitted sexual behaviour in those times, a practical risk. It is worth noting that Chanakya's definition of sexual misbehaviour concerns risky sexual behaviour that extends to partners of other influential citizens. Adultery in the western Biblical sense was not nearly an issue in his times.
3. Must be a good rider/controller of chariot, horse, elephant and other vehicles of war
4. Must be well educated in cultural arts, including poetry, music and dance.
5. Must be well versed in political theory and practice, including of course, Arthashastra (although to be fair, Chanakya is talking of the entire corpus of political education rather than plugging his own book).
6. Intelligent, with not only 7, a good memory, but also 8, the ability to read and understand people.

Have to confess that I am not surprised that Chanakya privileges patriotism about all other qualities for this key post. What I am intrigued by - as you will notice - is that he privileges loyalty to the nation/state/kingdom/land over any personal loyalty to the king. Indeed, loyalty to the king is much lower on the list. This is especially apt as Chanakya himself held the post of the prime minister and is obviously writing from personal experience here. He appears to be quite aware of the distinction between a king's interests and that of the realm, and believes that the prime minister should act in accordance with the latter. Once again this is an early indication of a more republican and less monarchist/absolutist tendency in classical Indian political thought.

Interesting also that warrior abilities and cultural finesse take precedence in Chanakya's list over political knowledge. It is almost as if the initial criteria for the job ensures that it is open to all able citizens (nagaraka) of a state. Still, the emphasis on culture is telling, especially for our times when any sense of cultural education has been devalued as non-utilitarian (or useful for commercial enterprise).

Chanakya also spends a fair time in specifying the necessary verbal talents and abilities, explaining that the prime minister must be able to :
9. Speak appropriately, in regard to occasion and company,
10. Crush others in debate,
11. Refute (or as Sarah Palin prefers "refudiate") any untruth or propaganda in a convincing manner,
12. Spin, or create a favourable meaning from something unpleasant that is said.

Am fascinated although not surprised that the verbal/debating skills are so heavily emphasized, even though Chanakya is writing not of a professional politician in a democratic sense but a political appointee. However the need for getting the state's message out across a wide cross-section of constituencies is obviously immune to vicissitudes of history.

In addition, on a personal front, the prime minister should be 13, passionate and driven (good point!); 14, influential and convincing; 15, capable of facing adversity and opposition; 16, well behaved - not in the sense of meek but rather free of coarse or uncouth behaviour; 17, worthy of friendship; 18, capable of sticking to a decision and opinion; 19, loyal (interesting that loyalty to the king comes fairly far down this list!); 20, calm and even-tempered.

The final seven qualities may seem to repeat the earlier ones but obviously Chanakya believed they needed reiteration or more precision. These are more character traits rather abilities and include:

21, capable and strong; 22, healthy in mind and body, with no chronic weakness or ailment; 23, steadfast, and calm in moments of crisis; 24, modest and without arrogance; 25, stable in moods, and thus not likely to waver; and 26, pleasant looking (I guess leaders had to be presentable even in ancient times!).

And finally, 27, the prime minister should not be vengeful or indeed have any long standing enmities. Strangely prescient this bit, in light of Peter Mandelson's memoirs of the Blair-Brown years in government. Perhaps, Chanakya should be made compulsory reading for all aspiring politicians!

Chanakya ends this section with a wonderful recommendation: a king should attempt to find a person with these 27 qualities for the prime minister's post, as one possessing all the listed qualities is the superlative one for the job. However, in the spirit of practicality, he ends with pointing out that a person with a quarter of the listed qualities is a mediocre prime minister. Implicit in this suggestion is that in the absence of a great prime minister, a mediocre one may be necessary, although in case of the latter, the king should be aware of the fact and thus keep a close watch.

The next two sections of this chapter are on qualities of the cabinet minister and the royal priest. I hope to include those as soon as possible. I do have to confess to having a slight bout of RSI, which means typing is a (literal) pain.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Guidance for Appointing Key Advisors: Now the Realpolitik Begins

Book 1, Chapter 7

It seems ironically appropriate to be writing of Chanakya's view on appointing key advisors and ministers on the day that UK heads to a change in government. But idle musings aside, lets plow ahead.

At the beginning of the chapter, Chanakya returns to summarising views of others on this rather key political and administrative matter. Actually this is one of the most interesting chapters as it summarises a lot of contemporary political debate regarding realpolitik, loyalty and the rational bases for a king's decisionmaking processes. A lot of the discussion seems extraordinarily modern.

The first source, of Acharya Bhardwaj, is obviously the orthodox one. Bhardawaj believes the the king's key advisors should be drawn from his classmates, as the king knows them well enough to judge their ability and trustworthiness. In addition, they will be loyal given their prior friendship with the king.

Hmmm...seems like oligarchies have long been the preferred mode of governance by the political orthodoxies!

However, this view is contradicted by Acharya Parashar who believes that having seen the king in compromising, nonserious, playful and possibly even humiliating situations, lifelong friends make inappopriate advisors and ministers. These advisors will always be able to insult the king, while the king will not be able to maintain the requisite professional distance from them.

According to Parashar, a king should appoint those who support his secret and/or private projects. These people are driven by a fear of their secret interests and activities being revealed and will thus remain loyal to the king. In addition, the fear will ensure they will never insult or denigrate the king or royal interests.

This appears to be an early articulation of the fear/greed motivations that so much political science, economics and international relations uses in contemporary times!

However, both the views are contested by Acharya Vishalaksha who insists that this fear of secrets being revealed applies to both parties. Just as the advisors are afraid of the king knowing their secrets, the king too will be burdened by his secret activities being known to his advisors. A king whose secrets are known to others may end up as a puppet in the hands of his advisors. Indeed Vishalaksha points out that the moment a king shares his secret plans or activities with an advisor, he loses control of the person.

Parashar counters and expands this discussion by suggesting that the king should appoint those who have proven their loyalty and affection by putting their own lives on the line for the safety and wellbeing of the king.

This view is countered by Acharya Pishun who dismisses these loyalists as "royal devotees" and points out that loyalty has little to do with ability. Instead he suggests that key advisors and ministers should be chosen based on their prior record and proven ability. He emphasises that ability, dedication and capacity for work are not only necessary for key posts, but critical for the efficient running of a realm. In his view key appointments should be driven by ability, according to Pishun, thus creating an early case for a strict meritocracy.

Similarly, Acharya Kaudpadanta also does not believe loyalty is enough for advisors. However, he takes a more conservative approach, suggesting that hereditary traditions are a good way of choosing key advisors. Kaudpadanta believes in a plutocracy, suggesting that the hereditary elite are intimately familiar with the workings of a government and court and thus best suited for key positions. He further suggests that these hereditary elite are not swayed by rewards or by being unpopular with the king, but are guided by a sort of genetic noblesse oblige.

Funnily enough, he suggests that this form of behaviour is more natural, pointing to cows that prefer their old homes rather than new ones.

But it doesn't end there: Kaudpadanta is refuted by Acharya Vatvyadhi who points out that such a hereditary plutocracy creates trouble for a king, as it believes itself entitled to certain privileges. Vatvyadhi lists money, power, even sex, as possible areas of entitled privileges that a hereditary elite may claim for itself, despite the intentions of the king or the welfare of the realm.

He also appears to think that removing such an elite from the politically powerful posts can be a problem for a king, which makes their elevation to such posts a very
risky proposition. Moreover, he points to the fact that such a hereditary elite would have shared moments of upbringing with the king, making them privy to his weakness and early humiliations (echoing the risks articulated by Parashar earlier).

Indeed Vatvyadhi recommends selecting the best prepared people from a pool of new, educated and well prepared experts. He suggests that a lack of intimacy and prior history ensures a better discipline amongst advisors as they continue to respect and fear the king.

This view is countered by Acharya Bahudantiputra (often also named Indra). He points out that ability and preparation are not enough for a king's advisor. Inexperienced ministers and officials may panic in a moment of crisis, just when the king requires their support. Instead he suggests that instead of "expertise", a king should appoint wise, loyal, patient and steady persons to key positions, who can support him in moments of crisis. He insists that key officials are more appropriately chosen based on their characters rather than their expertise.

At this point, the chapter shifts to Chanakya's voice. He considers the above views as appropriate in their particular contexts but begins to formulate his own theories on such key appointments.

Not surprisingly, he takes an extremely pragmatic view of the situation, pointing out that all the views are useful but a king must decide - based on the situation and the times - the criteria that is most useful to him. Thus, loyalty, steadiness, expertise, lack of experience, experience are all potentially useful, but a king must decide what is needed.

Chanakya does warn that key advisors may be drawn from a large group - those who are close to the king, or new to him, experienced or inexperienced - however, key ministerial (official) posts must be limited and appointed with far greater care.

Indeed, Chanakya gives greater importance to officials with executive powers rather than to advisors, ensuring that the administrative roles are performed by people that the king has chosen with far greater care.

The next chapter takes on the issue of these appointments in greater (and practical) detail. Indeed, Chanakya seems to draw up a rather comprehensive job description and core skills/abilities list, which may serve even today as a guide. This will take some time to digest but I hope to get through that in the next few days, so keep an eye out for an update.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Guidance for a King's Behaviour: Getting to the Nitty Gritty Now

Book 1, Chapter 6:

Having covered a fair amount of ground on all a king must learn, Chanakya moves on to more practical matters. This chapter is quite succint, with only 6 verses although they are packed tight with advice and strictures.

He begins with referencing control over one's senses as outlined in the chapter before and recommends that a king avoid the losses resulting from succumbing to lust, greed etc, and attempt to live in a disciplined manner.

But after that general advice, the verse gets quite specific as to what a king must do (once again the key point is action and not thought or words). Chanakya reiterates out that the king should keep company of knowledgeable and wise people, selected on their basis of knowledge, age and experience.

With help of these sage advisors, the king must focus on the following: develop his/her own intellect and abilities, as well as use spies/intelligence networks to learn more about one's own realm as well as about neighbouring and enemy states.

Ah, here comes the best bit: a king must simultaneously work towards economic improvement and through this wealth creation, help social development, education and progress of the subjects. At the same time as helping the populace gain social stability and economic prosperity, the king should use the economic development to encourage education and intellectual activity as well as establish strict laws to ensure law and order. The king must reward prominent citizens for their contributions (intellectual and material) at regular intervals.

How very modern! Now comes the use of spin as a political tool: Intellectuals, sages, and prominent thinkers should be rewarded with status and cash as part of improving and maintaining the king's reputation! As always with Chanakya, he appeals most to self-interest rather than instincts of charity.

A final stricture in this verse is that a king must do all these tasks consistently in order to assure the populace that he/she is not only aware and interested in their welfare but also absolutely dedicated to that goal. Oh, our politicians could so learn from old guru Chanakya!

The next set of strictures are for all that a king must avoid. These include sex with women who are married to others (sounds logical!), taking others property or rights (again logical as this would create resentment), and finally, murder and/or wanton destruction of life. These seem to be actions that destabilise a king's reputation as well as control.

However the following strictures are also terrifically on the mark and very modern: a king must keep a regular sleep routine, not sleep too much, not be caught dozing during public acts (boredom was a problem even in ancient times); nor should a king behave in lewd manner, joke with officials, or tell untruths. Moreover, the king should not wear inappropriate clothing or behave in inappropriate way. This again is not for any great moral reason, but rather because these lead to the populace losing faith in a king's abilities and dedication to their interest, and hence to a loss of power and influence.

Almost as if afraid that the above list may put off any aspiring rulers, Chanakya softens his stance in the next verse explaining that a king is not prohibited from enjoyment. Material (and thus physical) pleasures are very much available to a king.

However, for purposes of maintaining power, a king must balance out the three key purusharthas: dharma, artha and kama. This is fascinating as he leaves out moksha as the fourth human goal in its entirety. This may be partly due to the material focus of his treatise, but also because he seems to implicitly assume that a balanced pursuit of the three others shall automatically lead to the fourth. This seems to an incredibly pragmatic approach and one that fits with the purposes of the text.

In the verse, Chanakya also warns against the privileging one of three over the others. Having dealt with the dangers of the excesses of artha and kama in the chapter before, he clarifies that dharma also is bad in excess. Although a king must be righteous, an excess of religiosity (or indeed virtue) is unacceptable and dangerous in a king (someone give a copy of this text to the US Republicans as well as the Taliban!). In fact any imbalance between the practice of these three purusharthas leads to political and social unrest and a loss of power (that carrot-and-stick again).

Here Chanakya inserts an aside, insisting that of the three: dharma, kama and artha, it is artha (or economic prosperity) that is most important. With money, one may act with virtue and according to religious requirements; one may also fulfill one's material and physical desires. Lack of wealth however means that neither kama nor dharma can be achieved. I am guessing that all those new age junkies who think of India as the great spiritual retreat obviously never got around to reading Chanakya!

A final set of injunctions: a king must grant the key ministers, advisors and teachers the right to stop him/her from behaving inappropriately. And he tops this with a brilliant example: Should a king lose control when drinking, these key advisors must step in to prevent such weakness being known widely, as well as warn the king against its dangers. There appears to be the implicit suggestion that the advisors should also act as checks to ensure the king's behaviour does not endanger him. Its a bit like having a royal designated driver! Here Chanakya is specific enough to point out that these advisors should check or critique the king in private, not public (very effective, logical and modern).

Should the advisors not have the right to intervene when a king behaves inappropriately, there will be no external check on a ruler, and this can only result in loss of status, power and eventually the realm.

Finally, Chanakya reminds the king (also a reminder to the reader that the text is meant for aspiring leaders), that a king cannot succeed alone. Indeed a king's success is in large part due to good advisors and ministers, who are able to guide as well as check a king's excesses.

He ends by pointing out that a king with good advisor should be considered fortunate. Moreover, a king should be able to reward an advisor who helps maintain his/her reputation and intervenes to check his/her excesses.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Victory over the Senses as a Form of Self-Discipline

Book 1, Chapter 5:

First, apologies for the delay in posting this but the last few weeks have been completely manic at work. However, now, onwards:

This chapter seems to clearly locate Chanakya within the Indic traditions where self-discipline is crucial to material and spiritual success. Other texts, including the Bhagvad Gita stress the issue of self-discipline, but primarily for spiritual reasons. Chanakya links the idea directly to a king's success and failure. So self-discipline is not just about nirvana but rather necessary for gaining and maintaining political and economic power. (Western new age gurus who peddle watered down Indic Mc-philosophies, take heed!)

Chanakya points to the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) and how one must win over these to become jitendra - one who has won over the senses - in order to bring under control the following six flaws: lust, anger, greed, pride, enthusiasm, and joy (I translate mad as enthusiasm as in mad-mast but will be happy to find a more precise term in English. All suggestions welcome).

I am especially intrigued as to how different these temptations (in some ways equivalent to the Christian cardinal sins) from their Biblical cousins. While they do address issues of excess, the focus is quite different.

Chanakya explains that once a human being can give up these six temptations, he/she can be considered wise. He suggests following the duties laid down by the shastras as a way of giving up these six temptations. He warns that without this requisite self-discipline, a king may win over land but will soon lose all. I LOVE Chanakya's carrot-and-stick approach to political conduct.

Ah, some history now! Chanakya then goes on to provide examples from history none of whom I am familiar with, which makes me wonder just how much our Indian historians don't do their jobs!

Chanakya starts with examples of kings who gave in to lust (interesting prioritisation here). So first there is King Dandakya of Bhojvansh who lusts after a Brahmin's daughter and abducts her. Not surprisingly, he is cursed by the father and as a result loses his kingdom and his lineage is destroyed. A similar fate befalls the Vaidehi king Karaal.

This is very interesting as Chanakya's focus on real-politik overturns the Shastric prescriptions for the kinds of marriage allowed to a kshatriya which a king would most likely be and which includes kidnapping (yes, thats why Prithviraj was still acting within his dharma when he abducted Sanjukta). Perhaps the issue here is the consent and willingness of the bride? As there is little historical information on the two cases, I am left a bit bemused.

Next set of examples are for kings who surrenders to anger. He mentions King Janmajyeya who angered the Brahmins and King Taaljhandh who quarrelled with the Bhriguvanshis. So obviously pissing off the Brahmins is a bad idea for a king? That appears to be the point of the examples so far.

Oh wait: things improve. Ila's son Pururva gives in to greed and loots from all four varnas and is cursed (never mind, again by the Brahmins). Meanwhile, King Ajbindu of Sauvir manages to anger his subjects thanks to his greed. His fate is rather coyly described as "untimely death due to the people's anger." Does that mean the people killed him off? How I wish I could find a historian who could explain these very interesting references!!!

But we now move to pride and the examples here are better known: Ravana and Duryodhan. Oh more obscure examples here: King Dumbhodrav (I LIKE that name! King Dumbo it was!), and King Haihayaraj Arjun (another topper of a name) who was killed by Parshuram, both for their pride as it led them to act in rash and silly ways.

Interesting switch here: it is not a god that punishes as in the Bible. Instead the six flaws lead people to abandon reason and make mistakes. This makes for a very clear divide in Indic ethics and morality from the Western one: its not what you think, its what you do that counts.

Pride also leads to the downfall of the asura king Vatapi as well as the Yadavas who conspired against and deceived the guru-priest Dvaipayan out of pride.

Two major themes seem to emerge from here: Indian history and texts always warn against "priest-kings" as those are considered dangerous and destabilizing to the social structures. In this chapter that point is definitely emphasised with the Brahmins emerging as a definite counter-balance and check for a king's (and thus kshatriya) behaviour.

The second point is even more curious: Chanakya points out that transgressions by a king who cannot control the six emotional flaws leads to the end of his kingdom (temporal), premature death, as well as the end of his lineage (a big one in Indic traditions). Yet NOT transgressing provides rewards that are entirely temporal: a peaceful and prosperous reign until the end of the king's life. Here the stick definitely carries more weight than carrots. Or perhaps this is yet another indication of how strong a materialist focus many of Indic philosophical traditions have?

The chapter ends with pointing out the good kings, including: Jaamdaganya (son of Jaamdagni), Parshuram, Ambreesh, and Naabhaag (son of Nabhag).

I am left slightly discontent with this chapter not for philosophical reason but because many of these names refer to kings I know little about. I can understand that these are from pre-Mauryan times but it does seem that we could do better at compiling information about them today.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Advantage of Good Company: Whoa, getting modern now

Book 1, Chapter 4:

Just when I thought things were changing, Chanakya goes back to hammering home the issues of a king's education. Actually perhaps now its more accurate to say that we're back to a king's over all development.

This time he outlines the advantages of networking/socialising with influential people, as well as those with greater experience. And not surprisingly, makes a rather persuasive case for hanging out with those of greater experience, strength, intelligence and power. would this translate to social media?

After summarizing what has gone on in the previous chapters, Chanakya points out that only education and experience grant ability to a person (not making a case here for the king, but all citizens it appears). First mention then of meritocracy! Cool!

Interestingly he separates ability (although perhaps character would be a better term) into two aspects: one that is only for show and thus for profit, and the other which is part of oneself and developed over time through education and experience. He obviously thinks the second one is better.

This second form can be developed by those who (this gets interesting):

1. Are capable of hearing harsh, even unpleasant truths,
2. Wish to learn knowledge acquired by hard work and experience (I assume of others),
3. Want to acquire knowledge thus learned and make it their own,
4. Want to debate viewpoints they may hold, even with those who do not agree,
5. Take on truth they learn as knowledge,
6. Want to acquire knowledge after examining, debating, and testing its truth.

WHOA! I like this early articulation of the liberal mind!

But unfortunately the next sloka completely goes against this wonderful liberal thinking as it points out that a student has no right to pick his/her area of study. Instead it is the teachers who, after testing for aptitude, shall decide the field of study.

This weird contradiction reminds me of how often ancient texts appear to have contradictory elements. How much of it is due to the practice of including commentary or new text within an old one (historically proven, this fact)? This would suggest that not all of this particular text is also untampered. I will be keeping tabs on the anomalies, but this one is a real stand out so far.

The next part of the book gets specific on when education must begin: after the ceremony of shaving the child's head (mundan), the child should be taught the alphabet and numbers. The four areas of education (as pointed out earlier) are taught upon the "second birth/thread" ceremony. I think this makes it post-puberty. These advanced learnings include knowledge acquired at universities, from political and economic experts, and other necessary advanced knowledge.

Finally, Chanakya suggests a sort of internship where a student may learn about key practical aspects - truce, treaties, agreements - on a daily basis by observing important people in the various fields. How very modern!

Okay another whammy: apparently there is a time span specified for this advanced learning: a student must learn for 16 years, after the thread ceremony.

Looking at other texts (such as Manu), the thread ceremony is around ten or twelves years of age. This suggests that a person must study till an average of 24 or 25 years of age. This throws up a very interesting fact: if a person may not be married while a student (ie brahmacharya ashram), there appears to be a definite injunction against child marriages in India.

Indeed, in this case, even the current age of marriage for men and women in India according the Hindu Family law contravenes the age provided by Chanakya.

Oh wait: there is a even a varna-based chronology for the thread ceremony: Brahmans at the age of 8, Kshatriyas at 10 and Vaishyas at 12. This would mean that a banker/trader can only marry at the age of 27, which makes perfect logical sense in modern terms: university, masters, at least three years of initial work experience before marriage!

Okay now back to the king's schedule. I assume these final verses are about the "internship" and continued education that Chanakya recommends.

He suggests that a king must practice and learn military-linked matters: using weapons, control of elephants and horses in the morning.

After lunch and post-rest, a king must take up study of political and religious theory, biographies, histories, as well as stories from the past, present and faraway lands. I like the fact that stories get a mention: obviously ancient Indians were better than contemporary social scientist in realising the value of literature as a source of information.

Finally, a king must keep aside the night and the time after his duties to learn new subjects and facts. Here, Chanakya is very specific, pointing out that a king must make a real effort to learn new things, asking it to be explained by experts until its absolutely clear.

Concluding the chapter, Chanakya emphasises the importance of continued learning by explaining that new knowledge keeps the brain flexible and quick, develops intellect, provides confidence and stregth.

But beyond the advantages to the self, such continued learning ensures that a king is capable of responding to the realm's needs, can forward-plan the welfare of the people, serve as a model for the people, as well as encourage the populace to do the same.

Boy! The Americans need to read this section! See why Obama is better than Sarah Palin? Dumbing down of the political elite is a bad idea for the entire realm, or so Chanakya would say.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Importance of Wealth and Strength: Now We're Getting to the Meat

Book 1, Chapter 3:

After the discussion on the importance of self-knowledge and Vedic knowledge and rules, Chanakya moves on to the real meat of his theory: importance of economic knowledge and an understanding of "statecraft."

This is where things get interesting as Chanakya reveals himself the ultimate pragmatist.

According to Chanakya, economic knowledge extends to agricultre, animal husbandry, metalcraft, mining and trade (nice summary of ancient economic activity there!) This knowledge employs these economic activities to create wealth, and to create and enhance status by virtue of possessions, servants, etc through that wealth. For a king, this knowledge is the means of improving treasure, and through that treasure, improving military might. That military might is the only practical way a king may control his/her subjects and ensure supremacy over the enemy!

WHOA! This is the Chanakya I have grown up with: practical beyond belief. Strange how he emphasises the necessity of wealth creation as necessary foundation for a kingdom's supremacy, maintenance and expansion.

However, the next verse gets a bit complicated. Chanakya points out that self-knowledge, Vedic knowledge and economic know-how are really reliant on a thorough understanding of statecraft. It is the fear of force/punishment (Chanakya uses the term "dand-niti") that ensure that friends and foes behave appropriately and the populace follows the correct path! I love this strangely authoritarian streak he seems to hold at his theoretical core!

However - WAIT! He then quotes earlier scholars who believed that statecraft or dand-niti alone would ensure that the populace abided by the law and that the enemies are kept under control. In fact, apparently earlier scholars give primacy to this policy of force.

Chanakya however is quite liberal for his times, pointing out that a king who is too strict and eager to mete out punishment is eventually hated by the subjects. On the other hand, a king who is too lax incites contempt from the populace. This is why the king must use force with a great deal of care.

He further warns that a king must not use punishment while influenced by lust or greed, anger or a desire for vengeance. In such cases, even the weak, the ascetics and those renouncing citizen privileges are angered, and the hatred and anger of the citizenry (those of the grahastya ashram) swells beyond control. A discontent populace is dangerous for a king's power.

On the other hand, a lax ruler creates a society without law and order, where only the strong prevail, and the weak are left unsafe and vulnerable. These are moments of anarchy and bode ill for a king's rule.

But a king who practises the policy of force carefully and wisely ensures that even the weak of the realm feel protected, invulnerable and content.

As such, Chanakya explains that when a king practises a policy of force applied wisely is when the realm can be safe and stable. In such cases, force is applied through knowlege and with impartiality. This practise ensures that the populace stays within the boundaries of the law, encourages people to follow the laws, and thus ensures security and stability within the realm.

Hmmmm....slightly authoritarian but I can see an early articulation of the allure of a benign dictatorship.

Friday, 8 January 2010

A King's Education Completed: Final Injunctions for a Successful King

Okay folks, sorry I've been remiss in posting stuff here, but the call of the holiday season was a little too insistent. In any case, as a dutiful member of the second stage of life, I was following Chanakya's injunctions of feeding and taking care of friends, family and other members of the community.

Book 1, Chapter 2, concluded

The final verses of this chapter lay out a general set of rules for all four ashrams and varnas. These are interesting as they almost entirely contradict the exigencies of being a ruler:

1. One must not harm another being either in thought, word or action. This seems to go against the need for martial action or indeed punishment that a ruler must necessarily exercise. I think this one makes more sense when considered in the context of the Bhagwad Gita's view of warrior dharma where violence is acceptable when carried out without anger, fear, hatred or greed. Again this seems to suggest that its not the act itself but the motivation for it that matters most within the Hindu tradition.

2. To remain truthful and reject any form of deceit. Ummm, not sure how this impacts the very complex discussion on espionage and deception that Chanakya takes up later. But at this stage, I am assuming this links to the point above where this is about a person's internal integrity and truth rather than what they do externally. Thus a ruler may lie as long as he/she is aware of the need for deceipt and is practising it in line with their duty as a ruler. Wonder if I am getting this one right?

3. Retain integrity although my Hindi translation uses the term pavitra which is not quite the same as pure or sacred. In fact no classic Indian language appears to contain the word for sacred, thus rejecting the Western/Semitic distinction between the sacred and the profane. Classical Indian texts only distinguish between clean and unclean, thus suggesting that all of life can be rendered from one to the other through pollution or cleansing. Thus nothing in the universe occupies a stable sacredness. Cool! I like this idea.

4. To eschew envy and not hold grudges. This one seems again to go back to the idea of acting without fear or greed, or actively solely for the purpose of fulfilling one's dharma rather than for greater gain.

5. And of course, tolerance and compassion! I can foresee an entire post on the issue of warrior's compassion and its philosophy.

Chanakya further points out that following one's dharma leads to happiness and moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth), while straying from it leads to social disharmony and damages one's karmic progression.

And now comes the whammy! Chanakya explains that a king's duties include not only following his/her individual path of duty but also creating the necessary political and social structures to ensure that the realms subjects also follow their dharma.

Part of this may be achieved by honouring those who are virtuous (ie follow the rules for varna and ashram laid out earlier) and punishing those who stray from those. Only when these laws are maintained may a king be counted as successful.

Ah! I suddenly am beginning to see why "saam, daam, dand, bhed" (mind, money, force and secret) are going to be employed by this rather well-educated king!

Well, that concludes this chapter. Chapter 3 appears quite short although again fairly dense. I am beginning to realise that Chanakya is just setting the philosophical stage for the realpolitik thats to follow.