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.

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