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!

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