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...