Monday, 9 April 2012

Beyond Sedition and Sleeper Cells: The Use of Unsatisfied Subjects in Enemy Lands (I)

Book 1, Chapter 13

This chapter continues from the one before. After considering the ways of shaping public opinion at home, Chanakya turns to the foreign affairs, and the ways of influencing citizens of an enemy state. The chapter seems to involve a mix of soft and hard power, with clear political aims and even more precise targeting of efforts. As this is a long chapter, I will blog it in sections, beginning with the categories of citizens of an enemy state that Chanakya identifies as targets for potential treason.

This chapter begins with a long list of all sorts of people who can be turned against their own state and thus employed for purposes of foreign policy. Again, this is a very modern chapter, and begins with a long delineation of various categories of people who may be motivated by fear, greed, pride or a mix of the three. Many of the categories below will likely resonate with those following current international events and the narratives constructed around them, as well as those who are fond of realist school of political theory. Moreover, the practice of many of Chanakya's ideas is not unfamiliar to contemporary diplomatic and intelligence services. What makes the chapter intriguing is indeed its antiquity and strong realism focus.

Chanakya begins with a list of those who may be persuaded or influence to treason (or rather as he puts it and far more delicately, to one's own ends). These include those: who have been defrauded by the state/king of promised moneys; artists and entrepreneurs offended by a perceived slight or preference for a competitor; those close to the ruler but insulted by being denied access to him; any people who have been oppressed or mistreated by the king; those who have paid the state for favours but been refused; and those insulted by the state or its elite. Chanakya continues the list, being even more specific and adds: those dismissed from high office; those whose wives have been abducted (shades of the Iliad here); those imprisoned or punished without cause; those who have been abduced themselves by the state; those forced to carry out unpleasant or unethical tasks by the state, and those whose families have been forced into exile.

This list contains a few extremely modern characteristics. First, Chanakya also includes any individual who has been especially honoured or rewarded by the state/ruler, apparently as these may be greedy for further inducements. Secondly, Chanakya makes a clear case for religious freedoms and equality, pointing out that those who have been denied religious freedoms and rights are useful targets for enemy states. Here he gets even more specific, pointing also to those from minority religious groupings who may have faced discrimination based on stereotyping or misinformation. For those who believe that India's secularism is a new and postcolonial development, this clear articulation of the dangers of a state mistreating its religious minorities (or treating them as less than equal) should make for a salutory lesson from our antiquity!

The next set of lists that Chanakya provides indicate the inducements each category of individual must be offered, relying primarily on fear and greed as motivation, albeit for not only material rewards.

He explains that the following categories of individuals are most suited for being motivated by aspects of fear: those known for violence motivated by greed; those known for criminal activities including theft, prostitution and robbery; those afraid of being accessories to a crime; those who resort to land theft; and those of violent or unlawful natures but afraid of the consequences a life of crime may bring. Interestingly enough, Chanakya includes the following "white collar" criminals in this same category including: those who have close links with official departments; those who misuse their power to accumulate wealth (many of India's contemporary elite would count here); and those who suck up to the king's coterie in order to gain some reward. The final two categories included here are those that have been declared traitors by the state as well as traitors. Note the fine distinction here and specificity: Chanakya is aware that falsely labelling someone a traitor may serve to push them into real treason.

The second set of individuals are motivated by greed including: those who have lost all wealth and status; cowards or those upset by danger; and those with addictions, including to substances or habits such as gambling. Always modern in his thinking, Chanakya also includes those with spendthrift financial habits.

Chanakya also points to a related aspect, pointing to those who cannot tolerate any slight to their self-image. It is worth noting that Chanakya includes this within the categories motivated by greed and not fear, once again, demonstrating a surprisingly modern view of humans. He lists the following as motivated by their need to maintain their self-image: those who believe themselves successful leaders and policy makers; those who believe themselves to be exceedingly popular; those who are hungry for praise and adulation (celebrity culture anyone!); those who cannot bear a competitor being rewarded or recognised; those who are snubbed by their superiors but show excess generosity to their inferiors; those with volatile temperaments who take no advice and are easily agitated; those who can order the implementation of violent crimes; and finally those with unusually large appetites for life's luxuries.

As one can see, the list above is quite comprehensive but also fits recognisable modern categories, aligning well with those who are often targeted by intelligence and diplomatic services of foreign and/or enemy nations. The most interesting aspect of this chapter, of course, as stated earlier is the articulation of fear, greed and pride as primary motivations (for those who remember their Hobbes, these are articulated as primary motivators by him as well). More importantly, the three factors are also part of the classical Athenian political thesis, and by no means unusual for the Chanakya's time and place. The crucial difference however is Chanakya realpolitik focus as opposed to political theory: he is only interested in this thesis as ground for preparing strategy and implementing specific tactics.

The second part of the chapter provides a comprehensive plan of action for targetting each of the above listed categories with specific tactics. While I will deal with that section in greater detail in the next post, it is worth noting that the primary agency for implementing these tactics is the intelligence services Chanakya valued so highly. Again a lesson that many states that ignore or devalue their intelligence services may want to reconsider!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Managing and Shaping Public Opinion

Book 1, Chapter 12

After that long hiatus, back to this massive tome. No more excuses as the regular readers will already know that far too often my job, hectic life and other writing assignments get in the way of this blog. Still, I do offer my apologies for the delay.

This chapter begins to exemplify Chanakya's reputation as a wily and ruthless political operator. He focusses on ways of gathering information on public discontent and dissent, prescribes ways of dealing with this, and ends with a crucial bit of warning for the ruler.

He begins by explaining that having appointed an intelligence network to gather information on key officials, priests, advisors, a ruler should start a network of informers who can gather information on the public.

The initial verses are quite specific, advising that the ruler assign two groups of spies to public areas. He includes religious sites and events, public meetings, political and religious events, entertainment areas as well as any place of significant public gathering and interaction. He recommends that the two groups of spies (more aptly agent provocateurs) mingle with the crowds and take opposing sides in opining about the ruler. One group of these agent provocateurs praises the king's policies and performance while the other critiques the ruler for harsh punishments - and wait for this terrifically modern gem - tax collection.

Both sides ought to judge the responses of the crowd, noting their support or opposition to both views. Having established the views of the populace, the pro-ruler faction should attempt to convince the opposition of the ruler's justice. This wonderful moment of PR and spin in the ancient world is also intriguingly rich in details. Chanakya suggests that the pro-ruler side explain that the earlier times were marked by anarchy and rule of force, and the state/king were created by the gods to ensure peace, stability and the rule of law.

For the same reason, and to facilitate the smooth functioning of the state, the ancient sages decreed that the state must receive one-sixth of agricultural produce and one-tenth of commercial profits and a small portion of gold from its citizens. Indeed as he points out that even the ascetics must contribute to the state, paying one-sixth of whatever they have collected in the forest or through alms to the state (this final point may be a useful reminder to all the various religion ashrams, churches and madrasas in India!). Even the saints, Chanakya points out, agree that the ruler who protects them is eligible for collecting taxes.

Similarly, the pro-ruler faction of agent provocateurs must explain to the populace that harsh laws and punishments are not arbitrary or unjust, but rather a way of ensuring safety of the citizens' life, honour and property, as well as to discourage criminals.

Here Chanakya takes a tangent into providing a reminder of a king's divine status, pointing out that a ruler (with an implicit assumption that he/she is a just one) is Indra's representative on earth and therefore critiquing him is akin to criticising the gods. Curiously, Chanakya does not provide an older theological or philosophical reference for this idea which makes me wonder if this isn't his own idea of spin.

Moving on, he continues that while keeping the populace supportive of the ruler is part of the spies' duty, they must also assess and identify any discontent or dissent.

He explains that there are citizens who aid the king with property, gold and monies, but also with their attempts to calm dissent. These citizens try to prevent revolt and nullify opposition to the king through not only their material resources but also by their active ability to persuade others. The king must keep an eye on such loyal citizens and reward them frequently with honours, money and other means. The king must also attempt to win back any citizen(s) who may be discontent with the king, using a host of means including persuasion and rewards.

There will of course be a category of discontent citizens who cannot be won back by the king, despite his/her best efforts. Here Chanakya demonstrates his ruthless streak, advising that the ruler create confusion in their ranks, turning one against the other until any revolt is neutralised. The ruler may also accuse these dissenters of tax evasion or treason, thus spoiling their reputations as respected citizens. Finally, once the public opinion has turned against these citizens, the ruler ought to have them killed in ways that can be written off as accidents or suicides. Another way to deal with determined dissenters is to force them into exile as well as turn their friends, associates and relatives against them.

Chanakya points out that it is common that prominent citizens who are afraid or angry with the ruler join the enemy, either internal or external. Such citizens are also quick to join conspiracies or plots against the state. One way of dealing with such citizens is for the king to appoint them to the court or palace posts, thus keeping them (and often their loved ones) in his/her control. Another possibility is that should they not agree to be part of the royal service, these prominent citizens may be held prisoners. Similarly, they may also be sent to far off mines or projects where they are not only at risk but also will lose contact with any and all collaborators.

Chanakya repeats the need for a ruler to use both reward and punishment to motivate citizens (fear and greed principle at work in ancient times). He points out that rewards not only work as sweeteners for those who receive them but also are an inspiration to others. Again, he recommends the use of the four pillars of governance, saam-daam-dand-bhed principles for keeping the populace in his favour.

The chapter ends with a warning to the ruler. Chanakya warns the ruler to remain alert towards the opinions of the populace, recommmending swift measure to neutralise any dissent. He points out that just as a rope woven of many fragments can be strong enough to restrain a maddened elephant, many weak and poor citizens joined together can be strong enough to bring down the ruler.

This coded warning is intriguing in part as it suggests that Chanakya was well aware of the principles of "rule by consent" even in this period and aware that a popular rebellion could overturn the most entrenched royal rule. Once again, a most modern thinker indeed!

The next chapter continues with the idea of managing dissent, in particular focussing on managing and neutralising those who are strongly opposed. Hope to continue posting on that soon.