One of the saddest aspects of our educational system today is the near total neglect of our ancient history and the deliberate disconnect with our thinkers and philosophers. It is as if our ?secular? scholars are ashamed of their own past. Vedic mathematics is laughed at. If authentic claims are made that such concepts as gravitation and the value of pi were common knowledge centuries ago eyebrows are raised. Kalidas, Panini, Bhasa, Bana, Varahamihira and Bhartrahari remain faint memories.
Ask any present day graduate whether he has heard of Charaka, Sushruta, Bhaskaracharya or Lilavati, one can only expect blank looks. It is seldom realised that even in the Ramayana and Mahabharata there are innumerable references to technology, arts, sports, music, dance, architecture, weaponry, defence, textiles, navigation and metallurgy. In which other country in the world would one come across the existence of the kind of iron pillar that one finds in India close to the Qutub Minar? In its own way India excelled in many fields including?and that should not come as a surprise?politics and governance. Forget Bhishmaparva in the Mahabharata, think of Chanakya also known as Kautilya, much closer to our times and the Arthashastra for which he is justly known. And we get a wholly new introduction not only to what makes true Indian culture, but how it ruled India in ancient times. The stress was not on religion but on dharma, that elusive word which lays down what is right. In ancient Indian civilisation, on the accepted principles of war morality, of war ethics, a king could not wage a war against another simply because he had a large army.
As Gurumurthy notes in his excellent preface, the Shantiparva in the Mahabharata insists that conquest should be according to dharma, that empire did not mean imposition of the language or the government system of the conqueror on the conquered country but something nobler. The victors were mandated to worship at temples of the defeated people and even wear the dress of the defeated and adopt the local culture. One could fight someone only if he was similarly equipped, and killing a soldier who was already in combat with someone else was considered totally unethical. Even Kautilya, who is often wrongly regarded as the Indian equivalent of Machiavelli, had laid down that a conqueror should not covet the territory, wealth, son and wife of the slain in battle. That is why there have never been Hindu Ghazni Mohammads or Central Asian Babars or their Mughal descendants.
Just think of Prithviraj Chauhan and how he treated Mohammad Ghori after defeating him and how Ghori in turn dealt with Chauhan when he became victorious. It is not that Kautilya was unaware of evil. If anything he was down to earth, earthy. He laid down, for example, that no army or government can do without an effective and large force of secret service. A government, he insisted must necessarily subscribe to the belief that there is always evil in life, public, private, organised or individual and accept the fact that the base elements of greed, vulgarity, treachery, jealously, betrayal and lust for power are part of human nature.
Again it was not cynicism but a knowledge of human nature that was behind his theory that ?neighbouring states are by nature to be treated as enemies??and don'twe all have reason to remember that even in this day and age? Kautilya rightly demanded that ?internal treachery should be put down with a heavy hand?.
Does one remember Afzal Guru? How should one tackle internal enemies? Kautilya makes his point very clearly when he says that ?where outside enemies have an understanding with local, internal enemies or internal traitors, intrigues will be of far reaching consequences, as local enemies and outsiders join in a common programme of destruction?.
Kautilya must have had the attack on the Indian Parliament in mind when he made his point. He classified foreign agents and spies as ?thieves and barbarians? who should always be watched. Kautilya distinguished between Counselling Ministers (mantris) and Executive Ministers (Amatyas) and he even laid down their qualifications only to specify that a Prime Minister should have both their wisdom. As he saw it, diplomatic power was superior to army power and hence his laying down the importance of right counselling, right guidance and sastraic knowledge. A good king needed a Preceptor to connect him with the people. Kautilya was as much an idealist as he was a practicalist.
According to him an ideal preceptor should come from a family well-known for character, learning and experience in the sciences of administrative principles, grounded well in the Vedas and its auxiliary sciences of interpretation while the king should treat him as ?his teacher, father and master?.
There aren'tmany books dealing with Kautilya'sArthashastra which makes Prof. Narayanacharya'swork worthy of a good deal of attention. There are in all ten chapters, each one dealing with one specific subject. Beginning with a definition of artha and the relationship between dharma, artha and the state craft bound by dharma, Prof. Narayanacharya deals with the concept of state, justification for the evolution of professional guilds, secularism in the Kautilyan set-up, miscellaneous applications of the Kautilyan principles for today'slife, espionage and military matters, the use of magic and occult practices and even wonders whether the measures advocated by Kautilya are actually practicable now.
Undoubtedly, Kautilya it was who, for the first time, endeavoured to re-interpret and re-orient the Indian perspective of power so as to make it capable of handling the barbaric warfare model of the Hellenistic and Abrahamic civilisations. Perhaps, as Gurumurthy notes, with the experience gained by the invasion of the Greeks Army led by Alexander, Chanakya could foresee the need for the Hindu civilisation intrinsically bound by the rules and norms of dharma, to modulate their war methods and internalise newer ideas and norms. One only wishes that the author placed Kautilya in the times in which he lived to give the reader a better framework to view Kautilya'sthesis. But that does not lessen the value of scholarship displayed in this well-researched book. Kautilya stands tall even now and his tantra makes sound sense as we watch our Ministers handle international affairs so cavalierly.
(Kautilya Institute of National Studies, Mysore-570 005.)