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Kautilya, Realpolitik And Indian Grand Strategy

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The Arthashastra, written by Chanakya Kautilya is an extensive treatise comprising 16 books encompassing a treasure of practical statecraft. It does not neglect to discuss a single matter essential for the running of the state including laws, diplomacy, espionage, military strategy, economics, finance, cultural traditions, men’s vices and weaknesses, bureaucracy, etc. For Kautilya, power was the most prominent actuality. Every element of national power was relevant and contributory to a leader’s strategic aims including geography, morale and popular opinion. In today’s world, modern nation-states are still viewing the world through a realist prism since the United Nations and other international organizations failed to deliver to their promised potential. India is consequently also following the principles laid out in the Arthashastra.

The use of geography, morale, and popular opinion can be seen clearly in India’s craving for strength and expansion. India is inducing political opinion against Pakistan, its arch-rival, and gaining political support through military maneuvers to please the mass populace. No matter how close an ally another state might become, a ruler would crush it if they gain enough power to do so.

As such, Kautilya averred that competition is always ruthless and there is no divergence from it. Morality, he argued, was irrelevant in self-preservation. India is a living example. The support that the Indian army extended to Mukti Bahini in East Pakistan and to Tamil Tigers more recently in Sri Lanka, to enhance disintegration and destabilization among its neighbours and emerge as the regional hegemon is worthy of notice. In Sri Lanka, India did not train the Tamil rebels for any humanitarian cause, rather it was because of their national interest. New Delhi found Colombo’s alliance with India’s foes of being inimical to New Delhi’s interests. As the Indian Premier Nehru once said; the basis of India’s foreign policy would be its national interest and not international amity or promoting democracy and human rights. Another point worthy of being mentioned here is that “if […] the conqueror is superior, the campaign shall be undertaken, otherwise not.” In the case of Sri Lanka, India was definitely stronger but in the recent territorial rift in Ladakh between China and India, it can be seen that India did not cross the lines as it was aware of the military and economic superiority of China.

Kautilya was also of the view that a wise ruler seeks an alliance with his neighbor’s neighbour. The vision was the establishment of an alliance system with the conqueror at the core. Kautilya also believed in preventing neighbouring states from allying against your state. For this, he suggested making one king fight his neighbouring king to avert the two kings getting together. This can be seen in the present-day involvement of India in Afghanistan. Covert intelligence missions and espionage were also described as crucial tools. The capture of the Indian spy Kulbushan Yadav in Balochistan is a prominent indicator of India’s covert activities in other countries. India has also extended economic ties with Pakistan’s other neighbour; Iran.

The building of the Chabahar port in Iran is a definitive example. Furthermore, India also clearly understands Kautilya’s perspective that alliances are temporary and should serve the national interest alone. India refused to join any bloc during the Cold War because it was not in its national interest to do so. It was gaining military aid and diplomatic support from Russia and development assistance from the US. Today, India gets military equipment from Russia and western countries alike and is in a military alliance with the Quad comprising the US, Australia, Japan, and India against the growing naval power and influence of China in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and the Pacific in general.

Kautilya did talk of Dharma but it was incorporated only as a factor of a conqueror’s strategy and tactics. He reiterated that any ruler who abuses his subordinates would self-sabotage their support and invite rebellion and/or invasion. This is the reason why Kautilya favored the incorporation of Veshayas and Shudras in the military and also broke down the powerful alliance between the Kshatriyas and Brahmans. In the modern Indian army, Shudras are recruited, as well as Veshayas. People of the lower castes are allowed upward economic mobility to appease their socio-economic demands and needs so they would not stage an upheaval against the state.

In conclusion, we can write that India, as majority of other states in the international capitalist, realist world, is looking to maximize its power and extend its influence and is following the realist analysis of one of the world’s greatest and most critical statecraft and military strategist, who provides a practical guide to action, where the state is a sensitive matter and the rulers have no moral obligation to peril its survival on ethical grounds.

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1 Comment

  1. X-m April 10, 2021

    Why Kautilya, there is nothing similar inn7th century tribal cluster of Arabi?

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