Who was Chanakya?
For centuries to come and the centuries that went by, which recorded in history talking of the great men and legendary characters who shaped time through their vision and exemplary actions. Chanakya, perhaps is the only personality who has been accepted and revered as a genius both by Indian and Western scholars. He is a historical milestone in the making of India amidst tremendous upheavals and myriad’s of reversals. Celebrated as a shrewd statesman and a ruthless administrator, he comes across as the greatest of diplomats of the world. He had the guts to speak his heart out even in front of the rulers, which shows his strong inclination to democratic values and the audacity to put his views through. Although, he lived around the third century BC, his ideas and principles show concurrence and validity in the present day world. Politics was his forte. Diplomacy in a politically charged environment shows his self-confidence and the ability to stay calm in trying situations.
His foresight and wide knowledge coupled with politics of expediency founded the mighty Mauryan Empire in India. He was a great laureate of economics with a glittering intellect to perceive the intricate dynamics of the various economic activities and principles.
The centuries that succeeded him show distinct effects of his thoughts on the way a kingdom is managed and other facets of economic administration. Even today, one of his maxims on taxation is very much alive and calls for adherence by the governments of the world. According to Chanakya, “Taxation should not be a painful process for the people. There should be leniency and caution while deciding the tax structure. Ideally, governments should collect taxes like a honeybee, which sucks just the right amount of honey from the flower so that both can survive. Taxes should be collected in small and not in large proportions”.
Chanakya, apart from being a man of wisdom and unfailing strategies, propounded Nitishastra, the ideal way of living for every individual of the society. He looked at the country like a person surrounded by problems. He worked at the total annihilation of problems by the roots. The re-appearance of troubles only shows its growth. His contribution to foreign policy in the present day world is immense. Universities teach his principles to aspiring foreign policy experts showing the infallability of his principles. Chanakya’s art of diplomacy is well known across India and practiced in the areas of defence, strategy formation and foreign relations.
Quite remarkably, long before Clausewitz came up with the quote, which said “War is only the continuance of state policy by other means”, Chanakya had already written it in his book ‘Chanakyaniti’. Most of his views were so farsighted that they appeared to be prophesies. Talking on diverse subjects such as corruption, he commented very rightly, “It’s just as difficult to detect an official’s dishonesty as it is to discover how much water is drunk by the swimming fish”.
As a person, Chanakya has been described variously, as a saint, as a ‘ruthless administrator’, as the ‘king maker’, a devoted nationalist, a selfless ascetic and a person devoid of all morals. He created controversy by saying ‘The ends justify the means’ and the ruler should use any means to attain his goals and his actions required no moral sanctions. All his written works namely, ‘Arthashastra’, ‘Nitishastra’ and ‘Chanakyaniti’ were unique because of their rational approach and an unabashed advocacy of real politic. His views were dimensionally novel. He recommended even espionage and the liberal use of provocative agents as machineries of the state. In politics, he even attested the use of false accusations and killings by a king’s secret agent without any ambiguities. The observance of morals and ethics was secondary to the interests of the ruler. Some of his stark views made him into an ambivalent personality for the world.
This great statesman and philosopher has been often compared to Machiavelli, Aristotle and Plato, exemplifying his potentiality and influential status. He has been criticized for his ruthlessness and trickery and praised for his profound political wisdom. Chanakya, the timeless man, was in pursuit of truth fearlessly 2000 years ago and was proved right with Vivekanand’s words, “Arise, Awake, Sleep not till the goal is reached”.
Chanakya envisioned India as a nation which would place itself as the forerunner – politically, economically and socially. His magnum opus, “Arthashatra”, depicts in many ways the India of His dreams. When he wrote this volume of epic proportion, the country was ridden in feudalism and closed and self-sufficient economy. The economy based on indigenous ways of production; was in a transitional phase, moving towards the advanced aspects of distribution and production. Culture and regional politics directed the way in which trade was done. The main activities of the economy were agriculture, cattle rearing and commerce. Among the three, Chanakya considered agriculture to be the most important constituent of the economy. It’s a fact today that the Indian economy of today is an agro based one. Covering various topics on administration, politics and economy, it is a book of law and a treatise on running a country which is relevant even today.
People who think that the society in which we live will remain the same; are dissuading themselves of the truth. Society is a complex and dynamic system changing constantly leaving those people behind who say no to change. Broadly speaking, Chanakya dreamt of a country reaching the following levels of development in terms of ideologies and social and economic development.
• A self sufficient economy which is not dependent on foreign trade.
• An egalitarian society where there are equal opportunities for all.
• Establishment of new colonies for the augmentation of resources. He also advocated the development of the already annexed colonies. His imperialistic views can be interpreted as the development of natural and manmade resources.
• According to Chanakya, the efficient management of land is essential for the development of resources. It is essential that the state keeps an eye on the occupation of excess land by the landlords and unauthorized use of land. Ideally the state should monitor the most important and vital resource – Land.
• The state should take care of agriculture at all times. Government machinery should be directed towards the implementation of projects aimed at supporting and nurturing the various processes; beginning from sowing of seeds to harvest.
• The nation should envisage to construct forts and cities. These complexes would protect the country from invasions and provide internal security. The cities would act as giant markets increasing the revenue of the state.
• Internal trade was more important to Chanakya than external trade. At each point of the entry of goods, a minimal amount of tax should be collected. The state should collect taxes at a bare minimum level, so that there is no chance of tax evasion.
• Laws of the state should be the same for all, irrespective of the person who is involved in the case. Destitute women should be protected by the society because they are the result of social exploitation and the uncouth behavior of men.
• Security of the citizens at peace time is very important because state is the only savior of the men and women who get affected only because of the negligence of the state. Antisocial elements should be kept under check along with the spies who may enter the country at any time.
• Chanakya envisioned a society where the people are not running behind material pleasures. Control over the sense organs is essential for success in any endeavor. Spiritual development is essential for the internal strength and character of the individual. Material pleasures and achievements are always secondary to the spiritual development of the society and country at large.
By writing “Arthashastra” and “Nitishastra”, Chanakya has become a never ending phenomena. He has truly guided the generations with his wisdom . It would ideally suit the closing of the life of Chanakya with a couple of quotations by Chanakya. “The secret task of a king is to strive for the welfare of his people incessantly. The administration of the kingdom is his religious duty. His greatest gift would
be to treat all as equals.”
“The happiness of the commoners is the happiness of the king. Their welfare is his welfare. A king should never think of his personal interest or welfare, but should try to find his joy in the joy of his subjects.”
These words were written 2300 years ago by Chanakya, the expert statesman and wise sage. And Chanakya is also another name for courage and perseverance.
Will post back some of Chanakya’s Niti’s later…