Why every student of law must read Chanakya?

“The biggest guru-mantra is: never share your secrets with anybody. It will destroy you”.  –Chanakya

Chanakya – Philosopher, Economist and a Jurist

Nothing supports belief better than reality. 2400 years ago, Kautilya organized the Arthashastraand with it he proved to be a kingmaker as he enabled the inception of the Gupta dynasty by destroying the Nanda empire The Arthashatra encapsulates the science dealing with state affairs in the private as well as the outer sphere that is the science of statecraft or of politics and administration. It stood the test of time and it has since withstood the test of credibility. When a thinker exemplifies his vision and foresight it is important and extremely useful to understand the elements of this thought that has modern relevance. If we can learn and understand even a fraction of the wisdom that Kautilya embodied it would be an enriching occurrence.

Current day world is mired with many economic, social and political problems. These obstacles have been approached with wrong orientation and as an outcome, these problems continue to thrive. Nevertheless, many of the problems remain to be with us and have assumed more serious forms than before. The question that emerges is that “Does Arthashastra holds the capability of becoming a torchbearer to find solutions to contemporary problems? This problem might be completely obsolete for some readers and some must be quite perplexed doubting the relevance of ideas in the text which is dated some 2400 years ago. Technology has fostered by giant strides but the core social fabric of the society continues to be the same as it was 2400 years ago.

Kautilya explained his economic ideas by taking into consideration the social, economic and political situations of his time but Kautilya’s Arthashastra includes some universal truths that transcend the boundaries of time and space. In reality, its relevance has increased and is increasing day by day with the modem day problems converting even more tangled than it was before. Arthashastra is the outcome of centuries of evolved strategic thinking. Kautilya’s Arthashastra is a “Magnum opus” which encapsulates the science dealing with state affairs in the national as well as the outside sphere i.e. it is the science of statecraft or of politics and administration.

International Relations

Chanakya’s word still holds meaning and especially when India has been a victim of frequent political upheaval. It appears ironical that the country which was unified centuries back single-handedly by this genius is today facing mutiny from within. We often complain about the rising prominence of foreign powers in our internal affairs deteriorating the stability of our country. The very basic exposition of diplomacy by Chanakya seems more than relevant. The golden words of Chanakya “Every bordering state is an enemy and the enemy’s enemy is a friend” reveals the secret of foreign policy.

Not only did Chanakya changed the face of politics and economics through his Arthshastra but he also had sketched measures to improve the lives of common citizens by his wise words of Chanakya Neeti. As there has been a devastating manipulation of religion in our common life by the self- proclaimed angels, his words “God is not present in idols. Your feelings are your god”. As our society faces a common disease of distorting relations, these words come as a precautionary step “Never make friends with people who are above or below you in status. Such friendships will never give you any happiness” as one should know “There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth” At this period of time when people are running in the rat race of success, find themselves getting away from family and friends, these words seem to be the guiding force. The information the of this exemplary genius holds true in our lives even today. The time ripe to be on the path of awareness and self-assessment as he himself says, “One should learn from other’s mistakes as life is short for experimenting with yourself”. Kautilya says the king shall nevermore allow people to deviate from their duties. He also places an important emphasis on the fact that science of public administration is also connected with the 4 Vedas and Anvikshiki. Anvikshiki is the lamp illuminating all knowledge and the means of all actions. It is the foundation of all dharmas.

Now it is well admitted that a nation’s power is not solely reliant on military might alone. A nation’s comprehensive power includes geographical landscape, the natural resources it maintains within its frontiers, industrial and technological development, size of the economy, size and skill of its population and its national leadership besides its military power. Related is the thought process of Kautilya who in Arthashastra states that there are seven Prakriti that builds the state and are the motives behind its progress. These must be free of Vyasanas for a state to develop and prosper. Thus, he didn’t place all his eggs in the military basket alone.

Kautilya‟s teachings on Sama, Dhan, Dand, and Bhed 

Kautilya‟s teachings on Sama, Dhan, Bhed, and Dand (the four Upayas) have sense in modern day use of diplomatic and coercive power. The 4 methods could be used singly or in a combination of two or three or all together.


Sama it essentially includes elements of psychological and perception management thus winning over the hearts and minds of the adversary / potential adversary. It can be sensed frequently in statements or actions of world leaders eg Obama espousing “strategic reassurance” with respect to China, Prime Minister Modi inviting all the leaders of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation countries (SAARC) for his initiation and following it up with his first 2 overseas visits to immediate neighbours – “best friend” Bhutan and Nepal.

Dhan means (Placating with Gifts)

“Favour and exemptions or employment in works are gifts”, Dhan is a foolproof way of winning over allies/adversaries/ fence sitters. The atomic deal India signed with the US, against severe hurdles, the grant of Major Non–Northern Alliance Treaty organization Ally status to Pakistan by the United States, India waiving claims over Katchathivu to SriLanka, according of Most Favoured Nation Status to other countries, launching the “South Asia Satellite”, signing defence deals, facilitating sanction of International Monetary Fund /World Bank loans, grants and aids, swift response during calamities like Tsunami, evacuation of all nationalities from Yemen or simply Obama rejoicing Diwali and Gurupurab in White House are a few of the numerous examples of Dhan‟ in action.

Bhed (Sowing the seed of Dissension)

Kautilya says that creating apprehension and reprimanding is the difference. Thus Bhed performs on the mind, feeding on fear, suspicion, hatred or enmity. Secret agents exercising overt and covert means and propaganda/ psychological warfare are best suited to create dissensions in the opponent’s ranks. Countries do not talk about the use of Bhed (dissension) in public, but in actual practice, use it liberally to separate the people within a country or break up alliances amongst nations. Pakistan’s efforts in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, and North East is an outstanding example of employing Bhed (dissension). The skillful weaning away of erstwhile Warsaw Pact states and breakaway states of Union of Soviet Socialistic Republic and Yugoslavia by the United States led the Northern Alliance

Dand (Use of Force)

The use of force to solve conflicts needs no elaboration. Nonetheless, the use of force is a measure of last resort when all else has failed, as war would entail losses in men and material even to the victor. Hence, Chanakya, though repeatedly in this Shastra emphasizes on outwitting an opponent but firmly asserts war as a weapon of last resort. Today, nations try to exhaust all available means short of force (Dand) to influence the behavior of another state. Diplomacy as in the case of Doklam and economic sanctions as in the case of North Korea are allowed to run their course before the option of the use of military force is applied.

The Kautilya plans were sometimes applied when the Mughals invaded from the middle-east and later the British conquered India. The important question is can Arthashastra be applied in democracies or is it relevant only to Autocracies. Why is that Plato, Aristotle, Kautilya, and Machiavelli all advocate the rule of the king supreme and state as the ultimate power? In my opinion, the art of war and diplomacy is still applicable but one needs to understand that the social structures are changing faster than they did in earlier times.

I would end by his note on statecraft which says, “A wise king trained in politics, will, even if he possesses a small territory, conquer the whole earth with the help of the best-fitted elements of his sovereignty and will never be defeated.”


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *