One really wonders how India was, which is world’s oldest civilisation and was also the most powerful country in the world for several millenniums, defeated and invaded so many times, first by Islamists and then by Britishers. Several Historians, Scholars, Sociologists, Military veterans etc. have given their views in this regard. If one analyses their views carefully, one will find that almost all of them have given common answers for India’s invasion such as political disunity of India, Caste based discrimination, obsolete military strategy, inadequate war fighting equipments, presence of traitors and so on.
But were these really the main reasons behind the invasion of India? For instance despite being politically disunited, India still had large empires and larger military strength to prevent any invasion from Islamists. As an example the dynasty of Mahmud Ghazni (who invaded India several times) was smaller than kingdom of Hindu Shahis who failed to prevent Ghazni’s invasion. Next the caste based discrimination was prevalent in very small part of India, and when it came to military, people were still recruited based on merit. When it comes to military strategy, the Islamists were no highly modernised, the only advantage they had was a somewhat better cavalry. Traitors were present in each and every country/kingdom of the world, and India was no exception. And above all India was still a ‘Sone ki Chidiya’ (Golden Bird) that time having enough resources to create a much deadly army than Turks and Arabians.
Missing Realism in India
Clearly the above were not the main reasons for India’s invasion and if so then what could be main reason/reasons? By looking at most of the war in world history, including India, it’s quite evident that in most of the cases, a smaller kingdom/nation has been able to defeat a bigger and powerful one. This was made possible by following RealPolitik approach in war, and this is what was really missing in medieval Indian kings/warriors which paved the way for Islamic invasion of India. But before moving further let us first understand what RealPolitik is. RealPolitik or Realism in a very layman sense is strategy based on reality (what it is) and not some idealism (what ought to be). Since RealPolitik is often related to politics, hence RealPolitik is all about securing a nation’s national interest by any means, even if it’s against moralily. It involves use of deception, treachery, sabotage, assassinations of important officials, spies, causing civil unrest in enemy’s nation and so on. The basic sense here is that since the enemy can’t be defeated by direct means or if the enemy is too powerful, then one has to resort to other means as mentioned above.
Unfortunately several Indian kings, in last thousand years, failed to understand this basic aspect of realism and resorted only to fair or ethical means against a very brutal enemy who never followed any morality in war. Thus by abandoning the realpolitik strategy, they ensured Islamic invasion of India.
Some of the instances can be seen here. First, PrithvirajChauhan forgave Muhammad Ghori sixteen times (in 12th century), and seventeenth time Ghori got better of Prithvirajand finished him. Prithviraj did this because he followed ethics of war of not attacking an unarmed warrior. Had Prithviraj finished off Ghori in the first battle, the Indian history would have been different today. Second, many people in India don’t know that Rana Sanga defeated Babur before he was defeated in next battle. However after defeating Babur (in first battle), Sanga and his army didn’t chase fleeing Babur thinking he would never attack again. Again a foolish approach which changed Indian history. Third, RealPolitik also involves tactical retreat if enemy is too strong or large. However many Rajput kings or warriors considered retreat a shame and by following foolhardy valour, blindly fought with much larger Islamic enemies in a conventional battle, resulting in their total annihilation. These warriors considered dying on battlefield a glory and for them this fake glory was more important than victory, hence despite knowing that they (Rajputs and many other warriors) were numerically much smaller than their Islamic counterparts, still went to battle. Fourth, a particular kingdom in South India (in medieval times) considered fighting with guns and cannons, a job of cowards, and they always resorted to fighting with swords, spears etc. when their enemies had large cannons (seems they had done PhD in foolishness).
The above mentioned examples are just the tip of the iceberg. There were a lot of other Indian kings who completely neglected RealPolitik aspects of warfare and suffered brutally at the hands of Islamic invaders. They were of the view that use of cunning and treacherous methods, which are part of realism, in warfare is the job of cowards and that heroes always fight face to face. These Indian kings were so blindfolded by morality that they forgot that what ethics they would practice if their kingdoms would be destroyed. They had no idea that an evil has to be dealt in an evil way.
The Strategic Culture of India
The Shanti Parva of Mahabharat deals with three types of Dharma – RajDharma, ApadDharma and MokshaDharma, however here our focus is on first two. RajDharma deals with duties of a king in normal times where King’s duties are governed by some set of rules. However ApadDharma deals with King’s duties during any calamity like war, external aggression, disasters etc. Here the King is not bound by any set of rules and he can resort to any means, even if it’s amoral, to save his kingdom. Clearly this is the basis of realism. Even the Great Bhishma told Yudhisthir (as part of apaddharma) that ‘one can’t go successfully in this world with one sided morality’. Similarly the Agri Purana allows a weaker nation to resort to wily and underhand methods against powerful nation. The same is the case with Sukraneeti, Arthashastra etc. which allow a king to resort to even most brutal and treacherous methods to save his polity. No prizes for guessing that the strategic culture of India is RealPolitik in nature.
Now the question arises is that if political realism was part of strategic culture of India then why many Indian kings failed to understand this aspect of statecraft and warcraft. Clearly this needs deeper research.
Revival of RealPolitik in India
By looking at the history of Islamic invasion in different parts of the world then one can notice that whatever nation had been invaded by Islamists, they converted that nation into a Islamic one, examples being Iran, Afghanistan etc.(these nations were Hindu nations in history). If this is so, then how come India, which was invaded several times by the same Islamists, still has majority of Hindu population today? Were there some warriors who resisted Islamic invasion, and if there were then how could they resisted such brutal invaders when others could not?
The birth of The Great Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj drastically changed the military thinking of medieval India and revived the ancient Indian realpolitik wisdom. Now it was the turn of the Islamic jihadis to face the defeat and humiliation. ShivajiMaharaj was a realist thinker and a visionary par excellence. Having studied Vedas, Puranas, Mahabharat, Arthashastra etc. Shivaji was ready to use all means available to defeat the islamic invaders. Some of the war strategies adopted by him were surprise attacks, deception and treachery, guerrilla warfare, diverting enemy’s troops, use of spies, covert assassination attempts etc.
These RealPolitik strategies adopted by Shivaji ensured that the Islamic invaders get a taste of their own medicine. Many islamic kingdoms like Bijapuris, Adilshahis tasted humiliating defeats at the hand of Shivaji. Even the so called mighty Mughals were humiliated. Britishers and Portugese were scared of Shivaji, all thanks to revival of Realism in India by Chhatrapati.
RealPolitik always Prevails
If the medieval Indian kings lost to Islamic invaders by neglecting realism, then the other Indian kings who adopted realism resisted and defeated these jihadis. First, MaharanaPratap, knowing that he has much smaller army compared to Akbar’s, defeated the latter twice, first in battle of Haldighati(1576) and second in battle of Dewair (1583). Since Maharana had smaller army so he resorted to mobile guerrilla warfare and also cunningness, whenever needed. Here Pratap showed great RealPolitik wisdom. Second, Takshak was a bodyguard to King Nagabhatt 2 of Kannauj. Once he got the information that Arabian army was planning an assault on Kannauj. Takshak knew that Arabian army is very large, powerful and very cruel. They can’t be defeated by following rules of war. Hence Takshak and his army led a night assault on Arabian troops who were sleeping peacefully in their camps (one must note that attacking the enemy at night is against rules of war in Shastras) and massacred two third of jihadis. The rest met 72 virgins the very next morning. Third, Chhatrapati ShivajiMaharaj had realism in his DNA. In battle of Pratapgarh(1659), Shivaji had to face Adilshahi’s General Afzal Khan, who had much larger and powerful army that Shivaji. Chhatrapati knew that he can’t take directly on Khan’s army hence he took shelter in fort of Pratapgarh. The terrain of fort was unsuitable for Khan’s army, but highly suitable for Shivaji’s guerrilla warfare, thus denying any advantage to Khan. Afzal tried his best to provoke Shivaji to come out of the fort but failed. Finally it was decided that both will meet inside the fort with 10 bodyguards. When both hugged each other, Khan tried to choke Shivaji, but before he could do anything, Shivaji killed Afzal treacherously with a Tiger claw. Then on the order of Shivaji, his Maratha army wrecked havoc on Khan’s troops who were taken aback on sudden Maratha assault. Since the terrain was suitable for Shivaji’sarmy and not for Khan’s army, the Adilshashis army were ruthlessly massacred and Marathas captured a large territory of Bijapur. This battle is one of the greatest battle in history. The RealPolitik wisdom shown by Shivaji in this battle is unmatched. Fourth, the strategies of Shivaji were followed by later Maratha rulers like Shambhaji Maharaj, Bajirao Peshwaand so on, which ensured the end of Islamic rule in India. Peshwa Bajirao, in battle of Palkhed (1728) completely outmanoeuvred Nizam ul mulk, the latter having much larger army, cavalry, artillary. In this battle, Peshwa showed extraordinary use of deception, which ensured decisive Maratha victory over Nizam.
There are many other cases in which Indian warriors adopted RealPolitik means in war and ended in victory. RealPolitik approach with strategic mind is the most important factor for achieving victory in any battle (and all other factors are secondary to it), even if a nation is small. The world history in general and Indian history in particular is the best example of it. Had the Indian rulers, in last thousand years, adopted RealPolitik warcraft, they would have prevailed over the jihadiinvaders and today’s India would be totally different.
National interest and national security are paramount and permanent. Nothing remains if there is no nation, hence protecting the nation is the first job of it’s ruler and also the citizens. There were many instances where a small nation was threatened by a much larger and powerful nation and the latter could not be controlled by following conventional rule so morality. Here the smaller nation had to resort to dirty methods otherwise it would have vanished from map. The same is the case in today’s global environment. As DaityaGuru Sukracharya had said ‘There is no war which destroys the powerful enemy as much as the KutaYudh (covert and dirty war) or the war conducted without any rules of morality, but then justifies it by saying that an enemy has to be killed in war whether conducted according to rules of morality or against it.’
Although India can’t change it’s history but it can definitely take lessons from it for a better future. As India is facing serious threats from China, Pakistan, Turkey and other enemy nations, it must remember that these nations can’t be brought to knees by conventional rules of statecraft. New Delhi must not make the mistake of what several Indian rulers did in last thousand years (blindly sticking to rules of morality) otherwise it’s fate would be same as what happened to several Indian rulers in past. It has to adopt RealPolitik means and that’s the only solution. Here RealPolitik doesn’t only comes in conventional war fighting, but also in covert warfare, or in terms of ancient Indian texts, KutaYudh. In fact kutayudh or covert warfare is the basic part of realism.
Also when the strategic culture of India is RealPolitik and the ancient strategies mentioned in our texts are timeless and unmatched, then it would a foolishness if New Delhi again resorts to morality in geopolitics, something which it has been doing since 1947, although some changes could be seen post 2014. Even Shri Krishna was of the view that ‘One has to do Adharm to save the Dharma from evil if need comes’.
In this era of Kaliyuga, India must stop believing in idealist concepts like ‘Ahimsa parmo Dharma’, ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam’, ‘Doctor’s are God’ and so on, although these concepts are not absolute. Further as India aims to become a superpower again, it must keep it in mind that ‘no nation, whether in history or even at present, has achieved superpower status by being a ‘good boy”.
If India has to survive and become a superpower again, then it must remember the basic message of Kautilya/Chanakya’s Arthashastra: first, the world is governed by Matsya Nyaya(Vedic concept of survival of fittest); Second, Power is only thing which matters in the world; and Third, a nation has to be protected by any means even if it’s highly unethical or dirty. Hence RealPolitik strategy is the way forward for New Delhi.