The Realpolitik Thrust of Ancient Indian Statecraft
India should use it’s strategic culture to dominate the world
What is the most common thing among all the super/great powers and emerging great powers like China, whether before World War 2 or after? Well, apart from being highly ruthless, disruptive and unethical, all great/ought to be great powers have followed their own ancient strategic culture. Britain (superpower before World War 2) for instance, followed the policies of Nicollo Machiavelli, who is considered by West as ‘Father of Modern Realism’. By following Machiavelli’s policies, Britain was able to conquer almost half of the world, including India. The current superpower United States of America follows the policies of Hans Morgenthau (founder of Classical Realism), and takes inspiration from American revolution to promote values of liberal world order. The emerging superpower, China, too follows it’s ancient Chinese civilization to shape the world according to it’s wishes. For instance, China follows the policies of Sun Tzu, the great ancient Chinese strategist, whose core policy was based on ‘deception’. That’s why we see China always deceiving other countries.
India, which also aims to become a great power and influence the world with it’s vision of Vishwa Guru/Dharm Guru/Spiritual Guru, is trying everything it can to further it’s national interest. The concept of Vishwa Guru got a further boost during current vaccine diplomacy of India, where it is supplying covid vaccines to several countries, thinking that such a goodwill of India is a perfect step towards becoming a Vishwa guru, which will then help India to become a great power. But the reality says something else. The fact is that India can never become a Vishwa Guru, forget about great power, if it continues it’s current policies of neglecting it’s ancient strategic culture and statecraft. It must realize that no country has become a great power without following their own strategic culture.
Thanks to almost thousand years of invasion, India has lost it’s Kshatriyata, or martial race. Today India has become passive, defensive, non reactive, peace loving country, which nobody fears. Even a small country like Nepal starts dancing on India’s head, whenever it wants.
The issue with India
The biggest problems with Indian policymakers like senior politicians and bureaucrats is that they tend to think that India was always a peace loving country. According to them, India is a land of Buddhas and Mahatmas. India has never attacked anyone or invaded other’s territory. According to them if India shows it’s goodwill to the world, the world will repeat the same gesture. Well this is a complete fallacy.
The truth of ancient Indian civilization
The ancient Indian civilization is totally opposed to what our current leaders think about it. Apart from being ideal as shown by our decision makers, the ancient Indian statecraft was also very practical in it’s approach. It had clearly mentioned that, when it comes to safety and security of the kingdom, there’s no morality or ethics involved in it. A king should use all possible means including unfair, unethical or fraud etc. to achieve his aim (in those days aim of the king was considered to be the aim of the kingdom). There’s elaborate discussion in ancient Indian statecraft on how to use such realpolitik means like deception, bribing, spies, high value assassinations, treachery, torture, violence, subversion, intrigue, when to invade enemy’s land and so on in order to achieve one’s objectives. Further as opposed to the present thinking of our political leaders that India never invaded other’s territories, around 10th and 11th century A.D, the Chola king, Rajaraj Chola and his son Rajendra Chola invaded several parts of South/South East Asia like Sri Lanka, Andaman islands, Maldives, Java and Sumatra of Indonesia, Malay Peninsula, southern Thailand and Myanmar. This invasion made Indian Navy the most powerful at that time.
Another great ultra realist, Kautilya, for instance, in his Arthashastra has clearly said that ‘a king should not hesitate to resort to unfair means to achieve his aim. He could go to as low as possible to achieve the aim. Morality should not bother him at all’. Same goes for Rig Ved, Shukraneeti, and even policies of Bhagwan Krishna, who said that one should resort to adharm to achive dharm. Ancient Indian statecraft believed in ‘ends justifying the means’. Pragmatic enough.
The effect of ancient Indian civilization
If one looks at the written history of about 3000 years, then India was the most powerful country/kingdom in the world, especially during Mauryan empire (Ashok). This became possible only because, India at that time followed the policies of it’s ancient civilization. In other words, India followed all the practical policies as mentioned before like fraud, treachery, disruption etc. We must remember the fact that all the modern great powers like Britain or US followed the same policies what India followed more than two millenniums ago. So there’s no denying the fact that if a country aims to become a superpower it has to use unfair means.
What India today should do
As India also aims to become a world power, so the only thing which can help it to achieve its aim is it’s own strategic culture, or the ancient Indian Statecraft. Following are some of the practical teachings/thinkings/strategies that India can take from it’s own civilisations like Mahabharat, Ramayan, Arthashastra etc. to become a world power :
1) First is the concept of deception-Mahabharat teaches us that sometimes one has to use deceptive means to achieve his aim. Bhagwan Krishna, for instance, used deception to kill Guru Dronacharya. India, too must focus on deceiving it’s enemies.
2) Second is the concept of amorality. Bhagwan Krishna has clearly stated that one has to do adharma (unfair means) to achieve dharm (aim). To counter China and Pakistan, unfair means are must for India.
3) Third is the concept of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). During Mahabharat war, the Divyastras like Brahmastra were no less than a WMD. In fact some modern scientists claim Brahmastra to be a nuclear weapon. This point is to show that our ancient thinkers too believed in WMDs. How practical we were.
4) Fourth is information warfare-in Mahabharat, Bhagwan Krishna spread the fake news that Ashwathama is dead which made Guru Drona to drop his weapons, and finally he was killed. This is perhaps the best example of information warfare, which the modern world is greatly focusing on. India needs to have its own information warfare to shape to global narrative according to it’s wishes, something which China has been doing since decades.
5) Fifth is hybrid warfare -like assassination of high value targets. In Mahabharat Duryodhan tried to kill the five Pandavas with fire, though he didn’t succeed. Duryodhan knew that if he succeeds in killing them, nobody would stop him from becoming king. Today India should go for high value assassinations for it’s enemy’s leaders like Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Masood etc.
6) Sixth one says that war is always the last resort. In Arthashastra, Kautilya has clearly mentioned that war is last resort. Till then a king should use hybrid or covert warfare to weaken it’s enemies. Today some warmongers in India wants India to attack Pakistan directly and take POK. India should not go for war directly. It should, instead, weaken Pakistan internally, and when situation arrives in it’s favour, war is always there, but definitely last resort.
7) Seventh is guerrilla warfare. Kautilya has given a great focus on using guerrilla warfare against stronger enemies. India, too, should support Tibetan guerrillas and carry out guerrilla war in Tibet as a tit for tat for China’s support to insurgency in North east India. Same can be done in Xinjiang province. It can really frustrate China.
8) Eighth is spies. All our ancient texts like Vedas, Mahabharat, Ramayan, Arthashastra had given a detailed manual on spycraft. According to them spies should be used both outside and inside the kingdom. The use of internal spies was to eliminate inimical cabals. Had India today used spies adequately in it’s own territories, there would have been no Shaheen Bagh or farm protests.
9) Ninth is Expansionism-The Arthashastra focuses elaborately on expanding and conquering other’s territories. This expanded ancient Indian kingdom till Central Asia including some parts of Iran. This goes totally against the current Indian mindset of ‘no expansion’. India must change this attitude. Some level of expansion is needed by India. But, as mentioned earlier, war is last resort. We can weaken the enemy internally then focus on expanding.
10) Tenth is the case of priority. In Mahabharat, when the Hastinapur kingdom was divided between Kauravas and Pandavas, Bhagwan Krishna clearly told Pandavas after they got their new kingdom, that now your first priority is to develop alliances to secure your kingdom. Today some kind of useless debate is going on in India between welfare and security. This must be stopped. Welfare is very important, but nothing is more important than building alliances for security.
11) Eleventh is the concept of power. Kautilya had said that ‘throughout the analysis of bilateral relations, the power equation is the distinct factor’. This means power is dominant reality in geopolitics. Today India gives first priority to its goodwill and power comes second for it. India thinks that if it behaves a like a good boy, the world will repeat the same gesture. This is completely wrong. Power decides geopolitics, not goodwill.
12) Twelfth is the case of respect. If one carefully analyses ancient Indian culture, then the most powerful ones were having highest respect. For example, Parshuram was highly respected even by Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. The reason being he was a great warrior. Ravan, though he kidnapped Sita, but he too, was highly respected by Gods. In short, the more powerful the warrior was, the more he was respected. The current Indian thinking is totally opposite to it’s ancient culture. Today we tend to respect peace more than power. This attitude must change.
13) Thirteenth is about targeting civilians in war. In Rig Ved it’s clearly mentioned that when one resorts to war, one should also target the civilians of enemy population if need arises. Today our armed forces have a policy of never targeting the enemy’s citizens, no matter what the cost is. This moral mindset is at fault.
14) Fourteenth is related to intervention. Lalitaditya Muktapid, king of Karkot dynasty (Kashmir), extended the Indian empire till the Caspian sea, conquering all of Central Asia around 8th century A.D. He was the one who entered the enemy’s territory and kicked them out from their own land. This was happening when Muslim rulers were trying to invade India (around 8th century A.D.). When Lalitaditya died around 760 A.D, none of Muslim invader tried to enter India for the next 200-250 years, thanks to the psychological fear of Lalitaditya, who used to fight enemy in enemy’s land. The message for today’s India is ‘if you enter enemy’s land, enemy will not enter in your land. But if you don’t enter enemy’s land, your own land will be conquered’. This holds good for India’s relations with China and Pakistan.
15) Fifteenth, is about the use of fear, and this is perhaps most important lesson for India. In Ramayan, there’s a saying ‘bhay bin hoi na preet’. It means to advance your interest, others should fear you. Without fear, nothing happens, or there’s no friendship without fear. Today, India wants other countries to love it, not fear it. This can be detrimental for India’s national interests. This gandhian mindset must be scrapped.
16) Sixteenth is the concept of hegemony. Kautilya had said ‘that in the long run, the king must become offensive realist, or the most powerful in the region to achieve security for his kingdom as this will deter others from carrying out misadventures against that king’. This is what China is trying to do in Asia-become hegemon so that no one dares to harass it.
17) Seventeenth is the case of alliances. Kautilya clearly said that ‘a king should enter into an alliance only when he is not strong enough. But once he gets sufficient power, the alliance can be broken’. According to Kautilya no alliance is permanent. This is what China is doing today, making and breaking alliances according to it’s own interests. So, India, instead of complaining about China not respecting treaties/alliances, must realize the reality.
18) Eighteenth is about using armed forces in foreign policy. Samrat Samudragupta followed a very aggressive policy of annexing territories. Thanks to his aggression, even kings of far away lands paid tributes to him because of fear of Samudragupta’s military might. Today India is highly reluctant to use armed forces in foreign policy. This attitude must change.
Apart from these practical ancient advices, the following notions of Vedic Foreign Policy are very important for India :
1) First, the Vedas say that never compromise your national interest to please others. Unfortunately we have not followed this. For instance, today India doesn’t wants to play the Tibet and Taiwan card against China, thinking that China will respect India for it’s goodwill. No matter it has cost us dearly.
2) Second, the Vedas say that prevent, by any means (fair or foul), the rise of any other power in the region, as it will disturb the concept of balance of power. Had India prevented the rise of China initially, the world would have been much better today.
3) Third, the Vedas say that co-opt the countries in your neighbours by giving economic benefits or using Sam, Dan, Bhed and Dand. Are we doing it today? Well, not adequately.
Is/are there any other country/countries that is/are using ancient India’s own strategies against it?
Although China is using the strategies of Sun Tzu against India, however a lot of Chinese strategies represents the recommendations of Kautilya. It must be mentioned here that it is not important whether China is using Kautilyan strategies knowingly or unknowingly, but what is important is that a lot of Beijing’s policies towards India reflects Kautilyan strategic mind. Pakistan, on the other hand has openly acknowledged that it is using Kautilya’s Arthashastra against India. Let us look at some of these:
1) First, Kautilya’s Arthashastra says ‘a king should make excellent allies both in front and rear to engage enemy both at front and rear’. This is what China has done. It has made good allies with North Korea and Pakistan, so that North Korea engages America, while Pakistan engages India, and China gets a free hand.
2) Second, Kautilya had said ‘no matter how strong an enemy is, it is bound to be harassed and destroyed when squeezed between king and his ally’. See what China has done today. It has squeezed India between itself and Pakistan and we are brutally harassed (one must know that China considers India as it’s enemy).
3) Third, Kautilya had said that ‘a king should always endeavour to increase his power, while at the same time reduce the power of his enemy’. This is what China has been doing with India and USA.
4) Fourth, Kautilya had said ‘a king must continue it’s covert warfare even during peacetime’. China is continuously supporting Pakistan’s covert war of terrorism against India. This is followed by China’s support to naxalism in India.
5) Fifth, Kautilya had said that ‘when a king doesn’t have enough power to destroy his enemy, he should make peace with the enemy. Under the cover of the peace, the enemy should be weakened by covert means. Finally when the king gets strong enough, enemy can be defeated by war’. This is what China is doing with India today. It is not directly attacking India, while at the same time it is trying to weaken India internally by covert means like terrorism and insurgency. In future when China gets strong enough, there are high chances of war between China and India as Beijing has openly said that Arunachal Pradesh belongs to China.
6) Sixth, China has subverted various Indian officials like senior politicians, bureaucrats, and even some military officers, who suggest policies which are only favorable to China. This represents Kautilyan strategy of subverting enemy officials for one’s own benefit.
7) Seventh, Pakistan’s strategy of bleeding India by thousand small cuts resembles Kautilya’s concept of hybrid warfare, like the use of militias. The Pakistan’s sub conventional warfare in Kashmir has really frustrated India.
It’s really bizarre that other countries are using our own strategies against us, while we never give an iota of respect to our own strategies. Further, both China and Pakistan have really been successful in harassing India. It’s because of them, India is mostly focused in managing it’s own internal affairs like terrorism, insurgency, naxalism, separatism and so on. All these clearly show how practical and relevant our ancient policies are. That’s why Henry Kissinger, from United States Secretary of State in his book ‘World Order’ had said ‘Kautilya was combination of Clausewitz and Machiavelli’.
Ancient Indian strategies VS Western strategies
India, instead of following the policies of it’s own strategic culture and statecraft, follows Western policies. When it comes to studying of realism, India generally focuses on Machiavelli, Hans Morgenthau, Von Clausewitz and so on. There’s hardly any focus on ancient Indian statecraft. But are these Western scholars better than ancient Indian strategists? Well, the answer is big no. Lets compare some strategies/thinkers of ancient India VS West :
1) First, US helped China to become a powerful country so that Beijing can help Washington in countering USSR during cold far. Fare enough. However US kept on blindly helping China grow in power as much as it could, thinking that China may become a liberal country and will repeat the same goodwill towards US. However the reality is that China, today, is backstabbing US. On the other hand, Kautilya hadalso advised his king to help other king grow strong so as to resist more powerful enemy. But Kautilya also said that his king should not make other king too strong, otherwise he may become uncontrollable and create troubles. If this happens the Kautilyan king should make one more king rise up against the uncontrollable king, or create troubles for him internally so as to keep him under control. Had US also followed the same policy and not made China too strong, the world would have been a better today. No doubt Kautilya was more far sighted than Uncle Sam.
2) Second, one of the reasons for downfall of British empire was that it tried to destroy the culture, practices and beliefs of it’s colonies. Kautilya had warned his king never to destroy the culture of the people of conquered territory, otherwise they may revolt. No prize in guessing who had better sense.
3) Third, another reason for downfall of British empire was that it expanded much beyond the effective control. The Britishers followed Machiavelli’s policy of expansion, who said that a king should continuously expand and there’s no limit for it. Kautilya also believed in expanding territory, but there was a limit for his expansive policies. Expanding beyond that was not practicable. This logic of Kautilya was very prudent. The result is British fell back to ground zero, from where it started the journey of expansion, while India still retains almost sixty percent of it’s territory (compared to Akhand Bharat which Kautilya made).
4) Fourth, is the case of double agents. Double agents are those who work for one king, but spy for another. Western countries like US/UK used to bribe heavily another country’s agent to make him double agent. Kautilya went one step ahead. He had said ‘apart from bribing someone to act as double agent, the king (who makes other person as a double agent) should keep his spouse and children as a hostage’. This added increased layer of security and ensured that the double agent never turns back. It was a great combination of Sam, Dan and Bhed.
The above examples clearly show that ancient Indian thinkers like Kautilya was much more practical, far sighted and prudent than Western thinkers. No doubt, West is also studying Kautilya’s Arthashastra in details today.
India, today, has somewhat constrained itself by self imposing the notions of morality and gandhiwaad. It thinks that if it behaves in a responsible way, the world would greet it in the same manner. Well, Newton’s third law doesn’t works everytime. The world, instead, doesn’t takes India much seriously even today. Further if a country wants to safeguard it’s sovereignty and become a great power, practical means are must. And if a country uses it’s own strategic culture to achieve it’s aim, nothing can be more prouder moment than this for that country. Ancient Indian statecraft is a complete school of realism. In fact it’s the oldest and greatest school of realism.
Further, today when the world is opting for hybrid warfare, instead of direct conflicts, the ancient Indian strategies are highly relevant even today in this regard. They provide a complete manual on hybrid and covert warfare like use of spies, high value assassinations, information and propaganda warfare, deception, psywar, intrigue and so on. Kautilya himself had said ‘a single assassin can achieve what fully mobilized army can’t’. In fact Kautilya gives such a detailed analysis of covert warfare that, Max Weber, a German sociologist said ‘compared to Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Machiavellis’s Prince is harmless’.
In simple words, ancient Indian statecraft provides a complete set of practical advices to advance one’s interests like when to use violence, when to assassinate someone, how to use females as spies, how to destroy enemy’s kingdom, use of ruthless behavior and so on, something which every great power follows. There’s no place for morality here.
Further if countries like China can use our own strategies against us, if West is studying ancient Indian statecraft in details (in 2019 US Military ordered thousands of copies of Bhagwad Gita), then nothing stops India from using its own strategies to rule the world.
Our leaders always talk about making India again Vishwa Guru or Dharm Guru. However that will only be possible if India becomes a world power and influence it according to it’s wishes. Once India becomes a world power, its influence will expand globally which would then give a boost to it’s culture of Vishwa Guru. The best example here is USA. It’s a world power. Hence it has global influence and thus, the world currently is shaped according to culture of US like democracy, liberalism etc. In short power commands influence which in turn commands culture. Hence, our policy makers must stop selling pipe dreams of Vishwa Guru, and instead focus on first making India a great power by following realist policies of ancient Indian statecraft.
Our leaders must understand that a country which doesn’t learns from it’s historical mistakes and doesn’t follows it’s own strategies, is bound to fail.
Hence it’s high time, India must finish it’s colonized slavish mentality, and focus on it’s own ancient statecraft to rule the world. This will require, several times, ruthless, hard headed, unethical policies. India must not constrain itself with morality. India must use it’s strategic culture to dominate the world. Ancient Indian statecraft and strategic culture is timeless. Finally in the words of Bhagwad Gita
‘AHIMSA PARMO DHARMA
DHARM HINSA TATHAIVA CHA’
Which means non violence is ultimate duty, but protecting dharm is supreme, even if it requires one to do adharm. Time for India to focus on realpolitik now. Time for India to revive ancient Indian statecraft. Time for India to dominate the world.
By Pratik Kumar