By Pratik Kumar
What names come to the mind of a general Indian military commander when he hears these words ‘great military strategists of the world’? Well there’s no prize in guessing. The names are Sun Tzu, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Bernard Montgomary, Heizn Guderian and other western ones. No one should be shocked as there are no Indian names. Thanks to almost eight hundred years of Islamic invasion followed by another two hundred years of British rule, we have been made to feel that invaders were always great and that we Indians lacked military sense. This has been further aggravated by fake history that we have been studying post 1947 period.
The reality-West is not best
Western countries especially USA and Britain are of the view that Indians never had a good military sense. They are correct to a certain extent because several of our Indian warriors in last thousand years really lacked military sense, but this was not the case always. Ancient India especially during the times of Vedas, Purans, Mahabharat, Ramayan, Mauryas etc. had brilliant realpolitik sense especially the military aspect. It was the western countries during their peak colonial rule copied the ideas of ancient Indian warcraft and statecraft, modified to certain extent to suit their agenda, and started propagating that Indians lacked military sense. For instance, several professors in US war colleges teach their officers military lessons of Krishna, Kautilya etc. and the same professors say that Indians lacked military sense in history. Hence, west is not best, it’s a copycat.
Time for India to take lessons from it’s ancient warcraft
The most famous personality when it comes to ancient Indian realpolitik is none other than Krishna. Krishna not as a god, but as a pragmatic statesman and a brilliant military strategist (better than these over hyped foreign military strategists). Krishna fought several wars before the Mahabharat mostly against the cruel Jarasandh, the ruler of Magadh, and also against several demons and emerged victorious in all, thanks to his unmatched military skills. The beauty of Krishna’s military strategy can be judged from the fact that Jarasandh’s army being much larger and stronger than Mathura’s army (commanded by Krishna), always lost to latter. Hence, it becomes imperative for us, especially the Indian military strategists to take lessons from Krishna’s warcraft.
Following are some of the important takeaways from Krishna’s military teachings:
1) First lesson is that one must know his weaknesses and also his enemy’s weaknesses. Krishna in Mahabharat war knew the weaknesses of Guru Dronacharya and Bhishma and utilised their weaknesses against them and made it easier for Arjun and Dhrishtyadum to kill Bhishma and Guru Drona respectively. Krishna was also aware that Karn had got some special type of astra to kill Arjun, hence he kept Arjun away from Karn till the latter had used that astra on Ghatotkach. India apart from knowing it’s own weaknesses must also focus on weaknesses of it’s enemies and utilise their weaknesses for it’s benefit.
2) Second lesson is that a military strategist must have a far sighted vision. Krishna after defeating Jarasandh several times was also analysing what the latter will do in next battle or what help he could get from others. India although foiled Chinese plans at Galwan clashes, must analyse very deeply what Beijing plans to do next as the latter would not side idle.
3) Third lesson is about pre-emptive attacks. When Krishna came to know that Jarasandh would himself be leading one of the expeditions against Mathura, he thought it would be foolish to wait for Jarasandh to attack first. Instead Krishna made a daring plan and led a pre-emptive attack on Jarasandh’s army (away from Mathura) with speed and surprise in a pincer movement. Although Jarasandh survived but not loosing to Mathura in a very insulting way. Today India follows completely reactive approach. This attitude must change. For instance India must not allow Pakistan to violate ceasefire first or let it’s terrorists enter India, and instead New Delhi must take the first move.
4) Fourth lesson is about espionage system. Spies are backbone of any military. It was the spies of the Krishna because of whom he got to know the plans of Jarasandh in advance and could plan accordingly.
5) Fifth lesson is about retreating. When Krishna got to know that Jarasandh had allied himself with Kalyavan, a demon king from Greece, and both of them were planning to attack Mathura simultaneously, he knew that taking on them together would be suicidal. Hence he made a plan where people of Mathura were to move to a new place (a kind of retreat) near Saurashtra. Basically Krishna wanted time to plan strategies to defeat both Jarasandh and Kalyavan. Retreat is not defeat. There’s no shame in retreating if situation is not in one’s favour.
6) Sixth lesson is dividing the enemy forces. As mentioned in last point, when Krishna got to know that both Jarasandh and Kalyavan would attack Mathura togather, he made a strategy to divide their forces. He succeeded in dividing their forces and finally got better of them. India must also plan to divide the forces of it’s enemies like China or Pakistan if there is a war in future. Several terrains at India’s land borders support dividing strategy.
7) Seventh lesson is about terrain. An army fighting on a suitable terrain is superior to another army which fights on unsuitable or unknown terrain. Krishna after dividing the forces of Jarasandh and Kalyavan, made Kalyavan to follow him. The path that Krishna chose was full of jungle and ended in a cave. This path was totally unknown to Kalyavan’s army. But the Kalyavan who was hell bent to kill Krishna followed him blindly and finally got stuck in a narrow cave because of his large size. This was Krishna’s plans. Krishna killed Kalyavan. India must also choose the terrain which suits its interest. For instance mountaineous terrain is suitable to India and unsuitable China. Delhi can take advantage of it in case of a war with Beijing.
8) Eighth lesson is about use of treachery in war. Shastras say that an unarmed enemy should never be attacked. However Krishna being a realpolitik thinker didn’t give much focus on these high ideals and he was ready to use unfair and treacherous means in war. For instance, when Karn’s chariot was stuck in mud, Krishna insisted Arjun to kill the Karn when the latter was trying to recover his chariot and was unarmed. Arjun killed the Karn. Krishna was of the view that since Karn and others killed Arjun’s son Abhimanyu in a very cruel way then he too deserves to be killed by any means, fair or unfair. India must realise that countries like China never follow moral values and they can’t be defeated by fair means. New Delhi will do good if it adopts unfair means in case of a war with Beijing or Islamabad.
9) Ninth lesson is about breaking the rules of war. Krishna, during the gada yudh between Bheem and Duryodhan, asked Bheem to attack Duryodhan below his waist (rules of gada yudh says that one should not be attacked below his waist) because all of Bheem’s attack on Duryodhan’s upper body was ineffective as Duryodhan had some kind of blessings of his mother Gandhari. Breaking rules by India is a must when it has adversaries like China and Pakistan.
10) Tenth lesson is about the use of information warfare or fake news. Krishna knew that Guru Drona would drop his weapons if his son Ashwathamma is killed. Krishna asked Bheem to kill an elephant whose name was also Ashwathamma and Bheem killed that elephant. And then a fake news was spread that real Ashwathamma (son of Drona) has been killed. Listening to this news Drona dropped all his weapons in grief, and finally met his end at the hands of Dhristyadyum. For India information warfare can be effective in both conventional and non conventional warfare.
11) Eleventh lesson is the use of deception. In Mahabharat war Krishna deceived Jayadrath by making him believe that sun has set. But when Jayadrath came out he only found that sun was still shining. Taking advantage of this Arjun killed Jayadrath. China has mastered itself in deceiving it’s enemies. India must also look for ways in deceiving it’s adversaries like China and Pakistan, or any other.
12) Twelth lesson is about expeditionary or long distance warfare. Krishna and his army in one of the most daring military operation rescued thousands of women from the captivity of demon Kalnemi who was living in Assyria (near modern day Iraq). This shows that Krishna’s army had great expeditionary capabilities. India must also develop such capabilities as it’s interest can be challenged at any part of the globe.
13) Thirteenth lesson is about the use of allies. In Mahabharat war Pandavas had good allies like Chedi, Matsya etc. which shared their interest. Although India is on a right track here.
14) Fourteenth lesson is that a warrior must be very strong hearted. He should be ready to kill his enemies irrespective of who they are. Before the starting of Mahabharat war Arjun hesitated to fight against his gurus and relatives. But Krishna changed his mind.
Conclusion and way forward
There is hardly any war in history or even in modern times which has been won without the use of treachery, deception, breaking rules and so on. Unfair means are in DNA of war. Further in this era of kaliyug, realpolitik means dominate the decision making whether it is war of statecraft.
Lessons from Krishna’s warcraft teaches us that if the enemy is righteous one, then ethical or just war can be fought with him, but if the enemy resorts to unfair means or if the enemy can’t be defeated by following rules of war then there is no point in occupying moral grounds. In simple words Krishna was of the view that an enemy should be dealt in the manner which will make him toe the line, whether it is fair or unfair. Hence lessons from Krishna’s warcraft are holistic and timeless in nature.
Had our Indian warriors in last thousand years (apart from few ones) followed Krishna’s methods in dealing with Islamic invaders, the latter would not have got access to an iota of Indian territory, forget about ruling.
It must be told here that a country which fails to take lessons from it’s history is bound to fail and our ancient Indian warriors in last thousand years are best examples of it.
Further with the coming of BJP government in 2014 a new thrust to nationalism is getting generated in India. Also GoI is in the process of changing fake history, hence this is the golden period for Indians to revive it’s ancient statecraft and warcraft with Krishna being the centre point of focus.
Although the scope of conventional war has reduced in modern age thanks to nuclear deterrence and coming of hybrid warfare, but it has not vanished and it will never. Further there is always a scope of conventional war between India and China and even between India and Pakistan below the nuclear threshold level as China is hell bent on following expansionism and occupying territories like Arunachal Pradesh of India. For war against Pakistan, POK will be the factor. Hence lessons from Krishna’s warcarft, if implemented by India, will make it victorious in every battle.
Finally in the end it can be said that Krishna was of the view that ‘one must be ready to do adharm for the sake of dharm if such a situation comes. Then there is no difference between adharm and dharm’. This view of Krishna followed by his realpolitik military teaching, make lessons from Krishna’s warcraft timeless.