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Launch of two books on Arthashastra

January 12, 2017
Book Release


About the Books

The two books deal with Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra. The first book, co-authored by Subrata K. Mitra and Michael Liebig, titled, Kautilya's Arthaśāstra: An Intellectual Portrait – Classical Roots of Modern Politics in India, showcases the endogenous politico-strategic thought that underpins and drives India’s rise in the 21st century. The political institutions and processes in contemporary India have remained deeply grounded in its pre-modern political heritage, succinctly codified in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. These themes are explored through such bridge concepts as ‘modernity of tradition’ and ‘re-use of the past’ in tackling contemporary political problems. These concepts are key factors that explain the resilience and stability of India’s hybrid political institutions and democratic system, as well as its foreign policy conduct.

Even though Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra is one of the foundational texts of political science and international relations (IR) theory, its contribution has, so far, not been duly acknowledged. It remains largely marginal or peripheral or, worse, ignored in the academic mainstream. This book, therefore, seeks to mainstream Arthashastra in the field of South Asian studies, comparative politics and comparative political theory.

The second book, edited by Michael Liebig and Saurabh Mishra, titled, The Arthaśāstra in a Transcultural Perspective: Comparing Kautilya with Sun-Zi, Nizam al-Mulk, Barani and Machiavelli, is the product of a collaborative effort by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi; South Asia Institute (SAI), Heidelberg University; and the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore (NUS). This volume contains papers exploring Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra in a transcultural perspective, comparing it with the thoughts of Sun-Zi, Nizam al-Mulk, Barani and Machiavelli.

It is agreed that the field of modern IR and Political Theory is predominantly Eurocentric, and based on European sources of philosophy and history. But, nowadays, scholars have been exploring the possibility of a world intellectual history, as ideas are dynamic throughout temporal and geographical spaces. They transform, hybridise and travel long distances over a period of time in such a manner that they appear as belonging to the place where we find them at a particular point of time.

It is also intriguing to observe that India, with a long civilisational and philosophical history, is credited with no contribution to the evolution of modern IR and Political Theory. Therefore, this volume explores the philosophical systems, thought-figures and ancient cultural spaces, on the path from India to Europe, looking for any possibility of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra, the most comprehensive and systematic text available on the art of governance from ancient India, having interacted and influenced the evolution of IR and Political Theory that are considered as originally European intellectual contributions.

Chapters in this book give ample and convincing reasons for initially believing in the Arthaśāstra’s value and making further research on Indian contribution to the intellectual history of IR and Political Theory a desideratum. The ‘Introduction’ of the book has been jointly written by Michael Liebig and Saurabh Mishra. The edited volume comprises of seven chapters: ‘Kautilya Redux? Re-use, Hybridity, Trans-cultural Flow and Resilience of the State in India’ by Prof. Subrata K. Mitra (ISAS), ‘Understanding Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra: Origination, Migration and Diffusion’ by Pradeep Kumar Gautam (IDSA), ‘Kautilya and Machiavelli in a Comparative Perspective’ by Michael Liebig (SAI), ‘Arthaśāstra - Reflections on Thought and Theory’ by Medha Bisht (South Asian University, New Delhi), ‘Rājadharma, Legitimacy and Sovereignty in the Arthaśāstra’ by Saurabh Mishra (IDSA), ‘Kautilya and Sun- Zi on War and Strategy: Exploratory Comparative Analysis’ by M.S. Prathibha (IDSA), and ‘Fatāwā-ye jahāndāri: Hybrid Political Theory in the Delhi Sultanate (Perso-Islamic and Endogenous Traditions of Statecraft in India)’ by Seyed Hossein Zarhani (SAI).


The proceedings began with welcome remarks by Shri Jayant Prasad, Director General, IDSA, in which he said that this unique work throws light on the imprint of the Arthashastra on the psyche of key Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Speaking about his co-authored book, Prof. Subrata K. Mitra (Director, ISAS, NUS) noted that the Arthaśāstra covers all the broad aspects of political, military, social, economic, and cultural life, and the diverse components of power that are the constitutive elements of the state but which are absent in the discourse of Plato and Aristotle, the two founders of the Western philosophical tradition.

India's strategic culture, according to Prof. Mitra and Dr. Liebig (Fellow, SAI, Heidelberg University), endures despite many colonial attempts to extinguish it. It is, therefore, important to understand the past and gauge its impact. On behalf of Heidelberg University, Prof. Rahul Mukherji, Head, Department of Political Science, South Asia Institute, had sent the following message:

The Department of Political Science at the South Asia Institute in Heidelberg is deeply interested in the Indian state. Scholarly work is adept at demonstrating the failures of the Indian state. While this is an important intellectual exercise, India's rise could not have been without some deft management of the Indian state. The Department is deeply interested in exploring not only why the saga of the Indian state is a story of a glass half empty but also why the glass is half full. It is only when we seek to explore how an empty glass that was supposed to disintegrate, is now half full, can we discern how it will become a fuller and more glorious one.

The story of Kautliya's legacy is significant. India's strategic culture according to the Mitra and Liebig, endures despite many colonial attempts to extinguish it. It is therefore important to understand that past and gauge its impact. To give one example, that India averts terror threats despite such adversity and diversity, is not only an under-noticed achievement, it could have lessons for classic nation-states of Europe used to living in more homogeneous communities. Could it then be that India's ability to deal magically with intelligence, even within the framework of a plural polity, is something scholars have missed? This is only one among numerous aspects of India's strategic culture pre-dating to ancient Kautilyan times that require deep scholarly research.

The Department rejoices in the pioneering achievement of Mitra and Liebig for bringing out the importance of India's past for understanding its strategic culture. We hope that the Department of Political Science in the South Asia Institute and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses will continue to work innovatively and with an indigenous perspective towards understanding how the Indian state works to succeed so often, even though it fails some times.

Release of the Books by the Guest of Honour, Shri A.N.D. Haksar

The guest of honour was Shri Aditya Narayan Dhairyasheel Haksar, a distinguished scholar-diplomat, who served as high commissioner and ambassador to a number of countries like Kenya, the Seychelles, Portugal and former Yugoslavia. He had also raised the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), New Delhi. As a scholar of both Sanskrit and English, he is known for his exquisite and crisp translations of many known and unknown Sanskrit classics into English including Panchatantra, Narayana’s Hitopadesa, plays of Bhasa, Dandin’s Dasa Kumar Charitra, Kshemendra’s The Courtesan's Keeper and Three Satires from Ancient Kashmir, Kalyana Malla’s Suleiman Charitra, and Raghuvamsam of Kalidas. His rendition of Bhartrihari’s Satakatrayam or Three Centuries is forthcoming. In November 2016, he delivered a talk at the India International Centre (IIC) on “India’s Forgotten Heritage: Cultural Intermingling and Harmony in Sanskrit Literature”. He has also contributed a chapter in Volume I of the edited book on Kautilya, titled, “A post–Kautilyan View of Diplomacy: The Nitisara of Kamandaki”. He has been actively guiding and mentoring the IDSA project on Indigenous Historical Knowledge.

After the release of the two books, an overview of the two books was given by Dr. Michael Liebig (SAI, Heidelberg University) followed by Dr. Saurabh Mishra (IDSA). Reflecting on the resonance of Kautilyan theory in the day-to-day practices of statecraft, Shri Shyam Saran, Chairman, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), and former Foreign Secretary, in his remarks said that the categorisation of what constitutes ‘comprehensive national power’ has been amply defined in Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra. Commenting on several elements of the Arthaśāstra that are relevant even today, Shri Saran said the importance of a good ruler and a good counsel, based on knowledge and wisdom as advocated in the Arthaśāstra, are critical even in today’s political set up.

General Discussion

There was a consensus to undertake more research in the future. In his closing remarks, Shri Haksar said that the effort so far is both rich and important but not yet conclusive. He offered two practical suggestions: First, research needs to be cognisant of the fact that there was a gap of more than 2,000 years post-Kautilya. Given this, he reiterated the need for a method for internal widening and a look at not only Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra but also post-Kautilyan traditions of writing in this field. Kamandakis’s Nitisara being one on diplomatic activities. Shri Haksar pointed out that Moriz Winternitz (1863 - 1937), a well-known Indologist, in his writings on the history of India literature, subsequent to Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra, had listed 13 other works covering a span of 1,000 years, over a geographic spread from Kashmir to Kerala and Gujarat to Bengal. He suggested that it will be worthwhile to widen the research and exploration to establish changes, modifications and continuities in Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra. Three texts that now need to be incorporated in the Indigenous Historical Knowledge project are: (a) Nitisara of Kamandaki, (b) Laghuartha-Nitishastra by Hem Chandra, a Jain from Gujarat, 1088–1172 AD, and (c) Yukti-Kalpataru attributed to King Bhoja.

Secondly, Shri Haksar said that the idea of an IDSA book that widens the scope across cultures is very important. He referred to the research done by Dr. Liebig and others taking into account spaces from India’s neighbourhood to Europe and China.

Col. P.K.Gautam (Retd.), in his vote of thanks, expressed his appreciation for the support and encouragement received from the previous and current leadership of the Institute for the project on Indigenous Historical Knowledge. He also said that the soft copy of one of the books - The Arthaśāstra in a Transcultural Perspective: Comparing Kautailya with Sun-Zi, Nizam al-Mulk, Barani and Machiavelli - would soon be uploaded on the Institute’s website for the benefit of the readership.