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Mirza Faiyaz asked: What is Kautilya's kootayuddha and its importance?

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  • Saurabh Mishra replies: The meaning of kootayuddha has to be understood in terms of Kautilya’s approach towards existential realities and understanding of different kinds of warfare. For Kautilya, if war and deception are an extension of certain natural constituents of human nature, so is the need for a norms-based social and political order.

    He elucidates three primary categories of yuddha or warfare, namely, prakashayuddha (open warfare), kootayuddha (concealed warfare) and tushnimyuddha (silent warfare). Any, or a combination, of these three categories of warfare becomes part of a state’s policy once it decides to go for vigraha (war/hostility) or yana (march) against another state. These categories of warfare are either based on mutual respect and understanding of certain values and norms or complete lack of it between the warring states, or pragmatic exigencies based on absolute or relative powers of the states, as well as the desire to avoid massive casualty and destruction.

    The above three categories of warfare are explained as follows:

    • Prakashayuddha means ‘open war’ in which two warring states decide to face each other at an indicated time or place, and the conduct of warfare may be based on certain mutually agreed rules;
    • Kootayuddha means ‘concealed war’ involving use of deceptive tactics in the battle field; and
    • Tushnimyuddha means ‘silent war’ which implies all kinds of covert operations against the enemy. It also implies perception management, use of secret agents for killing, and silently enticing the enemy into defeat.

    The first category of warfare, i.e. prakashayuddha, is somewhat theoretically evident in ancient epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, wherein wars were conducted based on certain mutually agreed rules and the location of armies as well as the battle ground was known to both sides. However, prakashayuddha does not exist anymore.

    The kootayuddha is distinct in terms of the use of deception as a tactic. Unlike in prakashayuddha, the place and time of battle are not known in kootayuddha, surprise being the essential element here. It employs all kinds of tactics, formations, and camouflage techniques to dodge and overcome the enemy. The only rule is the tactic that helps defeat the enemy. Power in absolute physical terms may not be that important a factor in this kind of warfare. It also differs from tushnimyuddha, mainly in terms of visibility. The tushnimyuddha or covert warfare is not visible while it silently rages underneath a seemingly normal state of affairs. Of the three, the kootayuddha is considered the most prevalent and materially the most destructive form of warfare.

    One way or the other, modern warfare is mostly about kootayudhha or tushnimyuddha, or a combination of both.

    For more details, please refer to my following publication:

    Michael Liebig and Saurabh Mishra (eds.), The Arthasastra in a Transcultural Perspective: Comparing Kautilya with Sun-Zi, Nizam al-Mulk, Barani and Machiavelli, IDSA, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2017, p. 98.

    Posted on July 23, 2018