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Comparative Study between Arthasastra and San Shi Liu Ji( The Thirty Six Strategies)

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  • August 02, 2013
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Brig Rumel Dahiya, SM (Retd)
    External Discussants: Col V M B Krishnan and Group Captain Vinay Vittal
    Internal Discussants: Ms Rukmani Gupta and Dr Saurabh Mishra

    Major Arguments of the Paper:

    This paper was a comparative study, perhaps the first. between two major books on warfare theory: Kautilya’s Arthasastra and Sunzu’s San Shi Lui Ji (36 Stratagems).
    Delving on the absence of a comparative study between San Shi LiuJi and Arthasastra, the author blames lack of interest among political scientists and strategic experts to look at Kautilya. The other reason could be the challenge of comprehending the philosophical and historical traditions of two different cultures represented by these two great strategists. A proper understanding of the philosophical and historical traditions is essential to contextualize these two books.

    The paper then discusses the similarities between the two texts. It argues that the most striking similarity between the two texts is that for them war is seducere: getting the enemy away from his habits so to get him lost and then destroy him. The importance of shaping false perception in enemy’s mind and to employ time to defeat the enemy by using his weaknesses are the two most important instruments of seduction. In both book it is very clear that the strategists have to decide what the enemy thinks. Both SanShi Liu Ji and Arthasastra explain seduction in war with very different philosophical concepts drawing from their cultures.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions to the Author:

    • While San Shi Liu Ji primarily deals with warfare, Arthashastra deals with a whole gamut of issues like, economy, governace, politics, etc. Warfare and victory in war nevertheless are important subject-matters of the Arthashastra
    • It is wrong to portray Arthashastra as a realpolitik genre. Kautilya’s Arthashastra talks about enlightened self-interest. It is very liberal and welfare-oriented as far as the internal policies of the state is concerned. Significantly, post-conflict scenario as discussed in Arthashastra evades scholarly attention. It is very comprehensive and progressive in nature. The Arthashastra has not altogether forgotten moral precepts, while dealing with the business of statecraft.
    • The origins of Arthashastra and SunZu are contested but the origin of San Shi Liu Ji is not known. The author and the motivation to write the text is yet to be ascertained.
    • Indian military does not lay much emphasis on the teaching of war classics, unlike China. The study of the war classics will enable the civilian and military bureaucracy in India to ingrain the teachings in these classics in their thought and practise.
    • These two texts are of warring states, when deception and pre-emptive strikes were common. However, in the present era of interdependence, the strategy of deception and pre-emptive strike does not seem to be feasible.
    • Power is an important component of strategy alongwith temporal dimension. San Shi Liu Ji does not devote attention to this aspect of strategy.
    • The author was advised not to use the term Hindu philosophy. Since, these days the term evokes mixed response, it was suggested to use the term Indian philosophy. Moreover, many of the philosophies which western scholars put under a generic term Hindu philosophy today belong to other religions like Buddhism, Jainism, etc.
    • The transcendenatl values in Indian philosophy are well established and there are many instances in the Indian tradition of highest sacrifices being made for the sake of these values. It is erroneous therefore, to say that Kant’s categorical imperative is absent in Indian tradition and value-system.

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