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Workshop on Kautilya: Creating Strategic Vocabulary

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  • April 09, 2013

    The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) organised a workshop, “Kautilya: Creating Strategic Vocabulary” on April 9, 2013. This workshop was a part of the IDSA project on Indigenous Historical Knowledge. It followed an introductory workshop on Kautilya organised by IDSA on October 18, 2012, which discussed the relevance of Kautilya in Indian strategic thinking. Following is the YouTube hyperlink to the workshop presentations:

    The workshop on strategic vocabulary started from the point suggested by Mr. Shivshankar Menon, National Security Advisor, in the previous workshop, about developing an indigenous vocabulary to understand international relations. A total of six presentations were made relating the Kautilyan concepts and terms to the contemporary affairs of international relations. The presenters were Dr. Deepshikha Shahi, Asst. Prof. Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi, Mr. Kota Mallikarjuna Gupta, Student, Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, New Delhi, Mr. Satyam Malaviya, Student, Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, New Delhi, Mr. Jean Langlois, from EHES Grande Ecole-School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, France, Group Captain Vinay Vittal, Air HQ and Col (retd) P K Gautam, Research Fellow, IDSA.

    Dr. Deepshikha Shahi spoke on “Arthasastra beyond Realpolitik: the ‘Eclectic’ face of Kautilya”. She said that we need to set Arthashastra free from the realist interpretation and look into it with other approaches as well. According to her, though the academic efforts towards establishing Arthasastra as a precursor to political realism has helped in evoking Arthasastra from its apparently dormant condition, it has simultaneously exercised a delimiting impact on the scope of this incredibly vast and profound script. A critical assessment of the realist interpretation of Arthasastra can create room for a broader and more useful way of reinventing Arthasastra. Although the realist elucidation of Arthasastra provides valuable insights into the Kautilyan vision of politics, it is marked with some ‘hermeneutical’ problems that can be diluted by demonstrating the eclectic character of Arthasastra that not only encompasses the features of political realism but also goes well with the insights of social constructivism. She also tried to find the traces of social constructivism in Arthasastra in the latter part of her paper.

    Mr. Kota Mallikarjuna presented on the “Aspects of Peace in Kautilya’s Arthasastra”. Contextualising with the conflicts in Asia, he listed Kautilya’s preferences for peace instead of war. He also talked about various kinds of samdhis (treaties) in Arthasastra.

    Mr. Satyam Malaviya presented how the tactical postures and policies adopted by Pakistan can be explained by the vocabulary of Arthasastra. He defined Pakistani foreign policy as SAB (Samdhayay yayat, Anarthinam, Bhuyo-yaceta) policy which he tried to explain with different instances of India-Pakistan and US-Pakistan relationship.

    Mr. Jean Langlois described the importance given to the element of power and troop solidarity by Kautilya. He said that Kautilya defined power as not just military might or economic strength, but also intellectual capacity that enables a king to conduct an objective analysis and make a correct judgment. The king’s power, for Kautilya, is mainly tied to the power and popular energy of the people. Here one of the key points Kutilya highlights is the importance of the population of the state one decides to attack. Kautilya even suggested that men of an army should know one another and that an army of friends fighting side by side is the most difficult to defeat.

    Group Captain Vinay Vittal elucidated elements of Kautilya’s grand strategy in Arthasastra. He said that Kautilya’s grand strategy emanated from the national policy and strength of the seven elements (prakrtis) of the state or national power and the grand strategy in turn guided the military strategy. According to him, Kautilya’s national policy was centred on the population. He also demonstrated, with the use of Kautilyan vocabulary (vigraha, prakash-yuddha, kuta-yuddha, tusnim-yuddha, dvaidhibhava, yana and asana) how Israel is able to gain a foothold among the Arab nations.

    Col. (Retd) P K Gautam deliberated on the concept of dharmavijay (just war) in Arthasastra. He explained how it is different from lobhavijay (conquest of greed) and asuravijay (conquest like demon). He further explained India’s role in the liberation war of Bangladesh as a dharmavijay. He elucidated vocabulary from the Arthasastra pertaining to winning peace and the laws of armed conflict. He also flagged how Kautilya emphasises on a war and victory without spilling blood.

    Discussing the papers presented, Dr. Kalyan Raman said that if calling for an Indian theory of physics or economics is absurd, so is the call for an Indian theory of International Relations (IR). It is possible that this call for an Indian theory of IR is the result of angst about Western scholarship’s hegemony in the field. We should avoid looking for an Indian IR theory in isolation from the Mainstream or the so called western IR knowledge body. We should rather integrate our indigenous knowledge body with the mainstream. The study of the text like Arthasastra is important not because they would provide us with the vocabulary and perspective for initiating an Indian theory of IR, but because it would enable the Indian scholars to introduce nuances that may be missing in the Western discourse on IR and thus provide the scope for integrating Indian IR scholarship with the international mainstream. Further, the study of these texts would also provide the inspiration to investigate and interrogate the diplomatic history of India’s various kingdoms and empires over the last 2500 years. This is precisely what is missing in Indian IR studies, which has been predominantly devoted to writing commentaries on current affairs.

    In his concluding remarks, Dr. Arvind Gupta, DG, IDSA said that India urgently needs an Indian discourse of International Relations than Indian International Relations Theory, and the workshop is a small step towards this goal.

    Col (retd) P K Gautam, who is steering the project, chaired the workshop.

    Report prepared by Saurabh Mishra, Research Assistant IDSA.