Dr. Arvind Gupta, DG, IDSA, Welcome address at the National Seminar on "Developing Indigenous Concepts and Vocabulary: Kautilya’s Arthasastra" at IDSA on October 8, 2013
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  • National Security Adviser Sh Shivshankar Menon,


    In October last year we had launched the research project on The Arthasastra. We had the honour of welcoming Sh. Menon to inaugurate that seminar. We are honoured to have him with us once again on the occasion of this work shop on “Developing Indigenous Concepts and Vocabulary: Kautilya’s The Arthasastra”.

    In his inaugural address last year Shri Shivshankar Menon had exhorted the strategic community to develop an Indian discourse on international relations and security studies. This is not an easy task. But, this has to be done. I am happy to say that a systematic study of Kautilya’s Arthasastra, carried over the last one year, has amply revealed that the Arthasastra is rich in ideas, concepts and methodologies useful in the art of governance. Many key messages of the Arthasastra are of universal nature, as is the case with the teachings of numerous ancient Indian texts.

    We need to cull out those ideas and contextualise them to modern conditions. In fact, modern rulers will do well to benchmark their abilities, capabilities, strategies performance and analyses against the high standards Kautilya sets for them.

    So dominant has been the influence of the Arthasastra that many subsequent thinkers and writers through the centuries used the Arthasastra as a reference point for their own commentaries and analyses Nitisara of Kamandki of the 8th century can be cited as an example.

    The Arthasastra is a rich treasure of principles of statecraft. We need to redeem this treasure for modern usage. Divided into fifteen books, each book containing numerous chapters and sutras, deals with varied facets of statecraft in great detail. Together, the books cover subjects like training of kings, duties of, judges, and other functionaries of the state. It deals with the important issues of war, foreign policy, the art of spying, circle of kings, calamites, the science of tantra and how to deal with weaker, stronger or treacherous kings or how to manage tranquillity on the borders and keep internal peace. The vijigitsu, the king who aspires to expand his influence surviving among enemies and their allies and become a chakravartin king, is given a complete course in strategy and tactics that can teach a trick or two to the modern stratigicians (stratigists) heavily influenced by Barry Buzans, Kenneth Waltzes, and Henry Kissingers of the world. The emphasis all along is on knowledge, knowledge and more knowledge.

    Even in the modern context of foreign policy, diplomacy and security, the six attributes of foreign policy (sadgunya), or the mandala theory of alliances, or the four Upayas or the commandments of sovereignty are universal. The Mandala theory is essentially a theory of balance of power among states. Similarly, the classical text has a lot useful to say even today’s spymaster and soldier.

    Clearly, it is no one’s case that the Arthasastra should be applied in toto, unthinkingly, to modern situations. Nor is the argument that the western thinking should be replaced by ancient Chanakya niti, sustainable. But, a deeper study of the Arthasastra, which should be made compulsory reading for our diplomats, soldiers, administrators, will provide an Indian perspective to the art of governance and policy making.

    So far, the Arthasastra has been studied by a narrow group of Sanskrit scholars, historians and political scientists but only marginally, and mostly academically. That is hardly enough. It is only now that Chanakya is beginning to be used as a text even in management studies. The Chanakya institute in Mumbai is training budding politicians, and policy makers in Chanakya niti.

    This is a welcome development. But a note of caution is in order. The study of the Arthasastra should be based on authentic texts and translations and dispassionate and critical commentaries. Further, the Arthasastra is only one of many texts. There are many regional texts on strategy which are of great value too. These must also be studied. The distorted versions of the Arthasastra, currently in circulation, can do more harm than good.

    It is heartening to note that as result of last year’s seminar and subsequent efforts of the IDSA, we have been able to network with a group of international and Indian scholars who have interest in the Arthasastra. We will hopefully be able to rebut the western argument that Indians lack a culture of strategic thinking. The Arthasastra and many subsequent texts reveal that Indians could think strategically. But it is equally true that these texts have been neglected in the Indian courses and curricula on security and strategic studies as well as in the training institutions of the country where heavy reliance is placed on foreign ideas and thought. This situation must change.

    The Arthasastra should be reclaimed as a global and not merely a nationalistic text. It should find its place along side Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and others. This can happen only if Indian scholars study the text seriously and dispassionately.

    We have been able to contact a number of international scholars who have had long standing interest in Chanakya and Arthasatra. These include Thomas Trautman, Sheldon Pollock, Mark McClish, Michael Liebig, Rashed Uz Zaman, Jean Claude Galey and Partick Olivelle. The last named author and scholar has refined Kangle’s seminal translation and study of the Arthasastra. He has also been encouraged by IDSA’s efforts to revive interest in Kautilya.

    Following last year’s seminar, the idsa organised a workshop in April this year where we involved a number of Indian scholars who study the Arthasastra. It was heartening to see some young officers of the Indian armed forces have acquired deep knowledge of the Arthasastra and have started applying this to contemporary reality. Col Gautam, who is the spirit behind this project, has published a highly informative monograph which has been well received. We are also in the process of publishing the proceedings of last year’s seminar. Next year we hope to hold an international seminar on the Arthasastra.

    We are grateful to the ICSSR for their support in holding the present seminar. I would request, through the NSA, the key ministries and agencies of the government of India to support and take forward the study of the Arthasastra.

    We are also going to publish a dissertation written by the late Gen BC Joshi on the Arthasastra in the nineties. He urged military intellectuals to delve deeper into the Arthasastra.

    I thank the NSA for his presence today. We do hope that his personal encouragement and the support of the government of India for the project will continue and increase.

    Thank you.

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