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Read Thy Arthashastra On The Mirror:Existential Crisis of Bangladesh(Part 6)


Written By: MuminChowdhury
18/06/2013 21:24
Burning Issue

Earlier part: (Part 5):Consider Thy Enemy’s Latest Ploy

Image: Influence of Maurya Dynasty

After Part 5’s de-tour, in this instalment I shall return back to the main concern of my essay and, as promised, help identify what we as a nation must do for defeating New Delhi’s ‘world conquerors’. This is not a difficult task. As I said in Part 4, to get our ‘dos’ and ‘don’t dos’ we might, to begin with, read Kautilya’s Arthashastra on the mirror. 

In saying this what I have in mind is this: If we look at Kautilya’s advice to his Brahmanic ‘world conquerors’ from their intended victims’ position and earnestly take guards and counter measures against those, we would, insh’Allah (God willing), go a long way in creating effective bulwarks against our enemy’s designs and stratagems and will be putting a halt on to their expansionist drive and hegemonic ambition in regards to Bangladesh. Please note unless stated otherwise all my references to Kautilya’s opinion and advice will be, from the 1992’s 2nd edition of R. P. Kangle’s translation of Arthashastra and to save space they will be specified by their page numbers only. 

Kautilya and His Arthashastra

Those who have not read it can be forgiven if from its title they think of Arthashastra as a book on economics and/or finance. Although it touches on both these subjects, it is in the main a work on statecraft for attaining the Brahmanic goal of conquering the ‘world’.

This goal was not Kautilya’s creation; it was vibrant long before him. The Late Vedic royal yajana of ashwamedhjugga or horse-sacrifice and the regal titles of Chakravartin or the world-conqueror, Ekachchhatra or the lone holder of umbrella (the symbol of sovereignty) and Sarvabhauma or the possessor of all the land encapsulated this goal. As I have noted in Part 3, it started with the Rig Vedic Aryan legatees who had earlier declared that their victorious war-god Indra had conquered the earth and given it to the Aryans. Arthashastra, as Kautilya stated, was ‘written for the purpose of gaining and maintaining [exclusive mastery over] the whole earth’ (p. 516). The motive behind the proprietary drive is to ‘enjoy it (the gains) divided into varnas [classes sometimes castes] and asramas [Hindu stages of life] in accordance with his own duty (p. 491).

This Brahmanic ‘earth’ or ‘world’, ‘up to its four ends’ (p.195), ‘extends northwards between the Himavat and the Sea, one thousand yojanas [about 9,000 miles!] in extent across’ (p.407). Although most Indian scholars of our times see, or at least say so, this world as being Mother India or the subcontinent (R.P. Kengal footnote p. 407; Indra, Ideologies of War and Peace in Ancient India, 1957: 54–55), the mid-19th century pioneer Hindu supremacist Tarinicharan Chattapadhyay extended it beyond the subcontinent up to Tatar (Central Asia) and China (Bharatverser Itihas, [1958] 1978: 32). Indian National Congress’s opposition to the then Burma’s separation from British India in 1935 and New Delhi’s preying eye up to Sri Lanka and Maldives also underscore potential for further time and context sensitive flexibilities in the Brahmanic definition of its proprietary world.

Returning back to Arthashastra, the apparent mishmash between the cover and the content of the book is not due to any lack of incisiveness on the part of its author, but to meet his need to convey the conquering drive’s goal of material gain for a very special type of state and its Brahmanic ruling elite. Remarkably, even the conquering king is in essence an instrument in their hand (p. 317, 344, 406, 453, 512) as was symbolically asserted before in the Late Vedic rajasuya or royal consecration ceremony and encapsulated in the notions such as purohit or regal priest and counsellor and mantrin or minister advisers. 

The statecraft set out in Arthashastra was not a product of Kautilya’s singular genius. Nor was he an armchair theorist; he practised what he championed. In his own words, he ‘regenerated the science and the weapon and [conquered] the earth that was under control of the Nanda kings’ (p. 516). 

The king for whom he supplanted the Nandas was his handpicked protégé Chandragupta Maurya (c.317-293 BCE), whose people the Moriyas of Pipphalivan were related to the Sakyas of Gotama Buddha. Mahapadda, the first Nanda king, had freed Magadh from Brahman courtiers’ machinations, uprooted Brahman-backed monarchies of the Upper Ganga region and extended his sway up to the Bias or Beas in the Punjab. The Buddhist opponents of Brahmanism gave Mahapadda the nickname of Ugrasen or stern military leader, which the Greeks rendered as Agrammes. He was the first king to be referred to as Ekachchhatra (only sovereign) in the Purans. Under him Magadha reached the zenith of its prosperity; so much so that it ‘remained a byword ever after’. Its capital Pataliputta became the largest city of the ancient world (D. D. Kosambi 1991:144). 

Mahapadda’s son and successor Dhana Nanda was a great philanthropist, who created a Danasala or charitable foundation for promoting learning. Its beneficiaries included many Brahman scholars including Panini, the grammarian who codified the old Vedic language, the Chhandadasa into Sanskrit effectively creating, in the words of David Ludden (Indian and South Asia, 2002) ‘a codebook for a Brahman secret tongue, a users’ guide for Brahman cultural software’. Kautilya, who taught politics at the Takkasila University before, headed the Danasala of the Nanda king Dhana Nanda. 

A Brahman-led hostile disinformation campaign accusing the Nandas of excessive tax demands and hoarding 99 crore (990 million) gold pieces in, of all places, a cave under the river bed of Ganga was already in progress. Incidentally this black propaganda survives in the myth of Jakka’s under water treasure-trove of our times. Kautilya, who would later on write in Arthasastra that ‘All undertakings depend on finance’, took 100 million Kahapanas from the Danasala or charitable foundation of King Dana Nanda of which he was the head and fled to the wilderness of Winjjha. Counterfeiting, he increased the hoard to 800 million. It was the first known instance of counterfeiting anywhere in the world. ‘Next he searched for a person who was entitled by birth to be raised to sovereign power and lighted upon Chandagutta’, recounted the Buddhist biographical digest Mahavangsatika. 

According to Greek historian Plutarch (c.46-120 CE) during Alexander’s victorious campaigns in the Northwest, Kautilya and his protégé offered to help him conquer Magadh. But the Macedonian did not respond. After his death when people started rising against the Greek occupation, Chandragupta became the champion of liberty, using Kautilya’s hoard employed armed gangs and got both the Greek governors of the erstwhile Hindush, Nicanor and Philip, assassinated as part of a stratagem (R. K. Mookerji, Chandragupta Maurya and His Times, 1988: 28–33).

But the people of Magadh stood against the Magadhan Adhorja or native traitor. Mahavangsatika reported: ‘In the course of the warfare, the population rose all together, and surrounded them, and hewing their army with their weapons, vanquished them.’ After nearly losing his life Chandragupta ‘went to Himavatkuta and entered into an alliance with Parvatak, the king of that place’ and changed his strategy of outright attack on the capital to capturing the Nanda territories in phases, starting from the outer rim. The guerrilla tactics exhausted the Nanda state and eventually Chandragupta’s forces captured Pataliputta. 

Brahmanic text Mudrarakkas claimed that Chandragupta entered the capital at night ‘as indicated by the augurs’. But Jain and Buddhist texts reported that there was public disorder and the Mogadhan adhorja waited for the reason of his safety and Kautilya suppressed the opposition with iron hand. Not to be deterred, a little later Chandragupta conquered Punjab and according to Mudrarakkas got his ally Parvatak killed and annexed his kingdom (Abraham Eraly, Gem in the Lotus 2000: 307-11).

As Justin has noted, the state brought about under the pretext of liberating the people from foreign occupation and saving people from the alleged excessive tax burden of the Nandas turned out to be altogether different. The description of its administration left by Megasthense (J.W. McCrindle, Ancient India as Described by Megasthense and Arrian,1877) approximated closely to the outline of a grim bureaucratic regime set out in Arthashastra. Maurya state was a police state like the communist Stalinist states of our times.

Fearing assassin’s knife Chandragupta kept female bodyguards for his protection and never slept in the same bed. Tired of acting at the dictation of his Brahman ministers and living a terrified life, he left the throne to become a Jain monk and died of self starvation in faraway Mysore. But, Kautilya continued guiding his son and successor Bindusar from behind the throne.

A Primordial Live Historical Institution

The statecraft that Kautilya claimed to have ‘regenerated’ was none other than the ‘timeless laws of politics, economy, diplomacy, and war’ of Brahmanic statecraft (Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India,1967: 36). In other words, up to its composition and application in the third century BCE Arthashastra represented the ‘spot’ of the Brahmanic ambition and the rest of their laws, customs and beliefs were its ‘skin’. 

The ‘discovery’ of the Sanskrit text of Arthashastra in 1904 and its publication in 1905 have left a false impression on Western intellectuals that it lost its user value and disappeared from the intellectual radar of the Brahmanic elite after the Muslim conquest of South Asia in the 12th century CE. Yet unknown to them even during the high noon of the British Raj Bengali high caste youngsters were starting their formal education at Patsalas by memorising Chanakya slokas, that is, the Kautilyan distiches (D.C. Sen, Brihath Bangla, 1935:150). Tarinicharan Chattopadhyay’s highly popular history text cited above literally exuded the old Brahmanic conquering zeal (1878: 32-33) and presaged 20th century Brahmanic supremacist Hindustav (Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments, 1993: 94). 

It is possible that this zeal might have been hushed up during Muslim rule and the prospect of British promised home-rule reinstalling Brahmanic elite on to power reinvigorated it to its old strident form. It is also significant that Arthashastra’s discovery came at a time when the British Raj’s apparent sluggishness in honouring its Home Rule pledge roused ‘extremist challenge’ from with the Indian National Congress and during the First Partition of Bengal (1905-12) many extremists resorted to terrorism. 

Moreover, as I have noted before in Part 4, through Pandit Nehru’s conscious emulation of Kautilya in fashioning New Delhi’s statecraft and foreign policy Arthashastra’s guiding influence has again taken the centre stage as a live historical institution of a resurgent and expansionist Brahmanism. Even Indian writers admit that the Kautilyan statecraft is alive and well in the subcontinent (Subir Bhaumik, Insurgent Crossfire, 1996: 36). If any proof of it is required the history of the creation of Bangladesh and its experience afterwards are ample testimony of it (See the author’s forthcoming book Bangladesh O Tarpor to be published in the summer of 2012).

In The World Conqueror’s Watch

The Brahmanic goal of ‘world conquest’ cannot proceed without conquering adjacent territories up to the ‘four ends’ of the ‘world’. Because of this, Arthashastra sees neighbouring states, regardless of their conduct, as enemies. As a corollary to this, alongside its postulation in the Mandal theory of its foreign policy that a neighbour’s neighbour is one’s ally, it continues regarding all allies as future conquests when the time is ripe. Indeed it states ‘After conquering the enemy’s territory, the conqueror should seek to seize the middle king, after succeeding over him, the neutral king. This is the first method of conquering the world’ (p. 490-91).

Unsurprisingly, in its conquest craving mind only two kinds of neighbour or enemy registered: a weak one fit to be exterminated and a strong one that would have to be secretly harassed and weakened in order to make it fit to be exterminated (p. 354). There is no place for a good or friendly neighbour in its stratagem. 

In view of this neighbour/enemy typology, Arthashastra envisages three forms of war: ‘open war, concealed war and silent war’ (p. 339) and reveals a willingness to use any and all kinds of warfare to achieve consolidation and expansion of the conqueror’s domain. In choosing one or the other there is no question of morality but only of strategy (p. 438).

Open war is obvious and concealed war is what we call guerrilla warfare. But silent war is carried out by striking the enemy again and again through secret agents and spies while pretending to be at peace, for secretly harassing and weakening the enemy (p. 342, 366). It is an uniquely Brahmanic stratagem and completely different from the image of war depicted in the epics Mahabharat and Ramayan (B. K. Majumdar, The Military System in Ancient India 1960: 29, 63) which were forged later to sell the ideology of bhakti or love for a new type of Salvationist deities represented by Vishnu and his avatars or reincarnates to the conquered fourth and fifth ‘wheels’ of the Brahmanic caste based hierarchic society. Obviously, given the above enemy typology the natural sequence of the applied form of war will be, unless there are other intervening factor, silent war to concealed war leading eventually to open war, as we have encountered during 1947 to 1971 during the Pakistan period and started encountering again from 1971 onwards after the creation of Bangladesh. 

Not surprisingly the Brahmanic foreign policy is just another weapon of war. Its aim is to ward off defeats and to make sure one is successful in subsequent warfare. The war itself is not an extension of domestic policy nor its successful end is peace through balance of power; it is for obtaining land and enforcing servitude on the conquered. Thus, in the Brahmanic scheme of things, an enemy’s adoption of an appeasement foreign policy is futile and a dangerous sign of being seen as weak and fit to be exterminated! It is no accident that Arthashastra sees all ambassadors as potential spies with diplomatic immunity. Indeed, it devotes an entire section about how to “fight with the weapon of diplomacy’.

The World Conqueror’s Ways

According to Arthashastra an enemy is fit to be exterminated and his domain wrested when he is ‘without support or with a weak support, is deserted by his subjects, when, on being attacked, he wishes to flee taking with him the treasury and the army’ (p. 354). It is best to attack an enemy that is ‘disunited’, rather than an enemy in which the subjects have organized themselves into ‘bands’ (p.356). Indeed Arthashastra says that ‘whenever an enemy king is in trouble, and his subjects are exploited, oppressed, impoverished and disunited, he should be immediately attacked’ (Rajendra Prasad, Politico-Geographical Analysis of Arthashastra,1989: 58-60). 

In Arthashastra’s view it is best to wage war against an unjust state for which there is no public support, it is wise to avoid war with a just nation whose people will fight energetically on behalf of their state. Because, ‘Subjects, when impoverished, become greedy; when greedy they become disaffected; when disaffected they either go over to the enemy or themselves kill the master’ (p. 335). In case of a righteous state ‘The subjects help the king who is justly behaved’ (p. 334). Moreover, ‘one attacking a righteous king is hated by his own people and by others; one attacking an unrighteous king is liked (by them)’ (p. 362).

In waging war, ‘hindrances to gain’ such as ‘pity’, ‘piousness’, and ‘regard for the other world’ (p. 419) are to have no place, unless they are useful for bringing victory. Nor any moral qualms about violating a promise are to be entertained. Hence the advice: ‘The commander of a frontier fort, by offering the surrender of the fort, should get part of the (enemy’s) troops inside and destroy [them] when full of trust’ (p. 472). Indeed, in outlining military campaigns Arthashastra disregards the traditional humanitarian principles laid down to regulate the conduct of war (Charles Drekmeier, Kingship and Community in Early India 1962: 212).

During times of peace and negotiations, Arthashastra wants spies and secret agents to exploit the divisions within a country. Most countries, it maintains, have four kinds of unhappy subjects—the enraged, the frightened, the greedy, and the proud. Secret agents can widen and deepen these divisions by inciting these four types of people to act against their state. The would-be world conqueror ‘should win over the seducible in the enemy’s territories by means of conciliation and gifts and those not seducible by means of dissension and force’ (p. 32). Moreover as part of silent war, secret agents and spies are to be used for assassinating important leaders of the enemy, neutral as well as allied nations, creating divisions within their body politics and spreading propaganda and disinformation among them (p. 342). Arthashastra often advocates using women as weapons of war, especially in silent wars (p. 434, 463, 497). 

Since all allies are future conquests, treaties with them are to be abided by only for as long as it is advantageous. If a treaty is no longer advantageous, then the would-be conqueror ‘should violate the treaty’ (p. 367) or, ‘when after making a pact he intends to violate it, . . . he should demand a gain not received or more’ (p. 347). Moreover, in the case of an ally who is also an ally of the enemy, division is to be created between them and then the ally is to be exterminated before the enemy (P. 383). Likewise, in case an enemy’s neighbour is trying to remain neutral or ‘indifferent’, the enemy is to be secretly provoked to start a war against his neutral neighbour so that the latter is compelled to ‘seek his help’ and ‘place him under (his) obligations’ (p. 383). ‘That ally who might do harm or who, though capable, would not help in times of trouble, he should exterminate him, when trustingly, he comes within his reach’ (p.383).

Arthashastra’s advice for the would-be world conqueror is: ‘When he is superior in troops, when secret instigations are made (in the enemy’s camp), when precautions are taken about the season, (and) when he is on land suitable to himself, he should engage in an open fight. In the reverse case, (he should resort to) concealed fighting’ (p.438).

To Arthashastra conquerors are of three types: ‘the righteous conqueror, the greedy conqueror and the demoniacal conqueror (p. 460). Whereas one can satisfy a righteous conqueror simply by submitting to his rule, one must surrender ‘land and goods’ as well as money in order to satisfy a greedy conqueror. The demoniacal conqueror, however, will stop only when he has seized ‘land, goods, sons, wives and life’ (p. 460). Apparently Arthashastra sees it advising a righteous conqueror, who might have been lethal to the enemy leaders but those were out of necessity for the benefit of its author’s cherished varnasram social order. But the goal of Brahmanic world conquest points to its victims as being greedy, if not demoniacal, in nature. 

Although Arthashastra advises a weak king to give up everything if it is inevitable and find a way to survive to fight another day (p. 462), in the main it does not advocate giving in to a demoniacal aggressor without countermeasures and recommends a whole raft of actions which are essentially paying the aggressor in his own medicine (p. 461-64).

Arthashastra also puts forward the idea of speaking of justice to an approaching conqueror as the last tactic of the weak (p. 462). Yet, it also cautions about their ineffectiveness before a superior power. Similarly it also considers attempt to appease a conqueror futile and an affront to his intellect. Instead, it says ‘If weak in might, [a king] should endeavour to secure the welfare of his subjects. The countryside is the source of all undertakings; from them comes might (p. 368). The ‘undertakings’ of forts, the treasury, and the army all depend ultimately on the people of the countryside, where are found ‘bravery, firmness, cleverness and large numbers’ (p. 387). And thus, a state’s power, for Arthashastra, is in the end tied to the power and popular energy of the people, without which it can be conquered, for ‘not being rooted among his subjects, [a king] becomes easy to uproot (p. 392). 

‘Subjects, when impoverished, become greedy; when greedy they become disaffected; when disaffected they either go over to the enemy or themselves kill the master. Therefore, [a king] should not allow these causes of decline, greed and disaffection among the subjects to arise, or, if arisen, should immediately counter-act them’ (p. 335). A domestic political policy of social justice is, in the long run, the best defence against outside enemies, because ‘one attacking a righteous king is hated by his own people and by others; one attacking an unrighteous king is liked (by them)’ (p. 362).

These are briefly the salient instructions of Arthashastra to which New Delhi’s would-be conquerors of Mother India are the conscious and willing legatees to. Put it on the mirror and see what obvert lessons you can learn from them in the time and context sensitivities of today’s Bangladesh. What I have learned I will let you know in Part 7, insh’Allah.


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Bangladesh Existential Crisis Indian Hegemony Brahmanism 


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About MuminChowdhury

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  • Name: Dr. M. Abdul Mu'min Chowdhury
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    Dr. Chowdhury is a UK-based retired Bangladeshi academic who has Educated at the universities of Dhaka and Exeter University (England) and London. As a teacher of Sociology, he taught in his early career at the universities of Agriculture (East Pakistan) and Dhaka during the period of 1967 to 1973. 

    Dr Chowdhury held academic appointments at several universities including London University. His works include "The Myth of Three Million" and "The Rise and Fall of Buddhism in South Asia". His Bangladesh O Tarpar (in Bengali) is about to be published, followed by its English version, Bangladesh and after.

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