Misperceived Kautilya: Understanding India’s Quest Of Rashtra Or Maharashtra – OpEd


Writers have thronged literature with their writings in respective domains, but rare are known as experts in these domains. Kautilya is one the great writer of the time whose masterpiece laid the foundation of the great Mauryan empire.

Even today, experts believe that India is following the legacy of Kautlya’s stated in Arthashastra. Before delving into deconstructing what Kautilya meant, one has to understand what the actual understanding of his writing across the world is? In the theoretical domain of international relations as an academic discipline, Kautilya is presented as a classical realist. In the domain of strategic studies, he is regarded as one of the best strategists to guide the Mauryan Empire to reach its peak. Was Kautilya all about these strategies and only Mandala Theory to which these strategists refer? What is relevant today in current Indian politics is the focus of this writing piece.

In Sanskrit, Purushartas and Arthashastras are two domains studying humans and society. Purushastas is comprised of four human endeavors Moksha (salvation), Dharma (Moral Behavior), Artha (Material wealth), and Kama (Worldly pleasure), on the other hand, Arthashastra is the science of politics. Understanding etymology reveals that Arthashastra is an economic state.

In the Pre-agricultural revolution times, societies had no threats from each other, and there were no commodities to procure from the outer threats. After the agricultural revolution, when food was in surplus, humans started building strong walls around cities to protect them. This was when trade among different societies began. Kautilya’s Arthashastra is not just about managing foreign policies rather just one chapter is being given to it. In academia and the strategic policy sphere, aspects related to the economic affairs of a state in Kautilya’s writings are neglected.

The book is an extensive writing I would say that covers every aspect of life from household to state relations with other countries. An internally weaker state would not be able to counter the threats emerging from the outer world. So, Kautilya preferred internal management of a state first. When law and order begin to prevail and the state becomes internally coherent and resilient, it can pursue a robust foreign policy by establishing sound diplomatic relations with the outside world. Concerning this, the state must understand who its friends and enemies are. Here becomes the Mandala theory relevant that says there would always be an eternal threat from the inner circle around the state. Outside that circle, Arthashastra may find some good friends who can help it in mitigating threats from the first Mandala. 

India is indeed an Asian giant when it comes to its economy and more focus is being given to the military might that favors the strategic balance in South Asia in India’s favor. The point here is that in consideration of Kautilya’s teachings, whether it is Rashtra or Maharashtra, on which Indian policies focus. I would argue that when it comes to internal management of the state, the BJP government has proven too unrealistic.

What Kautilya had meant was to better off each other so the society could prosper. But BJP has only focused on making India a Hindu Rashtra based on Hindutva ideology. Violence is being carried out against Christians and Muslims with impunity. These religious groups are not given any justice even. Internally, the Indian state has been so polarized that this fragmentation will backfire BJP and would cause its demise I would say. The international community is silent because they see a coherence of interest with India. However, as far as Kautilya’s relevance is concerned, it looks minimal, because the BJP government has failed badly in establishing a coherent, vibrant, and resilient society.

However, in foreign policy domains, India has been acting very pragmatically. Making relations with the major powers, India’s pursuit of military might have indulged South Asia into instability. Promulgating covert operations against Pakistan and making friends with the outside Mandala, like the USA is helping it against threats from the inner circles like China.

So, in India, Kautilya remains relevant in strategic policymaking. India will keep on pursuing its policies to make Maharashtra, extending its sphere of influence across the continent. These policy measures keep security dilemmas relevant in South Asia. The international community must not act dually. India flourishing under this policy thinking is a threat to regional countries. If it wants to emerge as a progressive economy, it has to develop itself internally first with certain policy reforms and put itself as a responsible nation in South Asia. 

One thought on “Misperceived Kautilya: Understanding India’s Quest Of Rashtra Or Maharashtra – OpEd

  • March 15, 2023 at 8:28 am

    The author has coered the details of the book Arthashastra Kautilya’s teachings that covers every aspect of life from household to state relations with other countries. Ideology of Akhand Bharat epitomizing Hindus as a civilization to rule the world is misinterpreted. Hindus have never ruled the world but India being the oldest civilization has given a lot to the world because of its rich cultural heritage. The theme of India’s G20 Presidency “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or the ‘World is One Family’ “One Earth-One Family-One Future” is based on India’s ancient scriptures.Modi; “This Era is of No War” and India never wanted or will ever invade its neighbours. YES, extending its sphere of influence across the continent is one dream and physical military invasion is another thing. Wish Kautilya had remained relevant in strategic policymaking for India which has not been the case.


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