Arthashastra’s Centennial

C. Raja Mohan | RAJA-MANDALA<br>The title of this blog,Raja-Mandala,is drawn from the ancient Indian description of the laws that govern the conduct of relations within a circle of states.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published:January 22, 2009 1:36 pm

The title of this blog,Raja-Mandala,is drawn from the ancient Indian description of the laws that govern the conduct of relations within a circle of states. While the mandala theory of international politics was referred to in many of India’s dharmashastras,it was Kaultilya’s Arthashastra that codified it.

Raja-Mandala is,in part,a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Arthashastra. Kautilya’s long forgotten wisdom from the fourth and third century BC was restored to modern India when Dr. Shamashastri of Mysore discovered a manuscript of the Arthashastra in 1904 and published it to great acclaim in 1909.

This blog—a conversation on New Delhi’s statecraft and diplomacy—wants to underline the need for a rising India to create a strategic vocabulary all of its own. That India’s strategic lexicon must be rooted in its own political traditions has not always been self-evident.

Much like the Chinese Communists and nationalists in the 20th century,the Indian political classes too had little time for theories of statecraft from the past. It was all too easy to borrow political terminology from the West.

This bias is bound to change as China and India emerge as great powers in the 21st century. As they begin to end the Western political dominance,strategic thought from Asia’s past is likely to return to the centre stage.

Chinese communists,who once denounced Confucius,now swear by him. Meanwhile,Western scholarship has begun devoting considerable attention to China’s ancient strategic thought. Sun-Tzu has been required reading in U.S. military colleges for quite some years.

On a much smaller scale there is a renewal of international interest in Kautilya’s writings as well. Roger Boesche,the Arthur G. Coons Professor of the History of Ideas at the Occidental College in California,has a fine recent work that makes Kautilya accessible to modern students of politics.

The title of Boesche’s book,(‘The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and his Arthashastra’,Lexington Books,2002) is deliberate in its provocative suggestion that Kautilya,who preceded Machiavelli by about 18 centuries,should be seen as the world’s original political Realist.

That Kautilya made his arguments about power,governance and statecraft,without a reference to religion or divinity,makes him a true founder of what we now call political science.

As it becomes more consequential for world politics in the twenty-first century,India would do well to revisit its own realist tradition so solidly reflected in the Mahabharata,Panchatantra,Arthashastra,Kamandaka-neeti,and Shukra-neeti.

(The writer is a Professor of South Asian Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,Nanyang Technological University,Singapore and a Contributing Editor of The Indian Express,New Delhi.)

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