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China and India in the perspective of Sun Tzu and Kautilya’s thought
July 29, 2008, 9:55 am
Filed under: India
China and India in the perspective of Sun Tzu and Kautilya’s thought

Akash Reza

1.Over the last few months, herein ‘News from Bangladesh’, there were many views highlighting Indian attitude and character. Many of the Indians were found responding some of those (thanks to them and NFB for providing them the opportunity). Unfortunately, instead of self-realization or fact finding, most of them came up with the tone of intimidation and abuse as usual. Some of them felt disturbed in anti-Indian attitude and irritated in friendship of Bangladesh with China. In this pretext, I want to make a comparison of Chinese and Indian character in the perspective of two of their respective strategic thinkers, of whom both the countries are equally proud of ­ China’s Sun Tzu and India’s Kautilya.

2.“Your neighbour is your natural enemy and the neighbour’s neighbour is your friend”; Kautilya said, I quote. For those who are coming across this name for the first time: Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, was born in 4th century BC in eastern India. He served as adviser to King Chandragupta of Mauriyan Emperor. With the application of his very crook and immoral means, Kautilya helped the small Mauryan kingdom to become one of the greatest empire of ancient India, which included today’s India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

3.Kautilya’s famous work is known as ‘Arthasastra’.The book is similar to ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu. But it is not limited to warfare only; rather it focuses on various aspects of statecraft ­ that is tax, administration, justice, war, etc. It deals with the ‘theory of Mandala’ in interstate relations (which is also considered one of the roots of Indian strategic thoughts). The ‘mandala’ is based on the geographical assumption that the immediate neighbour state is most likely to be an enemy (real or potential) and a state next to the immediate neighbour is likely to be ones friend, after a friendly state comes an unfriendly state (friend of the enemy state) and next to that a friendly state (friend of a friendly state) and so on. However he also recognized the existence of neutral and mediating states.

4.In a system of mandala, Kautilya advocated six-fold policy to interact with the neighbours which included co-existence, neutrality, alliance, double policy, march and war. To achieve this he advised the king to resort to five tactics: conciliation, gift and bribery, dissention, deceit and pretence, open attack or war. As such on the question of treaty and alliance he suggests: “A King should not hesitate to break any friendship or alliances that are later found to be disadvantageous.”

5.Today, strategy is no longer concept of warfare only, but an inherent element of statecraft. As such although Kautilya had shown more interest towards statecraft he becomes more relevant in today’s context. As such, when Sun Tzu says, “supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemies resistance without fighting”; Kautilya goes one step ahead by saying, “the arrow shot by an archer may or may not kill a single person; but skilful intrigue, devised by wise men, may kill even those who are in the womb”. In my opinion, present day’s ‘economic sanction’ is one of the means in line with this thinking. Thousands could be killed without firing a single shot.

6.Kautilya was not a war monger rather he was a calculative and cautious statesman, as he says, “if the end could be achieved by non-military method, even by methods of intrigue, duplicity and fraud, he would not advocate an armed conflict”. Kautilya stated very frankly that the only way a king can survive in the world is the rule of the fish, the big one eating up the smaller; only an empire of considerable size and power and free from all internal instability could deter big fishes or alien invasions.

7.Sun Tzu and Kautilya have similarities, both were cautious, calculative and preached to view the enemy as superior in all conditions and preferred an indirect approach in dealing with them. Sun Tzu advocated for use of spy. But Kautilya goes further on use of spies not only externally but also internally. He suggests employing spy behind his own ministers even. He also cynically proposes using ‘fake holy men’ for this purpose. He encouraged fifth column activities inside the enemy territory. Propaganda in Kautilya’s time was practiced not as telling lies, but selecting the truth mixed with some ideas and options.

8.The main difference between Sun Tzu and Kautilya is that Sun Tzu had kept his Art of War very brief, only with the concentrated wisdom of strategy and was more positive in nature. On the other hand, Kautilya had filled much of his thick book with dirty tricks of statecraft (which are paying their negative dividends even today in South Asia).

9.Kautilya is more of an empire builder and his strategic concept of mandala advocates conflictual relationship with the neighbouring states. His concept stands as barrier against the idea of integration, both at regional and global level. But unfortunately in the present day, knowingly or unknowingly, Kautilya dominates in regional and international relations. You talk or preach about human rights but ignore it for yourself; you want others to follow the Law of Armed Conflict but don’t follow for yourself; spread democracy everywhere, again that too breaking all democratic norms. So nothing surprising that Kautilya prevails today in our subconscious mind and deeds. The sooner Kautilya is abolished the better for the world.

10.On the other hand, Sun Tzu preaches us to be moderate, to use brainpower instead of physical power and to defeat the enemy without going into the battlefield. He also viewed war as the unfortunate last resort in human interaction. Today Sun Tzu’s theories are studied by politicians, business corporate, sportsmen, and even at private life. His wisdom, are very much valid today and will inspire us even tomorrow.

11.Kautilyan state or Sun Tzu’s state- which is safer may be left for the wisdom to decide. But undoubtedly, as Asian the way we are proud of Sun Tzu, equally we are worried of Kautilya as South Asian.

Posted by Isha Khan,


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