Monday, 9 April 2012

Beyond Sedition and Sleeper Cells: The Use of Unsatisfied Subjects in Enemy Lands (I)

Book 1, Chapter 13

This chapter continues from the one before. After considering the ways of shaping public opinion at home, Chanakya turns to the foreign affairs, and the ways of influencing citizens of an enemy state. The chapter seems to involve a mix of soft and hard power, with clear political aims and even more precise targeting of efforts. As this is a long chapter, I will blog it in sections, beginning with the categories of citizens of an enemy state that Chanakya identifies as targets for potential treason.

This chapter begins with a long list of all sorts of people who can be turned against their own state and thus employed for purposes of foreign policy. Again, this is a very modern chapter, and begins with a long delineation of various categories of people who may be motivated by fear, greed, pride or a mix of the three. Many of the categories below will likely resonate with those following current international events and the narratives constructed around them, as well as those who are fond of realist school of political theory. Moreover, the practice of many of Chanakya's ideas is not unfamiliar to contemporary diplomatic and intelligence services. What makes the chapter intriguing is indeed its antiquity and strong realism focus.

Chanakya begins with a list of those who may be persuaded or influence to treason (or rather as he puts it and far more delicately, to one's own ends). These include those: who have been defrauded by the state/king of promised moneys; artists and entrepreneurs offended by a perceived slight or preference for a competitor; those close to the ruler but insulted by being denied access to him; any people who have been oppressed or mistreated by the king; those who have paid the state for favours but been refused; and those insulted by the state or its elite. Chanakya continues the list, being even more specific and adds: those dismissed from high office; those whose wives have been abducted (shades of the Iliad here); those imprisoned or punished without cause; those who have been abduced themselves by the state; those forced to carry out unpleasant or unethical tasks by the state, and those whose families have been forced into exile.

This list contains a few extremely modern characteristics. First, Chanakya also includes any individual who has been especially honoured or rewarded by the state/ruler, apparently as these may be greedy for further inducements. Secondly, Chanakya makes a clear case for religious freedoms and equality, pointing out that those who have been denied religious freedoms and rights are useful targets for enemy states. Here he gets even more specific, pointing also to those from minority religious groupings who may have faced discrimination based on stereotyping or misinformation. For those who believe that India's secularism is a new and postcolonial development, this clear articulation of the dangers of a state mistreating its religious minorities (or treating them as less than equal) should make for a salutory lesson from our antiquity!

The next set of lists that Chanakya provides indicate the inducements each category of individual must be offered, relying primarily on fear and greed as motivation, albeit for not only material rewards.

He explains that the following categories of individuals are most suited for being motivated by aspects of fear: those known for violence motivated by greed; those known for criminal activities including theft, prostitution and robbery; those afraid of being accessories to a crime; those who resort to land theft; and those of violent or unlawful natures but afraid of the consequences a life of crime may bring. Interestingly enough, Chanakya includes the following "white collar" criminals in this same category including: those who have close links with official departments; those who misuse their power to accumulate wealth (many of India's contemporary elite would count here); and those who suck up to the king's coterie in order to gain some reward. The final two categories included here are those that have been declared traitors by the state as well as traitors. Note the fine distinction here and specificity: Chanakya is aware that falsely labelling someone a traitor may serve to push them into real treason.

The second set of individuals are motivated by greed including: those who have lost all wealth and status; cowards or those upset by danger; and those with addictions, including to substances or habits such as gambling. Always modern in his thinking, Chanakya also includes those with spendthrift financial habits.

Chanakya also points to a related aspect, pointing to those who cannot tolerate any slight to their self-image. It is worth noting that Chanakya includes this within the categories motivated by greed and not fear, once again, demonstrating a surprisingly modern view of humans. He lists the following as motivated by their need to maintain their self-image: those who believe themselves successful leaders and policy makers; those who believe themselves to be exceedingly popular; those who are hungry for praise and adulation (celebrity culture anyone!); those who cannot bear a competitor being rewarded or recognised; those who are snubbed by their superiors but show excess generosity to their inferiors; those with volatile temperaments who take no advice and are easily agitated; those who can order the implementation of violent crimes; and finally those with unusually large appetites for life's luxuries.

As one can see, the list above is quite comprehensive but also fits recognisable modern categories, aligning well with those who are often targeted by intelligence and diplomatic services of foreign and/or enemy nations. The most interesting aspect of this chapter, of course, as stated earlier is the articulation of fear, greed and pride as primary motivations (for those who remember their Hobbes, these are articulated as primary motivators by him as well). More importantly, the three factors are also part of the classical Athenian political thesis, and by no means unusual for the Chanakya's time and place. The crucial difference however is Chanakya realpolitik focus as opposed to political theory: he is only interested in this thesis as ground for preparing strategy and implementing specific tactics.

The second part of the chapter provides a comprehensive plan of action for targetting each of the above listed categories with specific tactics. While I will deal with that section in greater detail in the next post, it is worth noting that the primary agency for implementing these tactics is the intelligence services Chanakya valued so highly. Again a lesson that many states that ignore or devalue their intelligence services may want to reconsider!


  1. "those who are snubbed by their superiors but show excess generosity to their inferiors"

    What exactly is the justification to specify these kind of people as amongst the category of people most likely to betray ?

    1. Hey vagabond: Its not so much "likely to betray" but most likely to succumb to temptations because of greed. The reasoning based on the rest of the chapter seems that these people are so hungry for recognition and insecure that they will be susceptible to being tempted by greed.
      Thanks for reading :-)

  2. I am just curious, what justification one might have to argue that "those who are snubbed by their superiors but show excess generosity to their inferiors" have a character flaw so as to suggest that they are likely to "succumb to temptations because of greed." The part snubbed by their superiors is alright, that's a motivation but not a comment on the persons character but the next part "but show excess generosity to their inferiors" is definitely making a judgment on the persons character. I am just wondering (not arguing) why he says so. If you could shade some light would be most thankful.

  3. Chanakya is being judgemental and very practical. Based on the commentaries I have and rest of the text, the key word is "excess generosity." This is someone who is buying the respect or support etc from those inferior - either in status or in personal qualities - to him. Either which way, it means he is (1) keen to get recognition or support or something and (2) unable to get it on his own quality, is willing to "pay" for it, and (3) if he has no morals about this aspect, it will also impact other parts of his character.
    My explanation: if someone will bribe another, they are also likely to take a bribe :-)

  4. you are an amazing writer...going through you opinions on arthashatra i truly admire the way you have put it across atleast for a reader like me who seldom have time to read books....curiously waiting for your further updates on the same...good luck

    1. Thanks. Its a complex text and I dont manage to update as often as I would like. But next post coming soon...I hope :-)

  5. An excellent resuscitation of Arthashastra in today's moribund , purile and nation decimating politics. Some our adversaries have their upper elite armed forces study the magnificent Arthashastra and regularly discuss ways to put into practice. The plain fact is that we have a huge leadership , statesmanship deficit ever since 1947. Indira could be an exception.

  6. Thanks Kanad. Am hoping to update this blog but I need to read and think about each section before writing and life often gets in the way. Hoping to update soon.

  7. Such a nice piece of writing..keep posting :)


  8. Kautilya aka Chanakya was a genius. It is very hard to comprehend how one could come up with an exhaustive detail of statesmanship. It is a shame our leaders in India do not elicit anything from the Arthashastra, including us!
    Thanks for the write up. It is inspirational.