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Why do we call Kautilya, Indian Machiavelli?


De-Westernization of Indian history 

Several comparisons of Indian scholars to western scholars result in the Indian name being distorted in the eyes of their western counterparts. Indian Machiavelli is known as Kautilya, and Indian Napoleon is known as Samudragupta. De-westernization is an attempt of modern-day scholars to look at history, media, communications, and various other disciplines in an unbiased light. It aims at removing the lens of predominantly Euro-American ethnocentrism from it. For years, the countries that reigned over them lost some of their traditional values, their local ways of thinking were trivialized, and indigenous knowledge was labelled as "Renaissance" discoveries or worse, "inventions." It is how British quotations and ideas are conveyed around the world. Neither replacing present ideas with new ones nor conducting investigations just based on raw data will be as effective as incorporating both reality and a broader context. The goal of de-westernization is not to reconstruct current knowledge but to offer a letter from both sides simultaneously. So, before comparing Kautilya and Machiavelli on the surface and labelling one after the other, it's necessary to understand both of their works.

Arthashastra Vs. The Prince

Western scholars usually present Kautilya as a callous philosopher, much like Machiavelli, claiming that the end would justify the means. The cause of this misinterpretation or distortion is that western scholars have focused on only one part of “Arthashastra”, dealing with national security, and ignored his monumental contributions to administration and economy. The main work of Kautilya is Arthashastra spanning 15 books with 180 chapters dealing with various stately affairs. It can be divided into three parts, the first deals with the king and his council and the government departments, the second with civil and criminal law, and the third with diplomacy and war. While "the Prince" is a political treatise written by Machiavelli (as an instruction guide to new princes with an institution of administration in place). It does not discuss making or breaking laws, but it does provide the ruler with a general idea of how to take a stand in the court. Machiavelli ignored the relationship between prosperity and peace and did not examine a comprehensive strategy for national security. He makes a few impromptu comments about forming alliances, the importance of information, and gaining public support. The only similarity between them is that Kautilya suggested stringent punishments even for petty crimes to develop a fear among citizens to maintain social decency. "Men should either be treated generously or crushed," wrote Machiavelli, "since they seek retribution for minor insults - but not for heavy ones." He is credited with being the first political thinker to distinguish between ethics and politics. However, in India, the monarchy has always kept politics and religion separate.

Building infrastructure or securing a job?

The scope of the two works in question is also a quintessential part of this discussion. Kautilya had a grand vision of building an empire encompassing the whole of the Indian subcontinent with a diversified and productive economy. This catalogued the six units of the army - infantry, cavalry, chariots, elephantry, Navy, and governing body. He also stressed the king having spies to keep him informed. Kautilya's espionage system is unparalleled even today. He divided them into various units such as Pulisanj and Pativedaka, reporting directly to the king, stationery spies called Samastha, and wandering ones referred to as sancharah. The stationary ones were usually Kupadiya (disguised disciples to check if any teacher was preaching against the king), Udashita (general recluses), Vaidehaka (merchants to monitor the consumption of any suspicious person), and Tapasa (ascetics to whom people freely divulged their plans). His wandering spies were Satri (classmates), Tikshana (firebrands), and Rashada (poisoners). His system also included women spies known as Vish Kanya, women mercenaries called Bhikshukis, assassin courtesans called Vaishali, and secret undercover agent, Cara. Machiavelli's The Prince mainly deals with the one-sided diplomacy of the 'prince'. His Prince is the epitome of wisdom and self-control, making the most of both his virtues and vices. Even though he was unscrupulous, he had a temperamental admiration for resourceful rulers. In politics, he despised halfway measures, which he saw as a ruler's weakness rather than his conscientiousness. He also says that "Despotic violence is a powerful political medicine needed in corrupt states and for special contingencies in all states, but still a poison which should be used with the greatest caution." He made a list of proposals for what a new rule should do to stay in power. These were "So anyone who decides that the policy to follow when one has newly acquired power is to destroy one's enemies to secure some allies, to win wars whether by force or by fraud, to make oneself both loved and feared by one's subjects." Dharma and Artha are two primary ideas of Arthashastra, and economists like Roger Bosche and Henry Kissinger have linked Kautilya to certain inferior writers due to an incomplete and biased grasp of Indian culture.

Betting on human nature

People were categorized as moral, amoral, or immoral by Kautilya. On the other hand, Machiavelli only saw amoral or immoral people. Kautilya stressed thoughtful education for children to engrave honesty and truthfulness in them. He said, "There can be no greater a crime or sin than making wicked Impressions on an innocent mind. Just as a clean object is stained with whatever is smeared on it. So, a prince with a fresh mind understands the truth as whatever is taught to him. Therefore, a prince should be taught, what are Dharma and Artha not what is unrighteous and materially harmful." So clearly, Kautilya examined the link between character building and nation-building. He wanted to create a more harmonious and caring world and did not accept the existing one, as claimed by Henry Kissinger. He also advised the appointment of ministers for pulling information, knowledge, and wisdom but stressed that the king should be the final boundless authority. In the absence of an advisor, Machiavelli believed that the monarch would alter his mind owing to the influence of his close friends and appear contradictory. Hence, advisors should be hired and listened to. Kautilya always said that the king should treat his subjects like his children, equally and guilelessly. His diplomacy quotes are directed towards international relations. 

Justice and security 

Kautilya discussed property and contract laws at length and developed cardinal principles. Machiavelli's goal was to create fear in the minds of people and not treat them justly, which most likely would not have worked on the ground. When the west was still debating whether women could work, he drafted laws against sexual harassment and child labour. He said, "For looking at a woman inappropriately or talking about anything other than work shall be punished, they are getting paid for their work, and the officer is doing no favour to them." On child labor, he added, "A minor, below eight years of age and no relatives, should not be made to work against his will." While Machiavelli was a chauvinist, terming women as a distraction and objectified them. He also wrote that "It is better to be headstrong than cautious, for fortune is a lady. It is necessary if you want to master her, to beat and strike her, and one sees she more often submits to those who act boldly than those who preceded the calculating fashion." Kautilya believed that national sovereignty was essential to prosperity, and the ruler would be interested only in enriching himself. Kautilya propagated the interdependence of prosperity and security, while Machiavelli paid no attention to prosperity. He also provided an in-depth analysis on why to form alliances? With whom to form them? With equals, stronger or otherwise, and how to extract maximum benefits without compromising with national security. Machiavelli is mostly inconsistent with his views on humans. He says, "For of men one can, in general, say this - they are ungrateful, fickle, deceiving, avoiders of danger and eager to gain." After a few pages, he changed his opinion too, " Nobody is so shameless as to turn to you in such an ungrateful fashion." He was supposedly involved with national security for 14 years but still did not develop any comprehensive approach. Kautilya's approach was people-centric, whereas Machiavelli's approach was king-centric. Comparing Machiavelli's Prince to Kautilya's Arthashastra sleigh comparing a candle to the Sun. It is the lingering colonization to compare such a genius philosopher like Kautilya, who wrote what we are discussing right now in the 21st century back in the 3rd century, to Machiavelli.


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