Chanakya’s Mandala theory and Indian foreign policy

  • How Indians go back to Chanakya

 Indian mandarins who formulate and execute its external affairs, are obsessed with Chanakya’s “Mandala Theory”. A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Indian religions, representing the universe. In common parlance, mandala has become a generic term for a circle or loop.

Chanakya’s epic treatise on statecraft, Arthashastra, was composed some 2300 years ago, and very evidently incorporates the Takshashila (modern Taxila) traditions of military science going back to the pre-Buddha era, that is before the sixth century BC. This great classic depicts the social and political conditions of India during its hoary past. It is of immense antiquarian interest but is not an easy reading because of its paradoxes. Here we find puerile and commonplace jostling with the most profound and unique, topical and of temporary interest with timeless and of abiding value, and utterly cynical and opportunistic with loftily idealistic and altruistic.

To understand the machinations of the Indian External Affairs ministry, it is imperative to read and understand Chanakya’s Arthashastra because they use it as a Bible

The most notable contribution of Chanakya to political thought is his Mandala theory. Briefly, the Mandala, or Circle, of Chanakya’s concept consists of an aggregate of Kings, friendly, hostile, and neutral, grouped around the figure of a central King, very significantly called vijigishu. The dictionary meaning of the Sanskrit term is ‘desirous of victory or conquest’, ‘wishing to overcome or surpass’; Indologists like Shamasastry and Ghoshal have translated it as ‘the Aggressor’, but, perhaps, ‘hegemonist’ will be the more appropriate rendering keeping in view the dictionary meaning and the general context of the Arthashastra. Professor Ghoshal further elaborates the idea of Mandala and its vijigishu and states, “It contemplates a system of States bound by hostile, friendly or neutral relations with an ambitious potentate— an Indian Louis XIV or Napoleon— as its central figure.” Haven’t the Indian leaders consistently played the role of the vijigishu during the last 72 years?

According to Chanakya, the king, his friend, and his friend’s friend are the three primary kings constituting a circle of states. As each of these three kings possesses another five elements of sovereignty; such as the minister, the country, the fort, the treasury, and the army; a circle of states consists of eighteen elements. The three Circles of States having the enemy, the middle king, or the neutral king at the centre of each of the three circles are different from that of the conqueror. Thus, there are four primary Circles of States, 12 kings, 60 elements of sovereignty, and 72 elements of states. Each of the 12 primary kings have their elements of sovereignty, power, and end. Strength is power, and happiness is the end.

Strength is of three types: power of deliberation being the intellectual strength; a prosperous treasury and a strong army being the strength of sovereignty; and martial power being the physical strength.

The states participate in diplomacy and war using the six methods of foreign policy. To understand the concept of the Mandala theory, the six methods of foreign policy enunciated by Chanakya must be understood. These cater for different situations in international relations:

Samdhi. The peace treaties were to be concluded with specific conditions that enabled the state to promote welfare and development, strengthen alliances or use the period as one arm of dual policy. Chanakya said that a treaty could even be entered into with one’s enemy and might be broken when one grew strong. The interests of the state being supreme, such betrayals were justified.

Vigraha. The policy of hostility was recommended to be followed by the stronger state. The hostilities could be conducted as open, secret, undeclared or clandestine attacks. Diplomatic wars too were discussed extensively by Chanakya.

Asana. The policy of remaining neutral was recommended by Chanakya to be followed when both states were equal. The Chinese observed neutrality in the cold war between the USA and the erstwhile USSR and utilized their efforts towards development. India was the leading proponent of non-alignment and in following the policy was able to get the best of both the Western and Eastern Blocs.

Yana. Posturing for war was an important decision that the king had to take. The preparation for war and the long march entailed heavy expenditure and prolonged absence from the capital, thus necessitated careful consideration before taking such a decision. After the attack on Parliament on 13 December 2001, Indian armed forces were mobilized and remained poised for war for a year. Ultimately India blinked first and withdrew its forces in face of desertions and breakdown of the morale of its armed forces owing to the long deployment and high state of vigilance.

Samsraya. The policy of seeking protection of a stronger king could be practiced by entering into alliances or by signing a treaty. Various alliances formed during the cold War indicate that this policy is relevant even today. In 1971, when war with Pakistan was imminent, India signed a treaty of friendship with the USSR as a safeguard against intervention by the USA and China on behalf of Pakistan.

Dvaidhibhava. This was the policy of seeking peace with one king in order to pursue hostilities with another.

Parshingraha. The attack in the rear in diplomatic, economic or psychological sphere had been described as an important aspect of foreign policy by the master of guile, Chanakya. It could be in form of posturing or supporting insurgency movements as well. India has developed closer ties with countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam in order to counter the influence of Pakistan and China in their neighbourhood.

Objectives of Foreign Policy. Chanakya said that the objective of foreign policy was to increase the power of a state. Military, intellect and morale were vital components of power, according to Chanakya. The king had to continuously project his power by using appropriate foreign policy. It was essential to understand the dynamic relationship between power and progress and it had to be attained through implementing the right policy and correct execution within the circle of states. Chanakya had said that peace could be made with the enemy, albeit as a temporary measure to gain time to enhance own power. The wars in modern era are also fought on economic and cyber spaces. Chanakya talked of creating division amongst enemies to weaken them. India leaves no stone unturned in its endeavour to drive a wedge between China and Pakistan, but has failed to gauge the depth of Sino-Pak ties.

Chanakya in his treatise had been categorical that a friendly or a neutral neighbour is essential for the growth and stability of a state. He also warned against the dangers of an adversary becoming influential in the neighborhood. China has been using her diplomatic and economic clout in marginalizing India’s influence in the neighborhood. The Indian government has to understand that these nations are on the development curve and therefore need huge investments.

To understand the machinations of the Indian External Affairs ministry, it is imperative to read and understand Chanakya’s Arthashastra because they use it as a Bible and in a typical Chanakyan manner, canonized their “Kautilya”. The Diplomatic Enclave of their capital city is named Chanakyapuri. The basic ingredients of their foreign policy are unabashedly borrowed from Kautilya’s Arthashastra.