Monday, December 02, 2013

How political leaders and civil servants often quote classical India’s top thinker, Kautiliya of Arthashastra fame

Chanakya Statue in an I-T office
LAST week, President of India Pranab Mukherjee quoted Kautiliya, once more. “The happiness of the people is the happiness of the king”, he said, quoting the author of the ancient treatise Arthashastra. BoI here picks out a few instances of political leaders and top civil servants remembering classical India’s top thinker Kautiliya, popularly known as Chanakya, to explain the nuances of good governance.
“The happiness of the people is the happiness of the king; Their good alone is his, his personal good is not his true good; the only true good being that of his people: Therefore let the King be active in working for the prosperity and welfare of his people”, Mukherjee quoted Chanakya while delivering UPSC’s foundation day lecture last week, making it a point that good governance, which appeared in the development lexicon about two decades back, actually existed since ancient times.
As finance minister earlier, Mukherjee often quoted Chanakya’s theory of Koso Moolo Dandah when he had interacted with revenue officials, both formally and informally. When Chanakya says Koso Moolo Dandah in the Arthasaastra, he makes it a point that the treasury and its inflows are the source of a nation’s might. While addressing IRS probationers in March 2011, Mukherjee however gave the nuances of its meanings. “Historically, the focus of the direct tax administration has been on maximal enforcement of the Statute so as to maximize tax revenue and the collections. Both theory and practice has shown that this did not bring in the intended results. The assessee is no longer considered an adversary; committed taxpayers are the engines of our economy and therefore important clients of Revenue Department. Their comfort zones have to be significantly enhanced even as deliberate evaders and offenders are punished,” he said.
In fact, Vice-President Hamid Ansari too quoted Chanakya (or Kautiliya) in a number of meetings. On the question of propriety in politics, Ansari said on the occasion of birth centenary celebration of R Venkatraman: “Kautilya dwelt on the perils of flouting the Dharmashastras and the Arthashastra. Others accorded differing priorities; Confucius stressed the primacy of virtue; Machiavelli espoused the ‘virtue’ of the ruler in terms of success and sustainability; Ambedkar spoke of the paramount reverence for the forms of the constitution.”
In another occasion, on the release of Dr Yoginder K Alagh’s book ‘The Future of Indian Agriculture’ in July this year, Ansari said: “Kautilya observes in the Arthashastra that ‘cultivable land is better than mines because mines fill only the treasury while agricultural production fills both the treasury and the store houses’.”
Chanakya finds a place in speeches of top bureaucrats as well. Here is an example. While delivering a speech on February 22, 2011, the then cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar talked about the importance of Results-Framework Document (RFD) policy, an instrument for improving performance of government. It was a mega workshop where 1,100 civil servants gathered in New Delhi. Chandrasekhar said: “Now I turn to the importance of the RFD policy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that no civilized society can function effectively without an effective government. This statement was as true for Chanakya in the 3rd Century BC and for Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century AD as it is for us today.”
Diplomat author Pavan K Varma, in fact, wrote a book called Chanakya’s New Manifesto where he highlighted issues such as Lokpal and decriminalizing of politics to narrate how the author of Arthashashtra would have provided substantive solutions to each one of today’s problems. Varma, a former IFS of 1976 batch, is currently an adviser to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

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