Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A little bit of Machiavelli for the Hindu mind.

Serving the country at any cost is a vital Hindu thought, and several Hindu sages have spoken of it in different eras. But most of us assume it is about fighting on the day of war, serving the poor and so on. Indeed it is all that, but it is also about pre-planning for existential threats, for which few have any regard for. It is impossible to make a majority of people think in this fashion, because many people would look at the current strength of the Indian state and think that it has bright prospects and will keep going from one strength to another. What we need for the country to effect it into policy, is a critical mass of people having strategic consciousness and the ability to look ahead of their immediate needs. The pre-planning for national security involves among other things, peering into a competitor's mind and read his literature plus understand the foundations of his thought. Here's a post for the security conscious minority, a minority that will always be treated as social outcasts of a particular kind if they dare open their mouth among the majority, by laws that have little empirical basis.

Following is an excerpt from Machiavelli's "The Prince" which is considered one of his best pieces and is widely used in many places to determine foreign policy. It might very well be useful to determine our foreign policy too. I advise reading all of his classics. Most of them are almost free.

(Warning: If you're thinking that the Indian Subcontinent consists of only the Indian State, you can leave the post now. If you're thinking it is still a bunch of states that deserve to be united in favor of the most powerful state, you are my kind.)

From Ch. 3 Mixed Principalities:


Moreover, a prince who occupies a province which, as previously described, differs from his own, must become the leader and defender of the less powerful neighboring states and seek to weaken the more powerful among them. He must also be on guard lest by any chance a foreigner equal to him in power should enter them. Such an event always comes about through the help of discontented inhabitants who willingly admit a foreign power either through excessive ambition or through fear, as was the case with the Etolians, who admitted the Romans into Greece. So, it was also with every province that the Romans entered, they were brought in by the inhabitants themselves. It is in the nature of things that as soon as a powerful foreigner enters a province, all the weaker powers in it will become his allies through envy of those who have been ruling over them. This is so true that, with respect to minor powers, the invader need do nothing at all to win them, for they will all willingly merge in the state which he has acquired. He has but to see to it that they do not gain too much strength and authority. With his own forces and their support, he can very early reduce the stronger powers and then become arbiter of the entire province. Any ruler who does not succeed in doing this will soon loose what he has won, or so long as he does manage to hold it, will have a host of difficulties and annoyances. The Romans very carefully observed this policy in the provinces they conquered. They sent out colonies; they protected the lesser powers without increasing their strength; they reduced those who were strong, and they did not permit powerful foreigners to gain a footing. Their conduct in Greece will suffice as an example: there the Romans protected the Achaeans and the Etolians, reduced the kingdom of the Macedonians, and expelled Antiochus. Nor did they ever reward the Achaeans and the Etolians by allowing them to enlarge their states, or allow Philip to persuade them to become his friends until they had weakened him. Nor did the power of Antiochus ever induce them to permit his keeping any part of Greece. In this instance the Romans did everything that wise princes should do who must have regard not only for existing disorders but for future ones as well, avoiding them with all possible diligence.


If you've been following current trends in India's geopolitics, then as far as the Indian subcontinent is concerned, all the above actors are in place. What was the traditional reach of the Indian subcontinent, comprising of states - Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and as some say, even Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and some parts of modern day Iran, are all still splintered as was the case at the end of the Maurya Dynasty. Elsewhere in "The Prince", Machiavelli makes a point that a splintered people will be easy to conquer. A new wave of imperialism awaits us as the pressure applied on the rump state of India increases from all these sides and as the balance of military power shifts steadily from the Indian state onto the regions in its vicinities. We have missed out on the maneuvering phase of the enemy. Luckily, we have a democracy, and what an individual can do is to get informed, get others informed, vote for and give feedback to parties and people that are most security conscious. If there is any absence of such people, you have the opportunity to join the system and bring the change you wish. At the bare minimum, we can wish to enhance the military power of the Indian state, and keep the balance of military in our favor. Uniting with the lost states will happen if they happen to discover their roots at a later time, or the rising un-affordability of raising a modern military makes them fall within our ambit as autonomous states.


prashhanthkpp said...

Certainly blogs like this are required to stir up the Hindu mindset. However, in this instance, India was an empirically governed country, with the Mauryas, Guptas, Phallavas, Vijaynagars, Cholas, Cherans, Pandyas et cetera weren't they. And all these dynasties had hundreds of princely states under them. The inherent problem here is that when the center wanes, rebellion and infighting takes place which instead of strengthening, only weakens them. Perhaps the invasion of Moguls and the British too are testimony to this distrust and disunity. Isn't that mindset still prevalent in us Indians now? Though Bharat, there is vast divergence of selfish thoughts and pernicious deeds. Unless we shed this cloak of disparity and stand for unity, will the Machiavelli theory of foreign policy deliver?

Karmasura said...

It will still, because for the successful defense of India, all the neighboring states should be allied to India's interest, recognize Indian culture as their own, and be a constant federation of states at the least and at the most, mold themselves into one single block. That is how Indians were able to ward off and defeat the Persians (under Cyrus) and the Assyrians (under Semiramis) earlier and in the more recent times the Afghans (under Masood Ghazni).

In short, the scale of unity you are talking about is too small, we need all the states surrounding us to be united under our banner and culture. In earlier times, this unity existed right from Uzbekistan to Sri Lanka and from Assam right up to present day Zabul. We need to get a semblance of this scale of unity to remain totally secure. Check the Monroe Doctrine, recent attempts at a North American Union and objectives behind the EU for more.

Dirt Digger said...

While the thoughts of people like Machiavelli, Sun Tzu or our Chanakya have professed such views to build and maintain empires, India recently has not had visionary leadership (Sardar Patel? or maybe Indira Gandhi) to plan for eventualities.
Machiavelli with his access to some of Italy's best libraries probably had access to the thinking of the world's best minds. I wonder if he had read Sun Tzu or Kautilya?

Karmasura said...

It is highly possible that Machiavelli had read Kautilya. In his "Discourses on Livy", Machiavelli argues for a new Christianity that causes people to live for the nation and not that of the Roman Catholic Church. That is quite similar to Kautilya's thoughts on keeping the nation foremost. Arthashastra and the Prince have a few similar topics. Besides, one of the most famous of Machiavelli's ideas, that of mercenary armies drawn from citizenry has been very well known in Indian military history for a long time.