Kautilya’s relevance in Modi’s India

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The manifestations of the strategic thought are evident in India’s military modernization and India’s aspiration to be the net security provider in the region.
Image courtesy: strafasia

Indian strategic thought is envisioned along the pretense of being a hegemon and Kautilya’s principles of statecraft i.e., Swami (the ruler), Amatya (Ministers), Janapada (Territory), Durga (Fort), Kosa (Treasury), Danda (Military), Mitra (Ally). These elements of statecraft are relevant to the contemporary defense and foreign policies of Narendra Modi. Kautilya’s Arthashastra is a comprehensive text on statecraft, economic policy, and defense strategy for ensuring national security. His work has significantly influenced India’s modern strategy. Kautilya envisioned the maximization of state power by gaining economic strength. On the foreign policy front, the foremost priority was to achieve regional domination. The manifestations of the strategic thought are evident in India’s military modernization and India’s aspiration to be the net security provider in the region. Modi has always considered South Asia as his area of influence. India’s position towards the region and the world has not changed over the period of time with the change in leadership. Such rigid policies indicate the driving force which is considered a prominent actor for the Indian decision-makers.

Also read: India’s obsession with “limited strikes” and options for Pakistan

When Narendra Modi came to power, the pretense of being a hegemon became evident through his ‘Neighborhood First’ policy. He stated that a “nation’s fate is connected to its neighborhood. For this reason, my government has prioritized enhancing friendship and cooperation with our neighbors”. Therefore, he understood that for India to become a key Asian power, as well as to stand by the pretense of global power, it depends on the management of its neighborhood. It indicates the factor of realpolitik – as envisioned by Kautilya in his strategy for the neighborhood.

For Kautilya, foreign policy goals are to safeguard territory of a state and ensure economic well-being. Since coming to power, Narendra Modi has been actively pursuing a realist foreign policy, focused on his vision for India – a regional power in a favorable neighborhood. India’s Minster for External Affairs S. Jaishankar reiterated Kautilya’s ideology of Mandala that “India’s foreign policy is based on the aspiration of being a leading power, rather than just a balancing power”. It is an acknowledgment of the notion of being close to Vijigishu (one who desires victory). Modi’s aspiration to become a major power is a manifestation of Chakravartin (the universal leader) of Kautilya’s ideology. Arthashastra mentions that a state’s strategy is focused on conquering other states and prevailing to gain victory. Narendra Modi’s worldview apparently conforms to this vision of making India emerge as a principal leader in the international system. His aspirations are broader and more pronounced than that of his predecessors – One in which India is bigger and higher than envisioned before.

Also read: Modi’s delimitation in IIOJK: possible motivations 

Clearly focused on Pakistan, Modi’s aggressive posture; in line with Kautilya’s ideology against Pakistan is driven further by misinformation, fake news, propaganda, and other deceptive means. Pakistan is being targeted by an extensive defamation campaign globally, sponsoring terrorists outfits directed against CPEC, etc. India’s pursuance of Kautilya’s policy of forming strategic alliances with global powers, to improve its capabilities, is designed to undermine Pakistan’s strategic interests in the region. The Balakot episode after the Pulwama attacks was a manifestation of employing Danda (military) to achieve socio-political gains. On the global front, he perceives himself to be the Kautilyan Vijigishu (the ruler who desires victory). This aspiration has inspired him to pursue a grand strategy by establishing closer economic and defense ties with the US, Russia, Japan, Australia, and other major powers to confront and contain China’s rise.

Kautilya’s diplomacy has reinvigorated under Modi, by heavily focusing on hegemony. Kautilya as a political realist envisioned India’s regional diplomacy in its immediate neighborhood. Modi’s aggressive postures in the region align with Kautilya’s ideology of state power projection and containing China’s influence. India has actively pursued the policy of keeping South Asia as its natural sphere of preeminence. As a whole, Modi’s realism-led geopolitical aspirations are derived from the ideology of Kautilya’s Arthashastra. However, the Indian strategic thought is faced with challenges internally including rising intolerance, human rights violations, and the eroding social fabric of the Indian society. India needs to have an inward-looking approach rather than aspiring to be the next global power.

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