Kautilya : Concept of State

The ancient Indian concepts of state and state-craft were derived from the concept of Dharma. It was the general philosophical position that the goal of each individual on earth is to move towards spiritual realisation or moksha and duties in one’s day to day life or karma was seen as a way of aiding that process. The branch of knowledge that prescribed how people in different positions in society should conduct their secular duties and carry out their roles were part of what was called Arthashastra as opposed to Dharmashastra that dealt with the realm of spiritual perfection. Arthashastra dealt with the science of prosperity and material gains, governance of a political unit or territory and promoting prosperity. In 1905 a book called Arthashastra was discovered written by one Kautilya, a minister in the kingdom of the great Mauryan king Chandragupta Maurya, Kautilya’s work was written in the context of the social and political scene during the fourth century BC.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra deals with administration details more than with political theory because unlike in the west there has never been any ultimate perfections or goals to be sought in politics but rather in the realm of spiritual sadhana or contemplation with secular duties and lives so designed as to be of aid in that process. Kautilya in his work covers political and economic matters of administration as also morality, education, social problems, responsibilities of the king and subjects, international relations, army, spy system etc. The book has six thousand shlokas and fifteen chapters each dealing with one department of running a state. The chapters are on: discipline of the prince, qualifications of ministers and duties of the king, departments of ministers, civil laws, criminal laws, removal of dangers to the state, elements of kingship and policy threats to the welfare of the state, military campaigns, corporations, theory of conquest, devices for advancing the interests of the state etc.

Kautilya puts out clear views on the state but mentions at one place that state originated when people got tired of the law of fish (matsyanayaya) and selected Manu as their king with the decision that he would receive one-sixth of the grain and one-tenth of the merchandise and gold as his share (of taxes) which would enable him to ensure the safety and security, and law and order of the state and punish the wrong doers. Kautilya adopts the seven limbs theory of the state of Indian tradition or saptang which are: (1) Swami, (2) Amatya, (3) Janpad, (4) Durg, (5) Kosha, (6) Sena and (7) Mitra.He suggests a state can only function when all these elements or limbs of a body politic are mutually integrated and cooperate well with each other.

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