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Kautilya vs the King

Published Oct 10, 2014, 9:53 am IST
Updated Mar 30, 2019, 10:28 pm IST
Indian Muslims or Christians do not have a history of provocation
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI/File)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI/File)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s phenomenal rise as a global leader by taking off from the BJP springboard is noteworthy. Pandit Nehru commanded respect internationally not because of the Congress party, but because of scholarship — as the  author of two books — and his role in formulating the Non-Aligned Movement and propagating democratic socialism.

Mr Modi cannot boast of any of these credentials. His big plus is his personal victory in bringing the BJP to power in New Delhi, even though he did not have much experience in national politics. He is also endowed with the OBC ethic, working his way upwards through sheer hard work, tenacity and pragmatism.


I know how difficult it is for someone from the OBC/dalit background to achieve the status of a scholar in this upper caste jungle of academics and scholarship. I know how difficult it is to grow in stature even by doing positive work in a country which deliberately de-recognises the “Other”. In India’s history, Mr Modi is perhaps the first “Other” to lead even the dominant forces who dislike the “Other”. It is a miracle that he has managed to hold his own within his party and the Sangh Parivar network.

Mr Modi, however, did not build such a stature from an exclusively political or intellectual point of view, as B.R. Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule, both from the lower rungs of society, had done. He earned notoriety for the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. His first tool of mass mobilisation was constructing the image of the Muslims of India as “enemies”. This required an innovative ruthlessness, and his party needed such a leader badly.


The Indian media recognised this ability. The transition of his state — from the “Gujarat model of pogrom” to “Gujarat model of development” — needed patience. From there to winning the PM post on his steam, using the instrumentality of demo-cracy is unparalleled.

His cool but calculated revenge against the mightiest force on earth, America — from “denial of a tourist visa to a visa on a platter” — is already legend. After his US visit both Democrats and Republicans are eager to woo him because he can mobilise Indian votes in America. The Clintons are already wooing him. This is a first for an Indian Prime Minister.


But the upkeep of this stature would depend more on his party and the Sangh Parivar. Imagine a situation where they create a pogrom like Gujarat while
Mr Modi is in power in Delhi. Howsoever his agenda of development fares, it would not harm him because assessments are subjective. But creating pogroms against minorities will damage him, and it will be the work of his internal enemies.

Indian Muslims or Christians do not have a history of provocation. Mr Modi himself has gone on record in the foreign media to say that Muslims are peace-loving “deshbhakts”. Minorities do not have the courage to provoke. They only respond. The history of Indian communal riots is proof of that.


Now Mr Modi has to eat more, leaving his hot water fast behind, because his enemies from within his party are already fuming and he needs strength to fight them. This enmity will have two components, as both Kautilya and Machiavelli suggested — the jealous from within the friends’ camp and the intolerance for a “lowly man” reaching such great heights (in this case upper caste intolerance). This is how palace revolutions took place.

We have a fine example of this in our ancient history. Having made Chandragupta Maurya, a shudra, the king, his Prime Minister, Kautilya, became jealous of his successes and resigned from the post to overthrow him (Arthashastra was written to tell him how an Indian king should rule under the thumb of a Brahmin guru). A fine historian of D.D. Kosambi’s stature established Kautilya’s mischievous role against Chandragupta.


Mr Modi, too, has a guru sitting in Nagpur. And modern-day Kautilyas do not write books, they use trishuls to settle scores. Mr Modi, however, is not Chandragupta. His rise is from the poll boxes. That is the reason why the chaiwallah could get a bed (if not bread) in the White House that had earlier denied him entry. The black man and the coloured man share the history of oppression of caste and race. That both paid homage to Martin Luther King, not to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, was a clear indication of shared history and oppression.


Mr Modi is no Chandragupta for another reason. If he sees danger to his power from the friends’ camp, he can invoke his OBC status and gather support from the lower castes to contain his enemies. The biggest blot on Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government was the Gujarat carnage. But Mr Modi is in total command, except of course for the Nagpur power house. That alone will decide whether he will be a world leader, like Nehru, or the worst PM India has ever seen.

When Barack Obama won the elections, he inspired the world. So far, he has lived up to his image. Mr Modi also inspired a section of Indians. Now he is trying to inspire a section of the world. We must see, as in the case of Chandragupta, whether Mr Modi’s guru ditches him. Kautilya has already given a Vijayadashmi call!

The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad