Our democracy is antithetical to the imperatives of governance

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Jan 27 2013, 08:12am hrs
Chanakyas New Manifesto: To Resolve the Crisis within India

Pavan K Varma

Aleph Book Company


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One of the great lessons that Chanakya teaches us is that laws must take into account the psyche of a people, Pavan K Varma, author of Chanakyas New Manifesto, tells Sharad Raghavan Does an ancient text like the Arthashastra really have relevance today

The Arthashastra has relevance because, as the first political treatise of the world predating Machiavellis The Prince by over a millennium and more, it represents the ability to set forth a comprehensive, holistic and detailed response to the pivotal issue of how to run an efficient, caring and secure political system. The sheer audacity of this vision makes it relevant today.

Does this relevance translate into specific actions that can be taken to improve governance, etc, or are they vague guidelines

In response to the situation when it was written, the Arthashastra has no waffle. It eschews ambivalence, and while eclectically considering possible options, is precise in its recommendations. This is precisely the spirit in which I have written Chanakyas New Manifesto.

In your book, you prescribe an increase of FDI in defence manufacturing past 49%that is, you would allow foreign companies to own controlling stakes in arms manufacturing units based in India. Is this prudent

The goal is not the quantum of FDI you allow, but the ensuring of national security. If this goal is served by allowing greater investment from abroad, I see no harm in it. We would not be the first country utilising such an instrumentality. Of course, all such investments would need to be within a policy framework that preserves our essential interests.

You argued that such an idea makes sense because we already import a majority of our weapons. But surely, there is a difference between importing and allowing foreigners to build those weapons within India...

India lies in the most troubled neighbourhood of the world. We have over 10,000 km of a disputed boundary with two consistently hostile countriesPakistan and China. We have a 7,500 km coastline. We have 15,000 km of boundaries with seven countries. We have externally-sponsored terrorism and home-grown terrorism. Two-hundred districts in the country are in the control of Naxal insurgency. The need for us to be able to appropriately defend our security interests is non-negotiable. It is so for all countries, especially major powers. In such a situation, what should we do Our indigenous defence industry is in a shambles. This has made us the worlds largest importer of arms. Precious foreign exchange is used for defence imports that are critical. What is wrong in producing the same weapons and supplies in India where the foreign investor is in partnership with Indians, and in the process is upgrading our indigenous defence capabilities

On corruption, an interesting point you made was that Hindu tradition allows a convenient response to moral questionsthat is, it says that circumstances define what is right and wrong, there is no absolute answer. How then would Chanakya have addressed the problem of corruption in India

One of the great lessons that Chanakya teaches us is that laws must take into account the psyche of a people. His response to corruption in India would thus have taken into account the moral ambivalence of Indians to this issue, where many of us can vociferously criticise corruption in high places in the evenings, having happily colluded with it where a personal interest is involved in the day. His answer to this proclivity would be to ensure that exemplary and time-bound punishments are provided to law breakers as a deterrent to those who are predisposed to break it. He would also have tried to ensure that human discretion is reduced, thereby reducing or eliminating the opportunities to make money. In my five-point architecture against corruption, this is precisely what I recommend by arguing for a quantum increase in the neutral intervention of technology in all areas where individuals have to deal with the government, thereby finessing the human intermediary. I also argue strongly for the need for dandaniti, where those who break the law must be adequately and speedily punished.

In light of the recent events on the LoC, what would Chanakya advocate as the best response against Pakistan

Chanakyas strategy for security was about fixity of goal, clarity of vision but flexibility of instrumentality. That is why he spoke of sama, dama, danda, bhed. His approach to Pakistan would be to always ensure defence preparedness, but continue to engage in all ways that furthers the goal of national security.

In your book, you make it clear that you feel the alliance between China and Pakistan is a direct threat to India. How would Chanakya have used his statecraft to break this alliance or secure Indias safety

If two hostile states are in collusion with each other, the obvious response is to try and break this nexus through every means possible. Chanakya is clear about such an approach in the Arthashastra, and I have recommended its use in Chanakyas New Manifesto. The real problem is that China and Pakistan seem to have learnt Chanakyas thesis of sama, dama, danda, bhed in the same measure as we have forgotten it.

Again, trying to bring Chanakyas views to bear on recent events, how would he have addressed domestic issues like rape and violence against women

I believe one of Chanakyas responses would have definitely been to ensure predictable, deterrent and exemplary punishment for such offenders. He would also have attempted to set up better policing and preventive measures.

There are certain advantages to the Indian style of democracy as well as some pitfalls. The same holds for Chinas authoritarian government. Is there any case to be made at all in India for a government similar to Chinas

India is a democracy, and must remain one. There is no question about this. It is a myth that only authoritarian governments are efficient. India needs both democracy and efficient governance. However, for many years now, the functioning of our democracy has become antithetical to the imperatives of governance. We have 22-member coalitions with wafer-thin majorities, which spend all their energies in political survival and none on governance. We need to change this situation. Chanakyas New Manifesto provides the answer.

What were Chanakyas views on dynastic inheritance of rule In specific, what would he have said about Rahul Gandhi and the prevalent view that he will, at some point, become prime ministerregardless of whether he performs well or not

Although Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra when monarchy was the most prominent polity, he says time and again that a king must distinguish himself on the basis of his qualities and not only on inheritance. I am against the growing cult of dynastic politics in India. It is repugnant to the spirit of democracy. It breeds sycophancy and creates an inert intellectual atmosphere, which is the opposite of the dialogic civilisation we are. The time has come for the people of India to say that leaders must distinguish themselves on the basis of their achievements and not on the basis of who their parents were.