Lessons on politics are spread around the pages of Indian epic Mahabharata. We may ignore them at our own peril by dismissing Mahabharata as mythology but its teachings still ring true in this modern age.
My intention today is not to discuss the teachings of Mahabharata but about a few episodes form the first major empire of recorded history in India. History of the first major ruling dynasty of India has a few lessons of its own that are still valid today. I am not talking about the current Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. This is about the rise and fall of the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE).
1. Kautilya Chanakya (Vishnugupta), the author of “Arthashastra”, considered one of the greatest treatises on economics, politics, foreign affairs, administration, military arts, war, and religion ever produced(Maurya Empire-New World Encyclopedia),was the brain behind rise of Chandragupta Maurya and the Mauryan Empire. Chandragupta Maurya defeated King DhanaNanda (Nanda dynasty) in battle for the throne. Dhana Nanda’s erstwhile prime minister Rakshasa plotted with enemies of Chandragupta. With the good of the country in his heart, Chankya skillfully manipulated Rakshasa to accept a prominent position in Chandragupta’s administration. Chanakya knew that Rakshasa was an able administrator and counsellor who would be an asset to Chandragupta in friendship rather than as an adversary. Chanakya’s courting and manipulation of Rakshasa for accepting the position is the story of MudraRakshasa kavya.
Lesson : For greater good of the country, build bridges and not sit on your ego. Reward merit.
May be Machiavelli learnt a thing or two from Chanakya.
2. Asoka, grandson of Chandragupta Maurya converted to Buddhism after the battle of Kalinga and opened the exchequer for proliferation of Buddhism far and wide neglecting the army and thereby leaving the country vulnerable to external attacks. Maurya empire did not sustain for long after Ashoka’s death thereby fragmentation of the central authority and balkanization of India the price for which modern India paid with the division of the country.
Lesson: Do not mix religion and politics.
Lesson: The exchequer is not personal property of the ruler to be spent on pet projects to the detriment of the country.
This is my simplistic readings of history. Opinions of intellectuals may differ.
Emperor Ashoka’s picture source is Wikipedia, Chanakya’s impression from New World Encyclopedia