Reading the Arthashastra: Dealing with disaffection

Its causes and its remedies

Which of the three, Kautilya asks, is the worst—an impoverished people, a greedy people or a disaffected people?

He answers:

An impoverished people are ever apprehensive of oppression and destruction (by over-taxation, etc.), and are therefore desirous of getting rid of their impoverishment, or of waging war or of migrating elsewhere.

A greedy people are ever discontented and they yield themselves to the intrigues of an enemy.

A disaffected people rise against their master along with his enemy. [Arthashastra VII:5]

Kautilya enumerates eight categories of reasons for disaffection. They can be summarised to be in the nature of “doing what ought not to be done and not doing what ought to be done”. In today’s terminology, these would be called failure to provide good governance. In addition to righteousness and rule of law, “by carelessness and negligence…in maintaining the security of person and property of his subjects, the king causes impoverishment, greed, and disaffection to appear among his subjects.”

In Kautilya’s causal chain, “when a people are impoverished, they become greedy; when they are greedy, they become disaffected; when disaffected, they voluntarily go to the side of the enemy or destroy their own master.” This leads to a unambiguous injunction:

Hence, no king should give room to such causes as would bring about impoverishment, greed or disaffection among his people. If, however, they appear, he should at once take remedial measures against them. [Arthashastra VII:5]

How? As discussed in a previous post on internal security, Kautilya distinguishes between internal and external dimensions. For internal threats he recommends a two-pronged strategy. Distinguishing between disaffected people and their leaders, he advises reconciliation for the former and elimination of the latter.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

3 thoughts on “Reading the Arthashastra: Dealing with disaffection”

  1. Does Arthashastra hold any good today ? Arthashastra wouldn’t have seen ideologically motivated people.

  2. Invalid,

    Pertinent question. I have not studied it enough to answer. My hunch is that it might, because ideologically motivated people existed even during those days (perhaps more so then, than now).

    Where I think it needs to be re-adapted is in the face of ICBMs, nuclear deterrence and modern communications. Those change the entire framework of the raja-mandala.

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