March 29, 2009ArthashastracultureForeign AffairshistoryIndiaRealismrealpolitik

Unjust conquests

On India’s strategic frontiers

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

In ancient Indian political philosophy, the establishment of the state is seen as an instrument to impose dharma, or the moral code, through dandaniti or the rule of law. It not only recognises plurality by enjoining the king to respect and conserve the culture and traditions of the country he annexes but also circumscribes annexation itself, limiting it to the Indian subcontinent.

Arthashastra has a twofold aim. First, it seeks to show how the ruler must protect his territory. Secondly it shows how territory should be acquired.

It may be remarked in passing that the rulership of the earth’ contemplated in the shastra does not necessarily imply the conquest of the whole world. The field open for the operations of the would-be-conqueror (vijigisu) appears restricted to the region between the Himalayas and the sea. Territories beyond the borders of India are not included in the territory of the Sovereign Ruler’. [Arthashastra 9.1.17-18]

One of the reasons for this may be that the conqueror, according to the shastra, is expected to establish a social order based on the varna and the ashrama system in the conquered territories and the establishment of such a social order outside the limits of India was perhaps considered impracticable or even undesirable. It may also be that such a conquest beyond the borders of India was regarded as unjust.

Arrian, the Greek historian, has remarked, On the other hand, a sense of justice, they say, prevented any Indian king from attempting conquest beyond the limits of India” [R P Kangle, The Kautiliya Arthashastra, Part III, pp2-3]

Related Posts: The reading the Arthashastra series archive



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