Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Appointment of the Prime Minister: Real Politik Continues

Book 1, Chapter 8

Apologies once again but deadlines intervened. But lets forge ahead nevertheless.

Chapter 8 provides a sort of job description and personnel profile for three key appointments: the prime minister, key members of cabinet and the royal priest.

Chanakya spends most time detailing the qualities that a king should seek in his prime minister or the official who will be the head of the executive branch.  The very long list of qualifications for this post range from professional abilities, natural talents as well as personal type. The list that I reproduce below is fascinating not only in its far ranging criteria but also for the priorities it places on various aspects:

1. This official must not only be from the state but also deeply connected to it.
2. Free of any major addictions and bad habits. Chanakya especially considers alcoholism and drug use and promiscuity, beyond the rather wide range of permitted sexual behaviour in those times, a practical risk. It is worth noting that Chanakya's definition of sexual misbehaviour concerns risky sexual behaviour that extends to partners of other influential citizens. Adultery in the western Biblical sense was not nearly an issue in his times.
3. Must be a good rider/controller of chariot, horse, elephant and other vehicles of war
4. Must be well educated in cultural arts, including poetry, music and dance.
5. Must be well versed in political theory and practice, including of course, Arthashastra (although to be fair, Chanakya is talking of the entire corpus of political education rather than plugging his own book).
6. Intelligent, with not only 7, a good memory, but also 8, the ability to read and understand people.

Have to confess that I am not surprised that Chanakya privileges patriotism about all other qualities for this key post. What I am intrigued by - as you will notice - is that he privileges loyalty to the nation/state/kingdom/land over any personal loyalty to the king.  Indeed, loyalty to the king is much lower on the list. This is especially apt as Chanakya himself held the post of the prime minister and is obviously writing from personal experience here.  He appears to be quite aware of the distinction between a king's interests and that of the realm, and believes that the prime minister should act in accordance with the latter. Once again this is an early indication of a more republican and less monarchist/absolutist tendency in classical Indian political thought.

Interesting also that warrior abilities and cultural finesse take precedence in Chanakya's list over political knowledge. It is almost as if the initial criteria for the job ensures that it is open to all able citizens (nagaraka) of a state. Still, the emphasis on culture is telling, especially for our times when any sense of cultural education has been devalued as non-utilitarian (or useful for commercial enterprise).

Chanakya also spends a fair time in specifying the necessary verbal talents and abilities, explaining that the prime minister must be able to :
9. Speak appropriately, in regard to occasion and company,
10. Crush others in debate,
11. Refute (or as Sarah Palin prefers "refudiate") any untruth or propaganda in a convincing manner,
12. Spin, or create a favourable meaning from something unpleasant that is said.

Am fascinated although not surprised that the verbal/debating skills are so heavily emphasized, even though Chanakya is writing not of a professional politician in a democratic sense but a political appointee. However the need for getting the state's message out across a wide cross-section of constituencies is obviously immune to vicissitudes of history.

In addition, on a personal front, the prime minister should be 13, passionate and driven (good point!); 14, influential and convincing;  15, capable of facing adversity and opposition; 16, well behaved - not in the sense of meek but rather free of course or uncouth behaviour; 17, worthy of friendship; 18, capable of sticking to a decision and opinion; 19, loyal (interesting that loyalty to the king comes fairly far down this list!); 20, calm and even-tempered.   

The final seven qualities may seem to repeat the earlier ones but obviously Chanakya believed they needed reiteration or more precision.  These are more character traits rather abilities and include:

21, capable and strong; 22, healthy in mind and body, with no chronic weakness or ailment; 23, steadfast, and calm in moments of crisis; 24, modest and without arrogance; 25, stable in moods, and thus not likely to waver; and 26, pleasant looking (I guess leaders had to be presentable even in ancient times!).

And finally, 27, the prime minister should not be vengeful or indeed have any long standing enmities. Strangely prescient this bit, in light of Peter Mandelson's memoirs of the Blair-Brown years in government. Perhaps, Chanakya should be made compulsory reading for all aspiring politicians!

Chanakya ends this section with a wonderful recommendation: a king should attempt to find a person with these 27 qualities for the prime minister's post, as one possessing all the listed qualities is the superlative one for the job.  However, in the spirit of practicality, he ends with pointing out that a person with a quarter of the listed qualities is a mediocre prime minister.  Implicit in this suggestion is that in the absence of a great prime minister, a mediocre one may be necessary, although in case of the latter, the king should be aware of the fact and thus keep a close watch. 

The next two sections of this chapter are on qualities of the cabinet minister and the royal priest. I hope to include those as soon as possible.  I do have to confess to having a slight bout of RSI, which means typing is a (literal) pain.