If you like Machiavelli, You will love Chanakya.

Chanakya (also known as Kautilya) was statesman, philosopher, chief advisor and Prime Minister of the Emperor Chandragupta, the first ruler of the Mauryan Empire which became the largest empire in South Asian history even larger than the Mughal Empire.

Chanakya – is known as the Indian Machiavelli, If anything Chanakya is more of an in depth political philosopher and a realist when it comes to politics and control. Max Weber mentioned that Machiavelli’s The Prince was “harmless” by comparison.

 Chanakya vs Machiavelli Comparison:

Chanakya (c. 350-275 BCE), belonged to the Brahmin caste (the priestly class), he hailed originally from what is now Pakistan/Northern India and was a teacher at Taxila (Takshashila). Chanakya authored, Arthashastra which keeps on being compared to the Italian mastermind Machiavelli and his book The Prince by people who probably have studied one of the works superficially.

Kissinger, said on Arthashastra in his book World Order, “This work sets out, with dispassionate clarity, a vision of how to establish and guard a state while neutralizing, subverting, and (when opportune conditions have been established) conquering its neighbours. The Arthashastra encompasses a world of practical statecraft, not philosophical disputation.

Pakistan, the area where Chanyaka taught and more or less was born – he is not studied and despite the promotion of Chanyaka neither is he studied in depth by Indians.  Pakistanis and Indians need to remember the beautiful quote by Chanakya  – “A man is great by deedsnot by birth.” Both nations and peoples need to feel comfortable with their common identity as South Asians and look within their rich heritage, deep history and need to embrace their identities with more confidence.


There are the 4 basic principles Chanakya had for Emperor Chandragupta:
1. Saam
2. Daam
3. Dand
4. Bhed


1. Saam (Diplomacy): 

The fragrance of flowers spreads only in the direction of the wind. But the goodness of a person spreads in all directions.” – Chanakya

Acknowledge your own interests and understand that the other party has their own interests also: Ask the opponent what is required and if there is rejection, explain your point, profit-involved for the opponent and allude to consequences if your opponent does not come to your line of thinking. Humility is best in dealing on this level acknowledge that you have your interests and the other party has their interests.

This is about calm diplomacy where you aim to convince your foe on the level, one to one, kindly, gently. Emperor Chandragupta built matrimonial alliances (as did Emperor Akbar of the Mughal Empire who has advisors who studied Chanakya) to expanded his empire.

Sun Tzu in his The Art of War addressing this as “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.



2. Daam (Bribing):

There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth.” – Chanakya

Many people believe in the concept of selflessness. They believe that friendship, good deeds and love are valuable – more or only – if the other person has no personal interest. And they are disappointed and bitter when they find out that the other person is gaining something from the relationship.

Many people believe in selflessness and yet do things because they have expectations to get something like acknowledgment at least back. Chanakya was suspicious of such people who did things out of selflessness. Imagine those who see themselves as “nice” and then get angry and bitter because they are not appreciated.

Very few people exist who are truely ‘selfless’ – one such person I can think of is Abdul Sattar Edhi who ran a sprawling health charity from a slum but such noble people do exist but are far and few.
Chanakya was a realist he acknowledged that as humans we need each other. Our friendships are used to share ideas, have company, grow up, to feel safe – these are needs, and they are based on the ego and the self – its not about other people. When you look within nature how animals behave they almost always look out for themselves. There is no shame in acknowledging that to ourselves.

Selflessness is a noble characteristic but relationships consist of giving and getting. Cease being bitter if others have used you for their own reasons – this is simple human nature.
With this in mind Chanyaka took bribing to another level – he believed in winning your opponents over with gifts – appeal to their self-interests. So if an opponent doesn’t understand, then Daam them. Know that ‘Daam’ is not just about money it is exploiting different kinds of needs and greed in your opponent.

Look at things from their point of view and see how best you can assist them to come to your line of thinking. Bribery is unethical – but people are not noble, selfless creatures, your duty is to your own side, you cannot take a bribe yourself as you are not acting for yourself but have other people dependent on you.

Wang Shi the Chinese businessman said it best “It’s easy not to bribe. But it’s not so easy to keep a business running at the same time.” – so be realistic and remember be mindful of your nation and your opponent nations laws don’t break them – if bribery is illegal use more creative diplomacy.



3. Dand (Stick):

Even if a snake is not poisonous, it should pretend to be venomous.” – Chanakya

This is the ‘Carrot and Stick’ approach used by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, during the industrial revolution he told the story of a donkey, that the best way to move him is to put a carrot in front of him and jab him with a stick from behind. The carrot is a reward for moving while the stick is the punishment for not moving and hence making him move forcefully.

Punjabis call this giving the ‘Danda’ not focused just as punishment but rather the use of force. Chandragupta became an excellent military commander with advice from Chanakya, he laid the foundation of the Mauryan Empire which covered most of modern day India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and held it together and expanded it.

Jeremy Bentham said “The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but rather, ‘Can they suffer?‘” – think not how you can make the other party suffer but instead find ways on how you can help them alleviate their suffering in the present or future sense.



4. Bhed (Intelligence):

Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions – Why am I doing it, What the results might be and Will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead.” – Chanakya

Get your work done through your own network of friends and allies – find ways of developing the mindset of your opponents to share information with you in real-time. Be very focused in your victory.

This rule here is to use Mystery and Secrets. Chanakya has techniques of manipulating public opinion, spying, hypocrisy, deceit, creating disinformation – this earned him the title of Kautilya, which means ‘Crooked’ – he understood in dealing with people around him who were frauds, liars, seducers and deceivers – one had to play them at their game but in a better way. Intelligence was something Chanakya emphasised as a required tool to overcome opponents. In Arthashastra it is mentioned that there are 5 different types of spies and the Mauryan Empire had an extremely efficient system of spies.

Niccolo Machiavelli said that “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” – leaders whatever their level need to be more focused on getting the job done rather than spend time looking like leaders, they need to have people around them who can see the larger picture, are intelligent in their fields and unconcerned with gain for themselves. The overall focus should be helping the ‘ruler’ and if he or she is surrounded with idiots – then find a way of helping the ruler directly, and if that is not forthcoming – just do your own thing.



Hope you enjoyed reading this and opened the door to the Teachings of Chanakya. Please feel free to share or quote from this article.

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Mohammed Abbasi

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