The Politics of Kanika

There is a Sanskrit saying “Vyasa uchishta jagat sarvam”, which means that the whole world has been tasted by Vyasa. This suggests that Vyasa has written on everything that is possible and if it is not found in his writings, it is nowhere. Much before the works of Machiavelli, or Chanakya, or even Sun Tzu, the great Rishi Vyasa had written a wonderful political commentary in the Mahabharata. He put the words in the mouth of Kanika, a minister of the king Dhritarashtra.

The fame of the Pandava princes started spreading far and wide once they had undergone training at the hands of Guru Dronacharya, alongside the Kauravas. People had especially started loving Yudhisthira. This made King Dhritarashtra jealous and he called his minister Kanika to advise him. Below is a close English translation of the Sanskrit sentences that Kanika spoke with the King Dhritarashtra:

O King, please listen to my words but do not get angry with me. A King should always popularise his achievements, and see that they are well advertised. At the same time he must be ready to punish when necessary.

He should never allow another to see his own weaknesses, while he should always be aware of the weaknesses of others. He must use the instrument of punishment; people should remain afraid of a king who punishes easily. Like a tortoise retracts his limbs, a king should keep all his activities as secret as possible.

He must always be aware of his enemies and be ready to finish them, when needed. Whenever your enemy is in some difficulty or facing an emergency, attack and destroy him. Even if the enemy is weak, never ignore him as even a small cinder can burn a whole forest. Even if he has won over an enemy with consolation and praise, never rely on him and at the first opportunity finish him off. Never think that he has surrendered and that he should be treated with sympathy. When a king is rid of enemies, he sleeps in peace. He should destroy them completely, unearth their roots, see who their supporters and well-wishers are and destroy them too. To his enemies the king is always unseen but to him they are always in focus, especially their weaknesses.

A king should know when to become blind and when to become deaf. In times of danger even with a sword hanging over his head a king should learn to sleep but sleep like the deer with full alertness. To achieve his aims, he must make a show of purity, humbleness, innocence and friendliness, using it as a cover to hide his aims. The king must learn the art of keeping the enemy on his shoulder just as when we pull a branch to pluck ripe fruit from a tree and pluck the enemy when the time is ripe.

Some people will stoop very low and say many things against the king, never get rid of him immediately, but also never bestow him with favour. An enemy must be finished whether by consolation, charity and gifts, or by creating divisions in his house. A king can give false promises. Use his wealth to pacify, he can secretly poison the enemy, whether by any cunning or unfair means, the enemy must be killed. A time may also come when the guru becomes egoistic and works against the king, the king should punish him too.

Whenever a king is angry he should never show it but appear totally calm. Whenever he speaks, he must use a lot of humour but never criticise the other. While speaking, the king may be psychologically stabbing the other but he should use sweet words of flattery. After hitting the other hard, show sympathy, and even cry for him, if needed. He should earn the trust of his enemies by getting up when they come and giving them a seat of honour, by bestowing them with gifts, but always awaiting for the right time to destroy them.

The king should build gardens and resting places for travellers, temples for worship, water fountains and wells. At all these places he should have well placed spies to hear what people say. A king should doubt everyone even those he trusts totally, because when danger comes from someone he trusted it can destroy the king completely.

There are three kinds of fulfilment and these come with three kinds of sufferings and a king should know them and how to use them. Man aims for fulfilment through dharma or religion, artha or money, and kama or sexual pleasures. Those who follow religion suffer from the weakness of money and sex. Those who run after money suffer from lack of religion and sex and those who live for sexual pleasure lack money and religion. By using this knowledge, the king can learn to torment and control any person.

To run the kingdom the king always needs wealth. For this he, through his spies, should know who among his enemies is the richest, and he needs to be cruel and like a fisherman, obtain wealth from the other even if it requires killing him. There are times when the enemy’s army is without food and water and their spirits are down – this is the best time to attack. The king must know that a person who has wealth will rarely ask for wealth as a favour, as also whenever a person’s work is done he loses interest in keeping a friendship. So whenever a king does some favours for others, he must leave a part of the work incomplete so that person has to maintain his friendship at all times.

Even when there is no danger to his kingdom, the king should always work as if danger is at his doorstep and when danger really comes, he should meet it with bravery. Whenever the king gives hope to someone, he should give a long time-frame and then keep on throwing obstacles and giving excuses with reasons why he cannot fulfil his promise.

“In this way, O King, deal with the Pandavas and bravely stand by your decisions.”

We shall take up explanation of the above in further articles to come.