Kautilya’s Mandala theory was written more than 2000 years ago and hence represented the realities of those times. His theory was probably the first systematic work on an ancient system of kings, kingdoms and empires in the intellectual history of mankind. Undoubtedly, all tenets of Kautilya’s work are not in sync with modern realities, but his theory with some modifications is still relevant. Interestingly, a pattern in India’s current foreign policy seems to resemble the tenets of the Mandala theory. Let’s first understand what does the theory say and then analyse if it has been guiding PM Modi in his international policies.
What is Mandala theory?
Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, propounded a theory on geopolitics and international relations. This theory says that a King (a country in modern terms) who wants to increase the power needs to be aware of the neighbouring states and the elements of their sovereignty. A country can adopt six diplomatic policies through four means to deal with those neighbouring states.
The central idea behind this theory is “Your neighbour is your natural enemy and the neighbour’s neighbour is your friend“. For example, Pakistan is India’s natural enemy and Afghanistan is India’s friend.
Every state will attempt to find out ways of neutralizing the policies of others by exploiting the enemies of its rivals in its own interest. For example, India will try to have Iran and Afghanistan on its side to deal with Pakistan. Because, Afghanistan and Iran, a neighbor of Pakistan (India’s enemy) will be India’s friends according to the Mandala theory.
Elements of sovereignty
A country should keep the knowledge of 5 elements of all the other states i.e. Amatya (minister), Janapada (people and territory of the country), Durg (fort), Kosh (treasury) and Danda (army). This helps in the assessment of policies and means to be adopted in dealing with a state.
Six diplomatic policies (Shadgunyas) to deal with those neighbouring states
A country can adopt any of the following diplomatic policies depending on the situation.
Sandhi – Making peace with a foreign state.
Vigraha – Going for a war with a foreign state.
Asana – Halting a foreign state or blocking it.
Yana – Preparedness for war or moving the army towards the border.
Samsraya – Making an alliance with a foreign state.
Dvaidhibhava – Double dealing with a foreign state.
Four means (Upaayas) to implement those diplomatic policies
To implement the above policies, Chanakya recommends using any of the following means.
Saam —Through peaceful negotiation.
Daam — Through money or allurement.
Dand — Through punishment or fear.
Bhed — Through creating differences.
How does PM Modi’s foreign policy resemble with Mandala theory with modifications?
As seen above, there are 12 states in Chanakya’s Mandala. However, they keep going on and on in a circular fashion i.e. every alternating state is either an enemy or an ally.
The foreign policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to suggest more or less the same pattern with some modifications to the original theory of Kautilya.
The Vijigishu (Aspiring country) – In the modern context, India can be seen as a Vijigishu who wants to increase its influence in the world, an underlying principle of India’s current foreign policy. Kautilya’s theory in those days was about land conquest as a means to increase the power of a king. However, in current times, it is increasing the sphere of influence covering as many as states possible and not geographical expansion. In one of the articles earlier, we have detailed on how PM Modi has been increasing India’s sphere of influence across the world. There are reasons why the world looks upto India in current times.
Ari (Enemy in the front) – Being the immediate neighbour of India, Pakistan is an enemy of India. This fact has been noted by Prime Minister Modi in his policies. He has successfully isolated Pakistan, seen in the last 5 years.
However, in the case of Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, the relations with them have mostly been cordial except in few circumstances. For example, the Indian army’s hot pursuit of Naga rebels into Myanmar or India’s objections to a Chinese base in Sri Lanka are some of the cases.
In fact, in the case of Pakistan, PM Modi has implemented most of the war tactics as prescribed under Shadgunyas of Kautilya. If the Kartarpur Corridor is an example of Sandhi (peace) with Pakistan, surgical strike and Balakot strike are examples of Vigraha (war). After the Balakot strike and falling of Indian pilot on Pakistani soil, India was almost in Yana (preparedness for the war) mode. Reports suggest that Indian Navy had also blocked (Asana) the Karachi port to secure the release of India pilot.
Mitra (Friend) – If one looks at the position of Afghanistan and Iran, they are the next neighbours of Pakistan and thus are natural friends of India. This can also be noted in recent foreign policy initiatives of the Indian government whether it is building up of Chabahar port in Iran or pursuing a very friendly policy with Afghanistan in terms of development projects there.
Ari Mitra (Enemy’s friend is also an enemy) – Saudi Arabia has been voicing the concerns of Pakistan as also seen recently on the Kashmir issue. Also, Iran and Saudi Arabia are arch-rivals of each other and Iran is India’s ally. According to Kautilya’s theory, Saudi Arabia should then be hostile to India. However, in modern times, India’s bonhomie with Saudi is based on trade relations especially oil import by India. PM Modi understands this and has walked a very fine line in maintaining the relations with Riyadh even though there are no other complementarities between India and Saudi Arabia.
This is an achievement of India’s foreign policy as it has weakened its Ari further i.e. Pakistan in this case.
Mitra Mitra (Friend’s friend is also an ally) – According to Kautilya’s theory, United Arab Emirates (UAE) shares a good relationship with Afghanistan and thus, is an ally of India too. Also, UAE has been taking strong action against Pakistan, India’s enemy, this is another reason for India to have a strong relationship with the UAE. Indian prime minister, recognising this fact, has taken the relationship with UAE to a greater height.
However, there is an exception to the Mandala theory in this circle. Iran is India’s friend. And Israel, a neighbour of Saudi Arabia, should ideally be Iran’s friend, according to the theory, but it is, in reality, an enemy of Saudi. Here too, Indian diplomats under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has maintained a very good balance between both Iran and Israel.
Ari Mitra Mitra (Enemy’s friend’s friend is an enemy) –Turkey, a friend of Pakistan and of Saudi to an extent, have not enjoyed a very fruitful relationship with India. It has also supported Pakistan on many fronts including on the issue of Kashmir.
Turkey has recently tried to outreach India and PM Modi in a very calibrated manner. In fact, Indian leadership seems to be well aware of the fact that nations like Turkey and Egypt will be on anti-India side when push comes to the shove.
Parashanigraha (Enemy in the rear) – Kautilya mentions enemy neighbours on both sides. According to his theory, China fits the bill of Parashanigraha. China recognises the emerging threat that India poses to it. So, there is less possibility of good relations between the two.
This was the mistake committed by the first prime minister of India that he believed in the idea of Hindi-Chini bhai bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers). However, one may argue that even the current Indian Prime Minister has been outreaching the Chinese leadership with greater enthusiasm. But his outreach needs to be seen from another angle mentioned in the Mandala theory itself.
There is a Udasina King (a neutral state) that is indifferent to both the adjacent countries of Mandala but yet can resist both of them. In this case, the United States of America (USA) can be seen as a neutral state which can resist both India and China. Prime Minister Modi’s outreach to China including through a new grouping like Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and New Development Bank under BRICS is to counter USA’s hegemony as India and China are positioned to do that if they come together.
But this doesn’t mean that India is not maintaining a deterrence with China. It has maintained a balance of power with China, prominently evident in the Dokhlam standoff. India has recently abrogated the provisions of article 370 and declared entire Jammu and Kashmir to be an integral part of India. This irked China and shown India’s resolve towards maintaining its sovereignty even against a powerful neighbour.
Akranda (Friend) – Russia, Japan, and Vietnam are neighbours of China but see India as a friendly country. India also maintains a strategic relationship with these countries. In fact, PM Modi has increased the bilateral cooperation between India and these countries. India is reportedly supplying Brahmos missiles to Vietnam. Apart from the routine diplomatic affairs, PM Modi shares a personal bonhomie with both Russian President Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The clear manifestation of PM Modi’s foreign policy is inspired by Mandala theory can be seen in his outreach to Mongolia, a neighbour in the backyard of China. The Indian friendship with Mongolia has rattled China the most as India has reached right in its backyard.
Parashanigrahasara (Enemy’s friend is also an enemy) – In this case, North Korea and some of the countries from South East Asia can be seen to be aligned with China completely. They may not be enemies to India in terms of the Mandala theory. But they will serve Chinese interests more than they serve the Indian.
A safe distance in relations with countries like North Korea and others aligned with China appears to be a key principle in India’s current foreign policy.
Akrandsara (Friend’s friend is also an ally) – South Korea, a neighbour of North Korea – Chinese ally, is a good friend with India. Prime Minister Modi has given a boost to relations with South Korea keeping this equation in mind.
Madhyama (Intermediary state) – In Mandala theory, it is a state which is situated close to two countries in the circles and can mediate between them. In modern times, with the rise of India and its status, India under PM Modi doesn’t want to give the title of Madhyama state to any country. This can be seen in India’s unilateral decisions like Balakot Airstrike, Article 370 etc.
This absence of Madhyama state shows that India (Or the conquerer King in the language of Kautilya) has crossed the threshold where it would need support from a third party. This signals the rise of a superpower in future not too distant.
Udasina (Neutral state) – It is a country that is distantly situated and is capable of resisting any two rival states of the Mandala. In the current world order, USA can be called a Udasina state which is situated away from both India-Pakistan and India-China, yet able to resist any of them.
If one look at the above convergence of current foreign policy initiatives carefully, they will seem to be in line what Mandala theory had suggested about 2000 years back. In contemporary times, India has adopted the policy of multi-alignment i.e. maintaining relations with all the states. However, many tenets of Mandala theory seem to be the guiding principles of India’s foreign policy and the Prime Minister Modi, the modern Chanakya.
Note – Views expressed here belong to the author only.