This paper seeks to explore the similarities in political strategies between Kautilya/Chanakya and Amit Shah through myriad stories, and finally establish a junction that revolves around the question of immorality and hence its lack of link with Dharma in modern politics.
Amit shah’s strategy with politics has been compared with Chanakya Niti in popular media. This is also because he himself announces pride in reflecting Chanakya’s notion of realism ought to be pervasive in politics to be successful. As per the popular narrative, Chanakya honed organizational and intellectual capacity for Chandragupta and his son, Bimbisara to overthrow the kingdom of Dayanand.
This is similar to Shah’s admiration for Narendra Modi and L.K Advani who are known to have led the foundational commitment to the creation of Bharatiya Janata Party.
There is a popular story around Chanakya’s quest for revenge and the rise of the Mauryan empire, that can be further compared with Amit Shah’s life choices.
When a grown-up Chanakya went to attend an alms-giving ceremony held by King Dhanananda at Pushpapura, he was ridiculed and hence banished from the kingdom on accounts of displeasing Dhanananda’s eyes because of his appearance and crooked feet. An angry Chanakya vowed revenge and managed to evade arrest by escaping to the jungle. He somehow managed to befriend Pabbata, Dhanananda’s son. While in the forest, he saw a boy play-acting as a powerful king with his friends.
His name was Chandragupta. Chanakya decided to take both Pabbata and Chandragupta under his training to replace Dhananda. He saw Pabbata and Chandragupta as options for replacing Dhanananda. So he decided to test them. One day when Chandragupta was sleeping, he asked Pabbata to remove Chandragupta’s woollen thread without waking him.
Pabbata was unsuccessful. The next night, Chandragupta was given the same task. He succeeded by cutting off Pabbata’s head and retrieving the thread and became the chosen one.
It took years to prepare an army for an invasion. They attacked Dhanananda’s capital – Pataliputra. But were defeated. They managed to evade capture but derived a lesson out of it- instead of directly attacking the core, they managed to capture the surrounding areas and hence finally defeat Pataliputra.
Chandragupta was appointed king and Chanakya persuaded a fisherman to reveal the location of Dhanananda’s treasury and had the fisherman killed. His revenge was complete.
As I interpret, I am going to associate Amit Shah’s growth trajectory with the above story. Amit Shah met Narendra Modi in 1982, in whom he perceived a strong-willed persuasion to challenge the hegemonic control of Congress, or rather to enunciate political recitation of Hindu philosophy. Shah joined BJP in 1986. He was specifically involved in the election campaign for Lal Krishna Advani in Gandhinagar for Lok Sabha elections 1991.
His strategy along with Narendra Modi’s to negate Congress’s influence did not vilify the opposition party’s central agenda but pressurized other surrounding aspects like cooperatives and sports.
This is well justified with the fact that Shah was elected as the president of Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB), the biggest cooperative bank in India in 1999 and also the President of Gujarat State Chess Association and Gujarat State Cricket Association. Shah, coming from a business class family was able to account for a successful administering of all of these associations.
Thus, he used his strengths to proliferate his success, or as Chanakya explains that every word that comes out of our or any decision that we take, not only has an impact on our life but also risks the lives and integrity of other. If we wish to keep our success intact, we must give in full thought for each of our action.
When Narendra Modi became the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he served as an informer/advisor to Modi, exactly how Chanakya served as a chief advisor to Chandragupta. The victory of Bharatiya Janata Party in Lok Sabha elections in 2014 gave a strong impetus for the rise of Hindutva politics.
Amit Shah’s strategic planning as opposed to politics of appeasement in Uttar Pradesh elections that earned BJP its historic victory paved the way for Shah to receive great admiration and was hence appointed to be the Youngest President of Bharatiya Janata Party till date.
There are other major similarities between Chanakya and Amit Shah. I will specifically observe three traits endorsed by Chanakya that have been implicated by Shah in political practice. These implications in practice have been staunchly propagated even when they’ve failed to be democratic or imply apathy in politics, thus reposing glory in practising realist form of politics/immorality as the superior count.
Commitment to ideology (Vichardhara): it is said that Shah was heavily influenced by Chanakya’s rhetoric of politics ever since he was 9 years old. Along with that, he was also influenced by other Hindu texts, namely Bhagwad Gita who he used to learn from his mother. Shah was born to a Vaishya business family, but he always devoured his respect for the glory of Hindu tradition. As a young child, he participated in nearby RSS ( Rashtriya Syawamsevak Sangh) shakas and also volunteered as an RSS volunteer in college days.
This backdrop was essential to establish that his association with the party involves a deep commitment that emerges out of personal interests and beliefs. This can be explained through the way he managed the UP Poll strategy for BJP:
In the first four months of taking the charge, Shah reconstituted all the booth committees in the State with precise caste representation to reassemble balance. Both committees have been the backbone of BJP’s electoral politics.
One of Shah’s first aims was to reactivate the old party loyalist mainly from the RSS (RSS-BJP nurtured Brahmin and Bania) to run party affairs while compromising on the overstated importance of leaders who had joined BJP from outside in recent years.
He also addressed the strange caste-based arithmetic of UP, giving 50 of the tickets in the non-SC/ST category to OBCs representing all major OBC sub-sections, drawn from the BJP’s own cadres and were handpicked by Shah on basis of his precise feedback nurtured in the BJP-RSS ideology.
Shah is respected in the BJP and the RSS for his commitment to core RSS ideals. He is against appeasement of all including the religious minorities and makes it explicit that the Muslim leaders can access the party leadership only if they have political strength and numbers and they genuinely agree with the BJP ideology of ‘appeasement of none and justice for all’ and not for the sake of maintaining the party’s secular image, as also imbibed in his communally charged speeches, including describing Azamgarh as Atankgarh in the polls.
Amit Shah’s commitment to Hindutva ideology, however, understands no boundaries, let alone secular boundaries. In 2014 Shah had allegedly said at a public meeting that the election in Muzaffarnagar was “about revenge and protecting honour” for which an FIR/charge sheet was also filed. Shah’s explicit right-wing inclinations do not take cognizance of people’s sentiments.
For eg, in lieu of the recent National Register of Citizens hat excluded four million people in Assam, he termed illegal Bangladeshi migrants as ‘termites’, ‘ghuspethiya/security threats’ which was intended to add communal flavor to the issue, and thus create a culture of fear.
Shah’s spiteful rhetoric echoes authoritarian leaders, genocidaires and war criminals who not only orchestrated mass violence but destroyed nations through dangerous speech for petty political ends. In 2018, the Association for Democratic Reforms, a non-profit election watchdog, and the National Election Watch reported the BJP has the most lawmakers with hate speech cases against them. BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of communal incidents in 2017, an increase of 17% over the previous year.
Shah’s speech should thus be seen as a part of a continuum. Killings justified in the name of cow and “love jihad”, the saffronisation of textbooks, and the politics of beef have all cumulatively played and continue to play a key role in transforming personal prejudices into collective hatred for the other, and subsequent violence.
I wonder if Chanakya would have approved of this violent means even when he said, ‘ends justify the means’, or maybe he would, after all in the story discussed in the beginning he seems appreciative of Chandragupta killing Pitampa just to take off the woven thread. Shah’s nationalist politics and its shrewd manifestation truly embodies the realist teaching of Chanakya Niti.
Chanakya said, ‘Never share your secrets with anybody. That will destroy you sooner or later.’ Bharatiya Janata “Kisi Prakalp ki safalta uski gopniyata par nirbhar karti hai (A project’s success depends on its secrecy),” is an oft-repeated phrase in BJP headquarters in New Delhi that he heads.
A BJP leader told the Frontline in an interview that, ‘“Shah doesn’t believe in the old-style politics of obliging people or of keeping leaders in good humor. He is a man on a mission who wants to convert the popularity that the BJP has earned under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi into the consolidation of votes and to make BJP a truly pan-India party,” said a top BJP leader.
Here, we can reiterate Chanakya’s Niti that says “Once you start working on something, don’t be afraid of failure”, thus Shah is seen as leading from the front. Shah believes in the sanctity of the workplace, and hence he pressed on having BJP karyalayas/offices in every district in India.
Chanakya says, ” We should not feel pride in our charity, austerity, valour, scriptural knowledge, modesty and morality”. This can be implied in Amit Shah’s behavioural analysis. He is said to be less social and modest with his lifestyle. It is accounted that he prefers to take public flights than private, and spends most of the time in government guesthouses and holds meetings in party offices. This part of the analysis reminds me of a story around Chanakya again.
Chanakya was once visited by a Chinese traveller, who happened to see him documenting something, post which he extinguished the oil lamp under which he was writing and lit another lamp. The traveller, intrigued when asked him about the reason to do so, was met with an interesting reply, ‘”No my dear friend. There is no such custom. Actually, when you entered, I was working. It was an official work, pertaining to my empire, my nation. The oil filled in that lamp has been bought from the money from the National Treasury. Now, I am talking to you.
This is a personal and friendly conversation, not related to my nation; so I cannot use that lamp now, as it will lead to wastage of the money of the national treasury. Hence, I extinguished that lamp and lit this other lamp, since the oil in this lamp has been bought from my personal money.”
Shah is also known for keeping his karyakartas/workers happy, and well acknowledged which surmounts to good leadership traits or in Chanakya’s words, ‘“In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness; in their welfare, his welfare; whatever pleases himself, he shall not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good.”