Indian Armed forces may introduce Bhagwad Gita and Kautilya’s Arthashastra

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for enhancing indigenisation in the national security system, not just in sourcing equipment and weapons but also in the doctrines, procedures and customs practiced in the armed forces in March this year is a reassertion of the government’s efforts to integrate endogenous sources of knowledge within the framework of national security policy making. The recent idea to include Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Bhagavad Gita as part of India’s military training appears to be in tandem with projects to study, evaluate and glean the enduring wisdom of ancient Indian texts, already underway in some of the premier defence institutions.



It is particularly heartening to see the Arthashastra being considered as part of regular training rather than dwelled upon ephemerally in sporadic lectures primarily focused on establishing its relevance in contemporary times. The important questions to ponder are why are these texts more significant than some others? Why is it important for India to tap its strategic roots, and why now? Why should this socialization be limited to the armed forces? Does this mean that the armed forces have so far been divorced from civilizational ethos? And whether this is the best way to bring about cultural rootedness, potentially critical for a harmonized vision of India’s national security goals.

Sanctity of the Ancient

The essence of a nation’s culture resides in the ‘native’ – vitally connected with the original inhabitants of a country. Ancient India and classical textual tradition, therefore, are key to India’s search for ‘pure’ essence. Strategic cultural theorists too aver that the ‘objects of analysis’ of a nation’s strategic culture are essentially strategic texts representative of a foundational period in the development of strategic thoughts and practices. The formative conceptualization of the external security environment (in terms of role of war, nature of adversary and utility of the use of force) along with a set of strategic preferences in dealing with it, acquires certain resilience, especially when the decision makers are shown to be adequately socialized and exhibiting these heuristics and preferences.


Kautilya’s Arthashastra is illustrative of a period 2300 years ago when for the first time a cohesive Indian geo-cultural space and the drive to establish a pan-Indian state/empire encompassing it, had existed. As the treatise is a compilation of precepts and principles of previous artha tradition and demonstrates affinity in thought-style with important texts of India’s larger strategic and philosophical tradition, it is eminently representative of ancient tradition of statecraft. Simultaneously, it is also perhaps, India’s chief historical military text signifying the role of the Army and its complementarity with other dimensions of state security, thereby setting it apart from military classics in other geographies.

The future lies in the past


But why should India revisit its past and rigorously draw lessons for contemporary statecraft from its strategic tradition? As India’s footprint on the world grows, she needs to be self-consciously aware of the values she represents. National security is about protecting a set of values from threat, and may mean different things for different people. The exact set of values, means of securing them, cost one is willing to bear, and the specific degree of security that the state is seeking to achieve, is bound to vary from state to state, and in a large measure then, becomes a function of its strategic culture. Universal, cross-cultural aspect of strategic thinking interacts with and integrates local cultural norms to arrive at principles of war making, lending distinctiveness to geo-cultural spaces.


As a nation’s approach to problem solving seemingly emanates from its cultural context, grasping the socio-cultural milieu of other states is equally important to fashion one’s own responses. For this reason, study of Thucydides, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu is significant. But what is equally if not more important is to have the knowledge of our own strategic traditions and the uniquely Indian way of war, in part also to understand how India is perceived by her allies and adversaries.

The future lies in the past


But why should India revisit its past and rigorously draw lessons for contemporary statecraft from its strategic tradition? As India’s footprint on the world grows, she needs to be self-consciously aware of the values she represents. National security is about protecting a set of values from threat, and may mean different things for different people. The exact set of values, means of securing them, cost one is willing to bear, and the specific degree of security that the state is seeking to achieve, is bound to vary from state to state, and in a large measure then, becomes a function of its strategic culture. Universal, cross-cultural aspect of strategic thinking interacts with and integrates local cultural norms to arrive at principles of war making, lending distinctiveness to geo-cultural spaces.


As a nation’s approach to problem solving seemingly emanates from its cultural context, grasping the socio-cultural milieu of other states is equally important to fashion one’s own responses. For this reason, study of Thucydides, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu is significant. But what is equally if not more important is to have the knowledge of our own strategic traditions and the uniquely Indian way of war, in part also to understand how India is perceived by her allies and adversaries.
 

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