Chanakya: Corruption is systemic

Kautilya in his Arthashastra discusses the nature of diverse political systems in terms of their inherent potential. For instance, he considered sanghas, i.e., republics to be inferior to a kingdom because they were less capable of motivating and sustaining political and economic expansion. On the other hand, kingdoms could not be as internally and socially cohesive as republics. They were internally unstable and needed a powerful, elaborate and permanent state machinery to sustain themselves.

Similarly, Kautilya finds corruption to be systemic – it is always potentially there in a politico-economic system based on social differentiation and an hierarchised officialdom. To curb it the system continues to add ever new informal and formal bureaucratic offices and officers. Kautilya in chapter 10 of the second Adhikarana of his text raises this systemic dilemma:

यथा ह्यनास्वादयितुं न शक्यं
जिह्वातलस्थं मधु वा विषं वा।
अर्थस्तथा ह्यर्थचरेण राज्ञः
स्वल्पोऽप्यनास्वादयितुं न शक्यः॥
मत्स्या यथान्तस्सलिले चरन्तो
ज्ञातुं न शक्याः सलिलं पिबन्तः।
युक्तास्तथा कार्यविधौ नियुक्ता
ज्ञातुं न शक्या धनमाददानाः॥
अपि शक्या गतिर्ज्ञातुं पततां खे पतत्रिणाम्।
नतु प्रच्छन्नभावानां युक्तानां चरतां गतिः॥

It is not possible not to taste honey or poison placed on the tongue; just so, it is not possible for one dealing with the money of the king not to taste the money, if only a little. We cannot know when a fish swimming in water is drinking water; just so, we cannot know when officers appointed for carrying out works are appropriating money. It is possible to know the path of birds flying in the sky, but not the ways of officers moving with their intentions concealed.
(Translation from Thomas R Trautmann (2012), Arthashastra: The Science of Wealth, Penguin)


Panchatantra and the Master-Servant Relationship

In the very initial portions of an ancient Indian text Panchatantra, which teaches pragmatism of human relationships in an obviously very unequal society through stories, is found a section on the master-servant relationship. Interestingly, unlike spiritual texts that would justify such relationship in terms of divinity, birth and fate, this text simply doesn’t allow such justifications. It is highly materialist (not necessarily, atheist) and sees dynamism in this relationship, by positing the problem of the reproduction of the master-servant dialectic. It has a shloka, which brilliantly and explicitly grasps this dialectic – the fact that the identities of master and servant exist only in their relationship.

न विना पार्थिवो भृत्यैर्न भृत्याः पार्थिवो विना। तेषां च व्यवहारोऽयं परस्परनिबन्धनम्॥

A king cannot be without servants, nor can the servants without the king – this their relationship is mutually dependent.

This is followed by more shlokas reasserting the same, with the help of analogies. One of them is striking,

अरैः सन्धार्यते नाभिर्नाभौ चाराः प्रतिष्ठिताः। स्वामिसेवकयोरेवं वृत्तिचक्रं प्रवर्तते॥

The nave is supported by the spokes and the spokes are planted into the nave. Thus proceeds also the wheel of the relation.

(MR Kale, Pancatantra of Visnusarman, Motilal Banarsidass, 1912 [reprinted 2015])