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THE TYRANT V/S THE TEACHER

Radhakrishnan Pillai's Chanakya and the Art of War draws upon lessons from the great teacher, philosopher and strategist Chanakya's masterpiece, Arthashastra, which can help us become innovative and influential. Excerpts:

THE TYRANT  V/S THE TEACHER

The era was fourth century bc. Situated in the modern state of Bihar, Magadh, one of the most powerful kingdoms of the era, was ruled by some of the best kings from the Nanda dynasty.


It was a huge kingdom with a large army and a legacy of nine generations of kings belonging to the Nanda dynasty. It takes generations of powerful rulers to make such a kingdom. A mix of a good ruler and efficient advisors and ministers of the king's court is essential to build an empire. Various socio-economic factors also contribute to the shaping of a great civilization. A disciplined military force, a defendable and daunting fortress, happy citizens and friendly neighbours equally contribute to the prosperity of a kingdom.

Magadh, with Pataliputra as its capital, possessed all the requisite essentials that made it one of the best governed kingdoms during those days.

However, family leadership and dynasty rule has its own advantages and disadvantages. If the succeeding leader is good, everything will continue to be progressive. But if the next leader is not capable, or does not have the right attitude, the empire can begin to collapse. Everything boils down to the right kind of leader, guided by the most able ministers.

Magadh had the good fortune to have everything right for eight generations of kings of the Nanda dynasty. Enter the ninth king, Dhana Nanda, and things began to shake a bit. Born with a silver spoon, Dhana Nanda was deemed to be a capable leader of his people.

Unfortunately, not all able leaders turn out to be good. Some talented leaders have fallen due to arrogance. As was the case with Dhana Nanda. He was smart and charming, he had family legacy on his side, and when the time came, it anointed him with the royal crown being placed on his head.

Usually, when the new ruler is from the ruling family, there are a lot of expectations from other concerned parties. Everyone expected Dhana Nanda to become the next 'ideal leader'. Destiny, however, had something else in store for the kingdom of Magadh.

Dhana Nanda enjoyed his newfound kingly power and grew so blinded by it that he soon started to neglect his responsibilities. As they say, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Instead of looking after the welfare of his subjects, he spent more time in pleasurable activities. Indulging in entertainment and enjoying his time with women, drinking, turning a blind eye to the problems which a king is required to solve – all this became a daily routine. Indiscipline became a way of life for the king.

The kingdom was powerful, but the king was misusing his power. Soon, the leader and leadership were being questioned by one and all. The public had begun noticing this weakness in their ruler.

Magadh had, fortunately, a good set of ministers with able heads managing different parts of its welfare and economy. Even while the head of the kingdom was losing himself in the pleasures of being a king, his ministers were serving the kingdom and its citizens with much fervour. Magadh also boasted of great teachers and thinkers from every field. This was one of the greatest assets of the kingdom. Their knowledge capital was powerful because of the presence of capable ministers, one among them being Chanak. An able minister and a teacher of political science, he was a highly respected guru. A strong-headed person, he had high hopes of Dhana Nanda. He expected him to be made of the same mould as his ancestors, having high moral standards.

From time to time, Chanak went to the king and gave him some sound advice about how a leader should behave, about what the roles and responsibilities of a leader are. He used to frequently quote from the scriptures, which defined a leader as one having high moral superiority and integrity.

Unfortunately, Dhana Nanda turned a deaf ear to all advice. The king believed that he was all-powerful. He would listen to elders and teachers as decorum demanded, but would reserve his choice in following their advice.

Chanak was distressed about the king's growing indifference. According to him, the kingdom was facing economic problems purely due to the irresponsible behaviour of the king. Therefore, if the kingdom had to improve and maintain its glory, it had to start with Dhana Nanda himself.

Dhana Nanda used to laugh at everything that was said to him by way of advice. He was not serious about the status of the kingdom.

One day, things took a drastic turn.

Chanak walked into the court of Dhana Nanda and announced that he would be forced to awaken the public against the king if the king did not mend his ways. His subjects were becoming restless and their king's indifference was only fuelling the spark.

The king became furious. He removed Chanak from the role of the royal advisor.

Chanak did not really care for the royal position he held. He cared more for the people and their happiness. This became a personal war now. A war between the king and a teacher.

The little boy Chanakya, son of Chanak, was not aware of what his father was doing.

After being insulted by Dhana Nanda, Chanak went to the marketplace and made a public speech. He wanted everyone to stand up for their rights as citizens. He wanted the king to diligently do his duties. He brought out the negligence and corrupt practices of the king in the open.

When the news reached the king, concerns were raised in the corridors of power. Many ministers had been supporting Dhana Nanda in his wrong practices. Their personal interests were under threat with this new development. They suggested that the problem should be nipped in the bud. Overnight, a plan was made to silence the movement being led by Chanak.

A civil war was on its way.

That night, something strange happened. While Chanak was preparing to address a few more public

meetings to spread awareness among the citizens of Magadh, a group of soldiers came and took hold of him. Dhana Nanda had given strict orders to eliminate him. In the dead of the night, Chanak was hanged from a tree in the middle of the marketplace. The next day, when the people came to the marketplace, they saw the dead body and were terrified.

Dhana Nanda was happy with his soldiers for executing the plan. His plan had sent out a strong message to the public. No one would dare stand against the king any more. As he had intended, the people did not know how to respond. If a great teacher such as Chanak could be killed so openly, what chance did a common man have? The people of Magadh were paralysed with fear.

This act of killing a teacher by a member of the Nanda family was least expected. The Nanda dynasty was the first to respect and appreciate the best teachers on their side. But here was a king who had killed a teacher for showing him the right path.

(Excerpted with permission from Chanakya and the Art of War; written by Radhakrishnan Pillai; published by Penguin Portfolio. The excerpt here is a part of the chapter titled 'How Chanakya Defeated Dhana Nanda'.)

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