When a stump of grass becomes a stumbling block
India’s National Security Advisor, SS Menon delivered a lecture on “Transforming South Asia” at the Third Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi yesterday. Leave alone our pique about the Indian sub-continent being called South Asia, the NSA spoke about the way forward for this transformation by quoting a tale about Chanakya.
When Chanakya/Kautilya first met Chandragupta Maurya in Taxila around 330 BCE, Chandragupta had just failed in his fifth or sixth attempt to overthrow the Nanda dynasty by a coup in their capital Pataliputra in Magadha/Bihar and fled to the North West. Kautilya then asked him, when you eat a hot dish of rice do you plunge your fingers into the centre or do you start at the cool fringes. Chandragupta changed his strategy to the indirect approach and the rest is history.
I think we should learn the same lesson and should build the economic and other links that we can, while attempting to resolve the political and security issues that divide us.[Link]
I am not sure if the lesson from this Chanakya tale is about doing the doable thing and leaving the rest for later. However, the idea that economic links in the subcontinent can be dissociated from political and security issues is a dangerous one, particularly when it comes to Pakistan. While India’s other neighbours may have grudged India’s size and approach at different points in time, they haven’t consistently tried to damage or hurt India. In fact, India’s political and security issues with these neighbours are insignificant in the larger scheme of things. In the last decade, India has displayed a benevolent approach in economic relations towards these neighbours.
But when it comes to Pakistan — where its military-jehadi-elite complex has had the single-minded agenda of pulling India down since 1947 — the wisdom contained in this tale about Chanakya might be more relevant.
Just after getting humiliated from the king, Chanakya scampered through the streets of Patliputra. In a hurried walk, he stumbled upon a stump of grass and was about to fall. Chanakya the great scholar had his own style of handling things. He looked at the roots of the grass and quickly got into action. Though he was angry, he never let his anger to get out of control. He directed the anger in the right direction. Calmly, he sat down in the burning sun, removed that grass from the roots from the earth. After making sure that not even a single strand of grass is left, he resumed his journey.[Link]
If a stump is hell-bent on being a stumbling block in the path of your progress, it is perhaps better to remove every single strand of grass from the roots of that tuft. Wash your hands after that. And then move on to eating your dish with your clean fingers. Surely, that’s what Chanakya would have done.