Chanakya’s Arthashastra is Misunderstood : Actually is Foundation for a Indian Welfare State

There is considerable misunderstanding on Chanakya and his Arthashastra. To many people, the Arthashastra is a book on politics and deals with waging wars and designing plans to harm others. The fact is that Chanakya laid the basic conceptual foundation for a ‘welfare state’ in India through this book.
We would like to quote the underlying principle of Arthasastra which lays the conceptual foundation for making India the first welfare state, as it deserves mention:

“In the happiness of his subjects lies the king’s happiness, in their welfare lies his welfare. He shall not consider as good only that which pleases him but treat as beneficial to him whatever pleases his subjects.”

Chanakya is one of outstanding personalities of ancient India. He was, arguably a personality who strived to benefit the common people and the country at large, as opposed to the selfish and unethical, biased and narrow-minded people in modern politics of India. The Arthashastra, despite nearly one and half a millennium old, retains its position as a wealth of information and manual of guidance for all.

Arthashastra is not a single treatise – Consists of 14 books
The Arthashastra is, to many people, a book on politics dealing with statecraft. The reality is, however, it is much more than a text book on state craft. It is an outstanding wealth of knowledge on diverse aspects of statecraft including administration, how to wage war, how to tax collection, how and how much salary is to be paid to king’s officials, how to deal famines and natural calamities, how to disburse financial aid to people, and others. It is, thus, a comprehensive manual on all the aspects of state. It is a manual of instructions to kings and common people equally. It gives a great deal of information on contemporary social and economic conditions.

The Arthashastra has been compiled into fourteen books. Each part spell out diverse aspects of state including the king, his training, appointments of ministers, king’s executive officials’ duties, law and justice, control on unlawful activities, torture and capital punishment, how to deal with a weak king, when to force a weak king to submit, how to deal with oligarchic groups, how to conduct battles, by examples with real life situations.

Book Number


Book 1 Deals with king’s training, officials’
appointment including ministers and others, the king’s daily
work-schedule, his physical safeguard
Book 2 State officials’ duties and details with
regard to economic activities like agriculture, mining and so on
Book 3 A compilation of code of laws with respect
to law and jurisprudence (administration of justice)
Book 4 Deals with how to detect and suppress
crimes, how to control merchants and artisans. It also deals with
torture and capital punishment (death sentence)
Book 5 A collection of topics which includes
salaries of king’s officials.
Book 6 Consists of two chapters – the first is on
state and the second is on theory of foreign policy
Book 7 Details how to use the six methods of
foreign policy individually under different circumstances that may be encountered
Book 8 Deals with how to deal calamities that may
affect the state
Book 9 A book on wars. It explains different sorts
of troop, cautions to be taken while waging wars etc.
Book 10 Deals with fighting and its modes, main
battle camp, how to time a battle etc.
Book 11 How a victor king should deal with a group
of oligarchs
Book 12 How a weak king should deal with a strong
king, when the former is under threat by the latter
Book 13 Deceit to conquer enemy’s fort
Book 14 Deals with secret and occult practices and
also describes the methodology and logical techniques used in the work

By and large, the books 1-5 deal with internal administrative in a state and the rest deal with the relationship of the state with its neighbors. Regrettably, only some of the books are well-known. For instance, Book 7 became famous and well quoted. This is because it deals with foreign policy, which has attracted greater attention at national and international levels. Self-seeking, self-centered people are more likely to relate only to this book.

Selective reading of the book leads to distorted understanding of what Chanakya stands for.

2 comments on “Chanakya’s Arthashastra is Misunderstood : Actually is Foundation for a Indian Welfare State”

  1. One of the most misunderstood person. He worked for the welfare of the people

  2. Ramesh says:

    Good work! Very informative. Changed my opinion of Chanakya. Otherwise, I considered him similar to Shakuni of Mahabharata. I feel embarrassed about my previous ignorance.