KAUTILYA AND REFORMS
BUREAUCRACY AND THE TWIN MINISTERS
Kautilya’s objective was to bring the entire Indian sub-continent under a single confederation of states (chakra). He was aware that it was not easy and that it would require a final showdown between two equally powerful chakras. It might even be necessary to allow two such chakras to coexist and co-operate to ensure social progress, as the formation of a single confederation might lead to complacency and stagnation. ‘Eka chakram na vartate’ (a single wheel does not roll on) was a profound observation.
As pointed out earlier it is not sound to proceed to examine the work, Arthasastra, under the assumption that Kautilya, the original author of Arthasastra, was a contemporary of Chandragupta Maurya, Alexander of Macedonia and Seleucas Niketar. Kautilya preceded them by more than two millennia. He was a contemporary of Bhishma and Krpa and Krshna Dvaipayana. He aimed at bringing all the inhabited lands in the sub-continent under the rule of one suzerain.
Earlier, Vratya Prajapati, Mahadeva, had made extensive and intensive tours throughout the sub-continent in an endeavour to arrive at a consensus on meeting the economic and other needs of the people and to bring into existence small nation-states, which would fulfil them. Kautilya made the next major effort that needed a consensus for the formation of a confederation of such autonomous states.
Kautilya’s move was inspired by the Kashyapan concept of union without uniformity. Meanwhile the structure of the society was undergoing a radical change. The pura-rashtra (fortified city with an agro-pastoral rural hinterland) pattern with a king at the top and paura and janapada assemblies and a cabinet of eight ministers became the new model with minor variations. Efforts were made to prevent the king from becoming an autocrat. Interregnums had to be avoided.
While there could be small, stable, agro-pastoral social welfare states under hereditary monarchies, social progress required the amalgamation of the technologically more advanced frontier society of the forests and mountains in the neighbouring agro-pastoral janapadas. This integration was not easy. It posed several social problems. Social integration and social progress without violating the autonomy of the units have been issues facing the Indian thinkers from the earliest times. Social change and social stability were both needed. In this context the bureaucracy had a role to play. It was conservative by temperament and resisted change. Kautilya tried to convert it into an instrument for social progress, lokayatra.
[Much has been written on Kautilyan bureaucracy. I do not try to examine here how far the Mauryas followed it. I would only caution that the assumption that Vishnugupta, the counsellor of Chandragupta Maurya, was Kautilya is unwarranted. The Asokan edicts would prove a more useful base for a study of Mauryan bureaucracy.]
Kautilya was not serving an autocracy. Despite his political move to bring into existence an empire, he was not advocating an immoral and despotic regime. The eighteen bureaus or tirthas, each with its own operational procedure and head, were part of a bureaucratic system that continued for many centuries, indifferent to changes in political authority and dynasties and even during interregnums. It was introduced by the Atharvan socio-political activists known as Brahmavadis, who developed the sciences of economy (varta) and polity (dandaniti).
The famous Indra-Brhaspati agreement laid the base for the development of a civil polity as distinct from the dichotomous social polity of the early and middle Vedic periods. Indra and Brhaspati represented the interests of the two strata, nobles and commoners of the agro-pastoral core society of the Vedic times. I have pointed out how the new Vratyan nation-state insulated the social and economic structures from the power struggles within the ruling Rajanya structure, which was an oligarchy indifferent to the needs and wills of the masses.
Bureaucracy in Rama-Rajya
We may notice the contrast between the Kautilyan bureaucracy and the bureaucracy in Rama-Rajya. Not all pre-Kautilyan states had a rational administration, not even Rama-Rajya (which is believed to have been an ideal social welfare state). Many paid little attention to social welfare and social progress. They confined their activities to collecting taxes and tributes. They enriched the treasury through coercive means. Rama-Rajya did not do so.
The social polity known as Rama-Rajya and which Rama of Kosala had inherited had an assembly of nobles and scholars, sabha, a cabinet of eight members and a council of sages who were invited by the king to advise him on important issues.
It had eighteen bureaus (tirthas). Kosala was a paura-janapada and Ayodhya was a fortified city located on a riverbank. This small state followed the administrative structure recommended by Pracetas Manu, author of an Arthasastra text. Its society was guided by the socio-political code approved by the fourth Manu, Tamasa. Valmiki, the author of the chronicle now known as Ramayana, held the post of Pracetas during the interregnum after the sad demise of Dasaratha and during the tenure of Rama as Maryada-Purusha, a charismatic ruler with limited and well-defined powers.
The eighteen bureaus of Rama-Rajya may be divided into two groups, central and non-central. The former were directly under the king and the latter under the ministers.
The central bureaus were: (1) ministry (2) rajapurohita (3) crown prince (4) commander, senapati (5) palace guard (6) administrator of the inner palace of the queens. The non-central bureaus were: (7) jail (8) revenue (9) edicts (10) judiciary (11) army pay office (12) civil pay office (13) fort patrol (14) city patrol (15) marshal of the sabha (16) executive magistrates (17) central protection force (18) governor of the frontier.
The central bureaus had to frequently interact with the head of the state (svami). It was not a state based on hereditary monarchy. Nor did it come under the law of primogeniture. Its head, svami, had to be a charismatic chieftain duly recognised by the house of nobles (sabha) and the council of scholars and representatives of the people (samiti). The departments of Intelligence, Vigilance and Foreign Affairs were directly under the ministers and were not part of the bureaucracy.
The non-central bureaus were connected with internal security, revenue, law and order and judiciary. Rama-Rajya was a political structure protecting the taxpayers, a contractual state as envisaged by Manu Vaivasvata.
Rama-Rajya was proto-Manusmrti while the Kautilyan state was post-Manusmrti. The assumption that Manusmrti was drafted during the reign of the Sungas who were successors to the Mauryas and that Kautilyan Arthasastra was drafted during the tenure of Chandragupta Maurya is not warranted. Kautilyan bureaucracy has to be studied in the context of the stages of evolution of Indian polity and not merely as a structure comparable to medieval European polity. The description of Kautilyan polity as one coeval with those recommended by Aristotle and Plato is not to be adhered to if we are to arrive at rational conclusions about its features.
Kosala was not an economic state though it was not averse to giving importance to wealth. Economy was totally in private hands. The government did not interfere in it and almost neglected it except during times of distress. The bureaus had to implement the decisions taken by the king in consultation with his ministers. Of interest are the designations of the eight ministers. Jayanta and Vijaya were traditionally in charge of defence and conquest respectively. Drshti was in charge of the institution of spies (chakshus). [It would appear that this ministry had no incumbent during the reign of Rama and that he looked after it personally.] Asoka was in charge of social welfare and removal of grief. Arthasadaka was in charge of economic resources and Siddhartha was in charge of completion of economic and other projects. Mantrapala was expected to execute the decisions taken by the cabinet while, Sumantara as the chief minister presided over the cabinet meetings.
It appears that during the tenure of Dasaratha the incumbents in many of these posts of ministers were hand picked by Kaikeyi, Bharata’s mother. Only Siddhartha appears to have been a confidante of Vasishta who held the post of Brhaspati and hence was in charge of civil polity including economy (varta) and civil judiciary. Kosala rulers were aware of the importance of treasury (kosa) and economy (artha). But the administrative machinery was not so organised as to facilitate planning for economic progress. It was a stagnant though stable social welfare state, despite the cabinet being tuned to projects for progress. It was just and solicitous of the welfare of the people but was not dynamic. It is unfortunate that no serious attempt has been made to probe into the strength and weaknesses of this ministry and bureaucracy that Dasaratha had left behind for Rama to operate.
The Kautilyan bureaus provided for a three-tier administration of the mega-state: (a) cabinet ministers, mantris, (b) secretaries of state, amatyas, and (c) heads of bureaus, adhyakshas. None of the eighteen bureaus was under the direct supervision of the king. The change from the Kosala pattern to the Kautilyan pattern had taken place within a few decades. Vasishta, Vamadeva, Siddhartha and Katyayana who guided Dasaratha were lagging behind the sweeping changes that were taking place under the influence of Kashyapa. In the Kautilyan scheme, the eighteen bureaus were under adhyakshas who had the rank of amatyas. Some were under the mantris or under senior amatyas. It may be noted here that some of the senior amatyas were promoted as cabinet ministers.
The central bureaus of the mega-state were (1) mint and gold (2) warehouse, koshtagraha, (3) retail trade and commerce, panya (4) forest produce, kupya and (5) armoury. The regional bureaus were (6) tolls, sulka (7) textiles (8) agriculture (9) navigation (10) cattle and (11) pastoral lands. The intricate bureaus were those, which dealt with (12) liquor (13) meat and (14) brothels. The defence bureaus were (15) cavalry and chariots (16) elephants (17) infantry and (18) passports.
Apart from these eighteen bureaus of the federal state, there were certain departments, which were directly under the senior ministers. These were (1) settlement in the janapada (2) distribution of lands (3) fortification (4) urban administration (5) secretariat of the sannidhata (6) secretariat of the samaharta (7) accounts and audit (8) recoveries of goods (9) inspection of officials (10) edicts (11) treasury (12) factories (13) weights and measures (14) survey and meteorology and (15) General, Senapati.
Samaharta and the Administration of the Janapada
The Janapada was divided into four districts, sthaniyas. The Samaharta had to maintain a record of the number of villages in each district, classifying them as economically sound or average or poor. He had to note which villages were exempt from taxes and which were not and which had to contribute soldiers in lieu of taxes and which were totally exempt. He had to record the contributions received from the village in kind (grains, forest-produce etc.) and in cash when that village was exempt from one sixth of the produce as tax.
Administration was moving from a feudal set-up to a rational one but had not yet become fully rational and impersonal. The samaharta was at the apex of the rural administration while the village revenue officers, gopas, were at its base. He controlled the gopas and the district collectors, sthaniyas. There were no elected village panchayats and district boards.
Each gopa controlled five to ten villages. He maintained a register of the number of villages under him showing the boundaries of each village, the area of ploughed lands and that of unploughed lands, of dry lands and wet fields, of parks, gardens, trees, enclosures, structures, sanctuaries, houses of nobles, dams, rest-houses, water-places, holy spots, crematoria, pastoral lands attached to that village, roads etc. He kept permanent survey records.
Each district was under a sthanika who maintained a consolidated copy of the census-cum- revenue record of all the villages in his district. It gave an incisive picture of its demography from the point of view of the economy of that district. Where the Janapada was referred to as Desa, the district, Sthaniya, was referred to as Pradesa. Every janapada was visualised as having four districts (north, east, south and west) with the capital (pura) at the centre. (Bk.2-Ch.35)
Gopas and Sthanikas were civil administrators who assessed the incomes of the families and collected taxes due to the state. Most families complied with their orders. These officers were appointed by the Samaharta from the civil service list and were answerable to him. Each district, pradesa, had another officer, Pradeshtr, who was a magistrate. He had powers to recover by force the taxes not remitted and was in charge of law and order. He must have been directly under the Sannidhata but must not have been superior to the Sthanika and might not have controlled the Gopas who were revenue officers. Samaharta though powerful was not the master of all that he surveyed and was hence aggrieved. He often clashed with the Sannidhata. (AS 8-4)
Samaharta and the Department of Spies
The Samaharta utilised the services of the Grhapatikas to verify the reports given by the Gopas and Sthanikas about the fields, houses and families in their respective villages with respect to size and produce of the field, taxes due from and exemptions enjoyed by households and the classes, varnas, and occupations of the families (2-35-8). They kept track of the members of every family, its income and expenses and their guests. They kept watch on economically harmful (anarthya) men and women and foreign spies. (2-35-10) The Grhapatikas who were from weak agricultural families helped the state in return for aid received.
The Samaharta used the services of the Vaidehakas to find out the quantity and value of the king’s (state) trade commodities (rajapanya). (2-35-11) The Vaidehakas kept track of the goods sent from the king’s personal lands (svabhumi) and also from the mines, dam sites, forests and factories to the market centres. The state machinery was also in charge of the trade in his personal goods. The king did not own all lands.
The agents had to note the duties paid on them, road cess, escort charges, fees paid at police posts, ferry charges, expenses on wages, food etc. incurred by the traders and transports. The object was to ensure that there was no evasion of taxes and duties payable to the janapada, which controlled the trade routes but not the market-centres. These duties were not levied on the king’s (state) goods, Rajapanya, but were payable by all private traders and transports. Evasion of duties by the latter would affect the revenue of the Janapada adversely. The Vaidehakas were used to protect both these. They were small traders.
Agents in the guise of researchers (tapasvis) should ascertain the integrity (shoucham) of the agriculturists, cow-protectors and traders (the three major sectors of the rural economy) and of the heads of departments. They had to report to the Samaharta, the minister in charge of internal revenue. (2-35-13) Ex-convicts were used to watch the suspicious movements of thieves and bravadoes of other countries working in the Janapada (2-35-14).
These secret agents and their subordinates were asked to be diligent in the discharge of their duties. The three institutions, Grhapatikas (who were weak agriculturists), Vaidehakas (weak traders) and Tapasvis (independent researchers stationed outside towns and villages) were used by the Samaharta to collect economic data. But he could not use the services of the other two institutions (samsthas) of observers (spies, chakshus), the retired senior citizens who were indifferent to economic needs and activities (udastithas) and the experts who could discover deceit (kapatikas).
The Traditional Jurisdiction of the Samaharta (Bk.2 Ch.6)
The Samaharta was traditionally in charge of the fort (durga), the rural hinterland (rashtra), mines, water-works, forests, cattle herds and trade routes, which were the main sources of revenue. The capital (pura) was not under his control. It enjoyed special rights and privileges since middle Vedic times, Atharvaveda Bk.3 indicates.
Kautilya redistributed the population within the janapada and abolished the autonomous paura assemblies. The Sannidhata was freed from the responsibility of urban administration. This aspect of administration of the Kautilyan State has eluded the grasp of the 20th century Indologists.
Administrative Reforms introduced by Kautilya
Kautilya discouraged concentration of population in towns and removed all production units and markets from the urban areas. (Economists and town planners may note this aspect of Kautilyan reforms.) The forts became defence-cum-administrative centres and were placed under the Samaharta. He supervised the entire agro-pastoral economy and also the forest economy. Trade proper was looked after by both ministers, Samaharta and Sannidhata. Kautilya noticed that the scholars of his times followed the paura-janapada dichotomy that was in vogue since the Atharvan period or the durga-rashtra dichotomy that was put forth during the early Manava epoch. Kautilya advanced the concept of durga-janapada dichotomy and merged the urban areas in the civil entity, janapada. The fortified capital (durga) became the administrative centre.
The offices of the following eighteen departments were located inside the fort: (1) Tolls and fines (2) Weights and measures (3) Mint (4) Passports (5) City administrator, Nagarika (6) Public Buildings (7) Casinos (8) Liquor (9) Abattoirs (10) Brothels (11) Textiles (12) Oil and ghee (13) Elixir, kshara (14) Goldsmiths (15) Trade-centres (16) Architects and masons (17) Temples (18) Ports of entry (2-6-2). These were bureaus under the feudal set-up. Kautilya modified these and introduced a rational bureaucracy. The officers of the above bureaus had to report to the Samaharta.
Internal Administration of the enlarged Janapada
The following heads of revenue were looked after by the administrators in charge of the rural hinterland, rashtra: (1) Share in agricultural produce, sita-bhaga, due to the king from the lessees of his lands (2) Tributes, bali, forced extortion (3) Prescribed taxes (kara) (4) Profit in trade, vanika (5) River protection charges, nadipala (6) Ferry charges (7) Port-duties (8) Pastoral lands (9) Road-cess (10) Revenue from survey (11) Fines on tax evasion (2-6-3) (These pertained to port-towns).
Gold, silver, diamond, pearl, coral, conch, shells, salt and ores were included under ‘mines’. (2-6-4) All irrigated lands including gardens and orchards and terrain yielding edible roots, which benefited from water-works, were covered by ‘setu’ (bridge) (2-6-5). All animal parks, forest-wealth in the form of timber, herbs and elephants were covered by ‘vana’. (2-6-6) Cows and buffaloes, goats and sheep, donkeys and camels, horses and mules were covered under ‘vraja’ (herd). (2-6-7) All trade routes (both water and land) were under the charge of the Samaharta. (8)
How the officer should maintain the statement of accounts is described in this section (2-6-11 to 26). He has to arrive at the balance of income over expenditure (27). He is expected to increase the income due to the state and reduce the expenditure on collection of revenue. The Samaharta was essentially a Minister for Internal Revenue. His duties were connected with maintenance of equity that was needed to develop the economy of the integrated janapada that was protected by the King stationed in the fortified administrative capital. He was not in charge of any social welfare measure. His failure to observe the rules brought him in conflict with the Sannidhata (8-4-31 to 33). Kautilya justified the steps taken by the Sannidhata to streamline rural administration and curb corruption and irresponsible conduct of the heads of the autonomous units.
Duties of the Sannidhata (Bk.2 Ch.5)
The Sannidhata controlled the secretariats of the treasury, markets, warehouse, forest-produce, armoury and jails. The Pradeshtrs who controlled the district jails were under him. He was required to ensure that the buildings were adequate and safe. He had magisterial powers over the operations in these departments whose heads must have been senior Amatyas. A central treasury was built on the border of the Janapada with the capital. For, the centrally located capital was more insecure. (There could be palace revolts.)
The Sannidhata was the chairman of the board of experts who examined and received gems and precious metals into the treasury. He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer but could not act independently. He was to be assisted by reliable officers. He could impose even death penalty on those who robbed the treasury. The Sannidhata could not disburse grants nor levy taxes. But he controlled banking and marketing.
He was expected to maintain permanent records (for more than a hundred years) of receipts from the rural hinterland (bahyam) and the industrial centres (abhyantaram) so that whenever asked he would not falter in respect of receipts, expenses and balance. (2-5-22). He had no control over the third source of revenue (atithyam). These were tributes received by the king from the vassals and gifts from other kings. They were handled by the king personally. The Sannidhata operated from the fortified capital, pura or nagara, and not from the fort, durga.
Bureaucracy, it may be noted, survived the rise and fall of dynasties. The economic state was a permanent entity while the political state was ephemeral. The Sannidhata did not have direct access to the Interior, the rural hinterland, rashtra, which was administered by the Samaharta. The Samaharta was in charge of the trade in the king's’ goods and the village co-operatives. These two officers were successors to the two Vedic officials, Indra and Brhaspati who represenred the aristocracy nd the commonalty and directed the treasury as Chanccellor of the Exchequer and the Civil Administration respectively. The highly influential Sannidhata, Chancellor of the Exchequer, could ot easily browbeat him. Rural economy has always resisted domination by the urban economy.