Duryodhana’s diabolical plot to burn the Pandavas along with Kunti in the Lakshagriha (House of Lacquer) is well-known to anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of the Mahabharata. However, the plot is not Duryodhana’s original idea. It is the outcome of a story narrated by a crafty political advisor named Kanika, who is introduced to Duryodhana, quite appropriately by Shakuni. Kanika is akin to the countless similar modern advisers to the Congress Party.
This is the story that Kanika narrates.
There lived a slick fox in a forest full of cruel beasts, a fox which had mastered the art of making others do its work by tricking them through deceit and enjoying the fruits its unearned labour.
This fox was friends with four other animals: the Tiger, the Wolf, the Mongoose and the Rat.
On one occasion, the fox spotted a ripe, juicy deer and began to crave its meat. It waited patiently for several days, plotting and trying to capture the deer. In vain. The alert deer evaded the fox every single time. Overall, it was a fruitless pursuit.
And so, the fox instead of getting frustrated, contemplated on the best way by which it could eat the deer. And hit upon a plan. This was the best time to use its four friends. Presently, it assembled them together and said, “My dear friends! Behold, I spotted this magnificent, juicy deer! It is well- grown, full of health and energy and agility and has sumptuous flesh and meat. Merely imagining the taste of its meat arouses my hunger although my stomach is full. Sadly, none of us alone can match the deer’s speed. Try as hard as we might, it will escape us...” the fox paused knowing fully well that it had caught the attention of its friends. Then it resumed, “therefore, I think the only way to kill it is by stealth. There’s strength in teamwork. My dear friends, together, all of us can feast on its meat!”
The fox’s words found their target unerringly. Four unanimous voices spoke as one: “Dearest Friend! You’re the cleverest among us all. Please give us the idea how we can accomplish this.”
The fox walked away for a while giving an impression to the others who were watching it, now in eager anticipation, of deep thought, then returned and addressed them again: “Ah! I may have an idea…a plan. Please listen carefully and give me your opinion,” it paused, and then, “We can’t capture the deer when it is alert, active and on its guard. We must keep a close watch to find out when it will be in sound sleep with fatigue and exhaustion. And then without making any sound, the rat must crawl up to it and nibble off its legs, and before the deer is even aware of the pain, the tiger must jump on it and bite into its neck and kill it. Then we will surely achieve our objective and enjoy a delicious feast together.”The fox’s friends were delighted and praised its strategic wisdom. So, for days, they kept a constant watch on the deer and observed its routine and sleep timings. Fortuitously, one fine day, the deer grazed to its heart’s content, drank the water from the familiar stream, and the exertions of the day and the bountiful food it had eaten, lulled it to blissful sleep.
The fox decided that the opportune time had arrived at last. It signalled to the rat which quietly crept up to the deer and began to nibble its feet. The slumbering deer suddenly felt something amiss and quickly tried to get on its feet by which time the tiger sprang upon it, dug its claws into the deer’s neck, and killed it effortlessly. It was all over within minutes.
The friends clapped and cheered and celebrated and got ready to feast on the deer.
Suddenly the fox said, “My dearest friends! I beg you, please wait. The fruit of our hard labour and patience is before us, and it’s only proper that we enjoy this feast together. But look at all of us! Our bodies are covered in blood and dust and dirt. I think it’s best if all of us clean ourselves and enjoy this meal at leisure. So I humbly suggest that all of us must take a bath and come back. I will guard our feast till you return and I will have my bath afterwards.”The fox’s friends thought this was sensible advice and headed for the river.
The tiger returned first only to find the fox weeping. Worried, it asked, “Dear friend, what happened? Why are you crying?” The fox replied, tears streaming down, “How can I tell you my good friend? I don’t wish to cause any pain to your heart.” The tiger said impatiently, “No, tell me!” So the fox said, “Ok my dear friend, I will tell you. But don’t misunderstand me. When you all left, the rat stayed back for a bit and told me, ‘What is the use of the tiger although it is so big and so powerful? It was powerless, unable to do anything until I chewed off the deer’s feet. So you must agree that the deer was actually killed by my agility. And now, it wants to eat the meat. How shameless!’ Now tell me my friend, how can I not weep at this insult to you?”
The tiger was furious and emitted a deafening roar and said to the fox, “My dear friend, good you told me this! Indeed, you’re a true friend. Also, dear friend, let me tell you this: the rat has actually taught me wisdom. From now onwards, I shall earn my own food,” and left the place without waiting for the fox’s response.
Unaware of any of this, the rat arrived next, eager to eat the deer’s flesh. The fox held up its hand and said, “Wait a bit my dear friend. Before you eat, let me tell you that the tiger was here a while ago and bit into the deer and went away. It might be back any time. Next the mongoose was here and when it heard that the tiger had bit into the deer, it was enraged and said that the deer was poisoned by the tiger’s bite. It was also hungry like all of us are. The mongoose said it can’t eat the poisoned deer, so it will eat you instead.” The mortified rat ran away and hid deep in its hole.
Presently, the wolf arrived at the spot. To the wolf, the fox said, “Listen carefully my friend, this is for your own safety. The tiger was here just a while ago and it ate some of the deer’s flesh and will return shortly. It has entrusted me to watch over the deer. If it finds out that you have tasted the deer, it will surely kill you. That is why I’m just guarding the deer but I haven’t even gone near it let alone eat it.” The wolf, like the rat, ran away in fear.
Finally, it was the turn of the mongoose. As the mongoose approached the dead deer, the fox threw a challenge, “you have come here to eat this delicious feast. The other three were here long before you. I killed them all and I’m now the master of this deer. It is entirely mine now. I challenge you to a duel. If you win, the deer is all yours.”
The mongoose knew it was no match for the fox and quietly retreated and departed from the spot.
Happy that its well-thought out plan had succeeded so well, the fox happily feasted on the deer for several days.
Kanika concludes this tale with a closing address, “O King! This is the path, this is the wisdom of trickery which yields great success in work we undertake.” Then, Kanika also expounds quite elaborately on how deceit, guile and treachery are indispensable—even inevitable—tools of statecraft. In Kanika’s book, nobody is spared, and no villainy is enough villainy. He advocates the use of spies disguised as respected classes of people in those days—Brahmins, Sanyasins, etc—to achieve the objectives of statecraft. Although Kautilya in his Arthashastra doesn’t name Kanika, his keen perception and grasp of statecraft can be gauged from the fact that the Arthashastra advises the King to keep a strict watch on such “respectable” people because they could pose as potential sources of threat.
This story which Kanika narrates has since come to be known as Kanika Neeti or Kalinga Neeti. This story also has parallels in the Mitrabheda (Division and Dissension among Friends), the First Book of the Panchatantra.
Kanika Niti is also a good illustration of the classic principles of Indian Statecraft of Sama (Conciliation, Alliance), Daana (Gifts, Compensation, Material Allurements), Bheda (Sowing Doubt and Dissension) and Danda (War, Aggression). The difference is that Kanika advocates their unscrupulous use to retain an illegitimate kingdom.
Indeed, Kanika’s tale was so compelling that when Duryodhana outlined the Lakshagriha plot to his father Dhritarashtra, the latter revealed the full extent of his innate evil by signaling his assent for his own son’s plot to murder Dhritarashtra’s own younger brother’s five sons in these words: “Do it my beloved son, but do it in such a way that it doesn’t become public knowledge.”
Sounds eerily familiar to the Congress method of “politics” and garibi hatao and secularism? This, among a million other reasons, is why the Mahabharata is an indispensable work for nation-building.
To be continued
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