Hindu Political thinkers and texts dealing with polity have deliberated on the conception of elements of state or what factors constitute a state quite comprehensively. Though there exists sort of consensus on what are the elements of the state, but there exists some interesting variations as well.
I’ll be considering the views of Arthashastra, Manava Dharma Shastra (Manusmriti), Yagyvalkya Smriti, Kamandaka’s Nitisara and Brihaspati’s Arthshastra to provide a synopsis of the concept. The elements of the state in Hindu polity are often referred as limb (अंग). Starting with the Arthashastra of Acharya Kautalya, he considers that state has 7 elements: The sovereign (King or Republic council depending on the type of government), The Ministry, The country (राष्ट्र or जनपद), Capital (दुर्ग/नगर), State exchequer, Army and Allies.
The view of Acharya Kautalya is the traditional view of the Hindu Polity as this is accepted by Yagyvalkya Smriti as well. Kamandak in Nitisara upholds the position of Acharya Kautalya and as Kamandak also quotes from Brihaspati’s Arthshastra in his Nitisara, we also know that Brihaspati was of the same opinion.
The text which differed from this was Manusmriti which didn’t consider the sovereign and allies as elements of a state. The exclusion of allies might be explained by the fact that the time period in which Manusmriti was written and the place where it was written, the kings of the neighbourhood states were antagonists which reduced the importance of allies. But Kamandaka in his Nitisara gives a glimpse of international affairs of the Hindu Polity.
According to him, there was a concept of मंडल (mandala) in which four states were allies of each other which ensured the twin purpose of maintaining the balance of power and strategic peace.
Then exclusion of sovereign from the list of elements of state is due to an explicit proclamation in Manusmriti regarding the question of real sovereign. In the eyes of Acharya Kautalya, a king is sovereign as he is the one excutes the law (दण्ड) since without a king, there will be no enforcement of law.
Obviously, the old principle of Hindu Polity was still upheld in this arrangement that Dharma is supreme and the king doesn’t enjoy Sovereign Immunity. If a king errs in administration of law, he will be fined as per Acharya Kautalya. He is subject to the trial of law and not above it. This is in direct contrast to the maxim of ‘Queen can do no wrong’ of Britain or Bhutan’s prevalent law that the king can’t be subjected to the law. Even in Nepal whrn Hindu monarchy existed, they had abandoned this principle of Hindu Polity and accepted that king can’t be subjected to the law.
Manusmriti says that the real sovereign is धर्म (dharma) and a king should never administer the law alone. It’s a fact that king never administered the law alone in Hindu Polity and the concept of trial by jury and independent judges (धर्मस्थ) have been mentioned in Arthashastra, but as Manusmriti provided a common law code for both Dharma (religious/ sacerdotal) and Artha laws (civil and criminal laws), this provision of real sovereignty was made more explicit with the provision that only a Brahmin could be the judge of civil court while making no such claim on the judgeship of criminal court. Manusmriti also limits the law making authority of the king.
When it comes to the question of which element amongst the seven is the most important, Acharya Kautalya gives the rule that the element mentioned first is the most important and the importance of succeeding elements decreases in series. This is logical in the view that allies who are external to the state have been mentioned at the end.
The high importance of council of ministers is the reminiscent of the old vedic tradition of समिति (samiti) which had the law making authority of popular will. Vedic literature has termed सभा (sabha) and समिति (samiti) as the two daughters of प्रजापति (Prajapati).
Council of ministers has been treated as king-maker in Brahmana-s such as Aitareya Brahman while Acharya Kautalya had termed council of ministers as eyes of the ruler. The importance of capital, state exchequer and army is fairly obvious and perceptible to modern eyes as well.
(This article was first published on the author’s blog on January 22, 2021 and has been reproduced here in full.)
(Featured image source: DNA India)