Monday Musings -12 – Kanika Neeti

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MONDAY MUSINGS – 12  Kanika Neeti 1

Troika of statecraft rules in Mahabharatha

We have seen two statecraft guidelines from Mahabharatha in our previous episodes ie Bheeshma Neeti and Vidura Neeti. Bheeshma Neeti and Vidura Neeti give different perspectives on kingship ie leadership traits between them. The third one ie Kanika Neeti is of totally different perspective. Classical lesson on leadership traits will not be complete without learning and understanding Kanika Neeti as well though Kanika Neeti was a debatable one of the lot. Let us look at some details of Kanika Neeti.

Kanika Neeti gives completely different perspectives on statecraft. To appreciate the difference, We have to first understand the personalities of the people involved and the context on which the advice was given.

One King, 2 advisors of different personalities

Kanika was a part of Dhritarashtra’s inner circle. Kanika was said to be well versed in the science of politics and an expert in counsels.

Kanika was said to be a friend of Shakuni, evil maternal uncle of Duryodana. Shakuni used Kanika to influence Dhridharashtra as he knew that Dhridharashtra would not otherwise approve his evil designs.

Dhridharashtra asked Kanika to advice about how to deal with the Pandavas whose valour and fame was on a rise with every passing day. Kanika Niti is encapsulated in one chapter at the end of Sambhava Parva, which is an upa Parva of the Adi Parva. Thus Kanika Neeti came much earlier to Vidura Neeti and Bhishma Neeti.

Dhridharashtra turned to Kanika for advice when he was getting jittery about the increasing fame of the Pandavas. He had the choice of going to Vidura but chose Kanika instead, for a reason.  Vidura was his chief advisor, his half-brother as well as better educated and respected than Kanika. Why did Dhridhrashtra choose to go to Kanika instead of Vidura? I was pondering on this question. I came to the conclusion that it could possibly be because he knew that Vidura would not tell what he wanted to listen. He knew that Vidura would advise him on dharma and righteousness which was not what he wanted to hear at that time. Kanika knew the art of reading his master’s mind and suggested what would suit to the master at that time.

Why did Dhridharashtra go to Vidura for advice in a later situation, in Udyog Parva? He could have gone back to Kanika again as he knew that Kanika would speak to his pleasing. I pondered about this as well. He specifically summoned Vidura to be brought to confabulate with him. Probably because he realized by then his mistake of not listening to Vidura. He thought righteousness could probably help him come out of the tough situation rather than the blind aggressiveness of Kanika.  It is another matter that he did not act as per Vidura’s advice even then. Vidura Niti was not of use to Dhridharashtra, of course lot of use to us.

I would be keen to know if there could be any other plausible explanation for the above two questions.  Please suggest in the comments section.


I dont approve but will turn a blind eye

Though Dhridharashtra did not openly support Duryodhana on his hatred for the Pandavas, he silently acknowledged the evil plans of Duryodhana and company as he thought that was in the best interests of his progeny. Kanika followed the direction in his advice. This is something like “I did not approve adharma and thus I am not responsible, but I am happy if that suited my interest”.  We see many such leaders even now!


Why Kanika advised what he did?

Now the context in which Kanika authored his Kanika Neeti

Dhritarashtra installed Yudhishthira as the heir-apparent (yuvaraja). Shortly, Yudhishthira excelled as a leader. Bhimasena finished his mace (gadaa) education under Sankarshana (Balarama), and Arjuna received from Drona the celestial Brahmashira weapon. The Pandava brothers extended the Kuru kingdom through their prowess. This unbridled and growing prosperity of the Pandavas caused Dhritarashtra to lose sleep. This sets the stage for the debatable Kanika Niti.

Dhritarashtra summoned Kanika and laid bare his growing insecurities on account of the Pandavas’ growing popularity and strength.

Kanika was shrewd. He easily understood what his master wanted to listen from him. He understood Dhritarashtra’s love for his sons and his growing discomfort with the Pandavas, short of hatred. Kanika advised what his master wanted to listen from him.  He did not tell any lie.  All he said is absolute truth. The difference is the single dimensional interpretation of the shastras in a way that would suit the interests of his master. Don’t we see this happening even now in corporate reports and presentations.

What did Kanika tell? In short,

The dead can never inspire any fear’, ‘End justifies the means’ and ‘One should achieve the goals by hook or crook’

He advocated aggressive ‘artha’ path without having even an inkling of ‘dharma’ part. We will see more details of ‘Kanika Neeti’ in the next episode and you will understand the perspective very clearly.

Is Kanika Neeti an aberration?

Not at all. Nothing in our sasthras can be an aberration. Need to understand in the right perspective.

Kanika advocated the philosophy of SaamaDaanaBedaDanda to Dhritarashtra which was later perfected as a strategy by Chanakya in Chanakya Neeti.  What is SaamaDaanaBedaDanda?


Sama then Daana then Beda then Danda

Kanika suggested the rules for winning enemies which can be taken as rules for influencing others. Order in the strategy is important.

Saama Placation – Communicate your intentions and asks clearly.  The communication can be direct, indirect, formal, or informal as per the situation, time, and place. If saama does not give success, next available option is Daana

Daana – Reciprocation – This strategy is to buy over the acceptance of the other party by offering something in return for the acceptance. Various options here are giving gifts, incentives, pay backs, etc.

The primary objective is to identify and exploit the need or greed of the other party. Sometimes, you might even need to germinate the seed-of-greed in the person’s mind.

Bheda  – Divide & Rule – Bheda is exploiting the secrets or weaknesses of the target. There exists a unique weakness in everyone and the neeti of bhed is all about exploiting that.

Danda refers to punishment and generally adopted as the last resort if the other three strategies do not yield desired result.

British Empire successfully used all the above 4 strategies in the same suggested order to expand their empire in India. They first tried to placate the kings to accept their authority, gave them quid pro quo to accept their authority, played divide and rule between the kings and their last resort was to win in war. 

SaamaDaanaBhedaDanda is a time-tested diplomacy strategy and used in other scriptures as well. Difference with Kanika is that he advocated their unscrupulous use to win over the enemies at any cost.

Kanika narrated a story to Dhritarashtra to convince him. The story of ‘wily fox’ who tactfully won over his friends (!) narrated by Kanika in our next episode.


Management and Leadership Topics covered in the previous posts

  1. The right attitude — Ch 1Ch 2  Ch6
  2. Governance — Ch 3  Ch4  Ch7  Ch 12
  3. Leadership — Ch 5  Ch 8
  4. Management — Ch 7 
  5. Intelligence & Wisdom — Ch 9 

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.



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