Kootaneeti: The Forgotten Art and Science of Covert Politics

Kootaneeti is advanced art and science which is built on the foundations of Rajaneeti. Their fundamental objective is too similar: to protect and uphold all that is righteous and work for the universal welfare of all beings, Dharma. However, Kootaneeti is one step further. It doesn’t hesitate to pursue a difficult path for the sake of upholding Dharma.

Shakti or Power is the essence of Rajyam or Leadership. There are those who consider themselves to be either “unlucky” or “undeserving” of power as they cannot comprehend the dynamics of attaining or retaining it. Those who consider themselves to be “deserving” of power are often the same who are unable to handle it. As a result, such people turn up as leaders who are used, misused and/or abused by those around them. They are branded as Ashaktas or incompetent by Kautilya a.k.a. Chanakya. Those who are most deserving of handling power, on the other hand, even without being in the position of power, are called Shaktas those who are deserving of power. Such Shaktas are capable of making changes that define the destiny of everyone and therefore can be easily understood as competent.

Before even desiring to have power, or Shakti, it’s important to be deserving of it. One cannot be a Shakta without Jnana and Vijnana or Knowledge and Wisdom. For without knowledge and wisdom how do we differentiate between true and false, right and wrong?

Will that which is right today be right tomorrow? Is that which was right yesterday to be right today? Discriminating between right and wrong is impossible without knowledge and wisdom. It’s never possible only with the correct data or the right information.

Most people confuse data and information with knowledge, like confusing a means with the goal. Data and information are not in themselves knowledge and knowledge is never in itself wisdom. Unless an individual understands these four key elements and realizes them to the fullest extent a person is seldom a Shakta, a person deserving of power.

Vedic texts on Dharma and Neeti speaks emphatically on these topics and lay the foundation for understanding what is good, bad or mixed, such as is mentioned in the Rajaneeti Shastras including Artha Shastra.

Artha Shastra is about general politics. Although it does speak of many aspects that are unknown to present leaders and thinkers of politics, authors of Artha Shastras including Bharadwaja, Shukracharya, Pishuna and the like prophesized that there are times when these knowledges are inadequate to address the challenges for those who are dharmic. These will be the times when people of Asuric (read evil) tendencies assume positions of power, corrupt the system and uproot the foundation of all that is good. In such times it becomes apparent that a more formidable form of knowledge must be used; one that is discreet, shrewd and effective besides adhering to Dharma. This form of knowledge is called Kootaneeti.

Kootaneeti is an advanced art and science built upon the foundations of Rajaneeti. Its objective is to protect and uphold all that is dharmic and work for the universal welfare of all beings. However, Kootaneeti is one step further. It doesn’t hesitate to pursue a difficult path for the sake of upholding Dharma.

Kootaneeti comprises of two words, namely: Koota (meaning Covert or Discreet) and Neeti (Conduct).

Consider this: A ruthless dictator has assumed power. He’s encircled by people driven by absolute greed and ruthlessness. The nation’s resources are exploited and misused by these people while poverty, malnourishment, corruption and abuse of powerless is rampant. The masses are bereft of hope. What is to be done to restore the order of law and justice – Dharma? Most modern thinkers in diplomacy and politics prove ineffective in this regard. Kootaneeti provides a way.

For example, one of the ideas suggested in Kootaneeti is to infiltrate the seat of power and create a deadly rift with discreet means among the inner circle. “The worst enemy to those in power are their own selves and the people closest to them.” declares Kautilya. “An external enemy, no matter how strong, cannot make a dent while the faculties of those in power are working to their fullest potential.” It gives substantial Tantras or Strategies to penetrate, infiltrate and destabilize those in power besides identifying, installing and empowering the deserving in their place – Shaktas.

According to another author of Artha Shastra, Shukracharya, “Those who abuse power might appear to be strong owing to their ruthlessness and cunning. But as a matter of fact, they are not.” According to Bharadwaja, “Only that individual is formidable who has overcome all the six limitations within (read Arishadvargas), namely: Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (infatuation), Mada (ego) and Matsarya (envy).” According to Pishnua “Even one of the six detrimental qualities (Arishadvargas) is adequate to cause the destruction of individuals in power.”

Kootaneeti is important not just in destruction of the adharmic but also to sustain the position of those who are dharmic. “Because Arishadvargas are common to all the people, except Sadhus (renunciate celibates those without any sense of attachment), it’s important that a ruler employ Mantri (ministers) and Tantris (strategists) to seek for any sign of weakness inside the administration or Rajyam. Kootaneeti always played a phenomenal role in building, sustaining and empowering various Vedic empires as a tool to check the infiltration of clandestine elements into the system. Counter-intelligence is among the most crucial faculties of this system of knowledge.

Kootaneetijna or practitioner of Kootaneeti is a shadow player. He assists Rajaneetijna but seldom takes a position that is visible to most people. This makes the person effective as well as efficient. Your enemy cannot destroy you if they don’t know a thing about you or who you are. Discretion and low-key action is the hallmark of Kootaneeti. Politicians often require the publicity and adoration of many people to seek acceptance which makes them prone to several threats including manipulation, honey trapping, conspiracy and the like. Since anticipating all such problems is overwhelming Vedic kings sought the services of Kootaneetijna to look out for them and protect them for unforeseen threats.

For good reasons a Kootaneetijna was never a known person in the cabinet. He would remain invisible to the common eye and at times was also confused as a spy. Kootaneetijna is more than a spy. A spy is a solider, who obeys command without worrying much about consequences. Kootaneetijna understands the consequences of decisions, builds upon it and even manipulates it, selflessly for greater good. Such Kootaneetijna never took credit for any successes or failures owing to their involvement. This is called Karma Sannyasa – an essential wisdom taught by Krishna in Bhagavad Gita. Vamadeva, yet another important author of Artha Shastra, hailed Krishna as one of the finest Kootaneetijna. Krishna was the key strategist of the Pandavas. The Pandavas did not have powerful army on the battlefield, and yet it was astuteness of Krishna which won them their war. Yet, in the end, Krishna was selfless. He didn’t take any “spoils of war”. He sought neither position nor affluence. He remained above and beyond all mundane politicians.

Qualities of Kootaneetijna

Not all qualify to be Kootaneetijna. It takes years of education, practice and mentoring to become one. There were a few particular qualities sought for in Kootaneetijna. Some of those qualities are enumerated in Artha Shastra of Shukracharya are as below:

  1. Jnani – Deep understanding of Dharma and Neeti.
  2. Vijnani – Possessor of wisdom.
  3. Yogi – Practitioner of Dharma in all walks of life.
  4. Anuragi – Possessing compassion.
  5. Nishkami – Without lust (be it physical or emotional).
  6. Akrodhi – Without a trace of anger.
  7. Nirlobhi – Without greed.
  8. Nirmohi – Without emotional attachment, or infatuation.
  9. Nirmala – Without a single blemish in one’s character.
  10. Tyagi – To live without any trace of attachment and ability to renounce all possessions without second thoughts.

Kootaneetijna were consultants and advisors to the rulers of their times. Yet, they seldom took any position. Most swore to remain detached and were seldom known to many within the government. This position was often held by the Rajagurus, who also happened to be rishis. It is important to know all the authors of Artha Shastra from Bharadwaj, Shukracharya, Vamadeva, Pishuna, Parashara until Kautilya lived as hermits away from the seat of power and wealth. They provided their counsel and advice only when asked for. They seldom sought publicity, titles, rewards from the king. And yet made insurmountable contribution to greater good.

It could be hard to even comprehend their sense of modesty and dispassion towards wealth and position. It’s impossible for many to believe that such people even existed. Yet, that they lived and achieved great feats without an ounce of vanity is the truth.

4 responses on "Kootaneeti: The Forgotten Art and Science of Covert Politics"

  1. This article is great. It may help to understand the management and leadership. It may enhance the ability and also can develop skills to take decisions.

  2. Well written. Enjoyed reading it.

  3. The qualities of Kootaneetijna are well brought out. We need such Yogi in the present day world. Is it possible to have such person?

  4. Namaskaram everyone 🙏🏻.
    This article is extremely insightful and unequivocally worth a read.
    This entire article illustrates heavily the acuteness of our then’s Rishis who by adhering to Dharma renounced worldly pleasures to submit their life in making others’ lives better. It gripped me throughout as to how Rishis thought of such cleverness in that era to thrash a foe within the team. I adore the component of kootnitjna where it reads the duties of former and hierarchy of espionage making it ahead of any mundane spy, not only does one stick to Dharma but also act according to situations with a motive of negating any wrongdoings.

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