Politics is a cliched field..nothing new ever happens. The new too, is not necessarily an improvement of the past. “Chanakya’s Chant” by Ashwin Sanghi is a parallel reading of the original and the cliche. The book takes us in a rocking time travel machine to roughly 2300 yrs ago where kingdoms that squabbled in what will be “Bharat” to present day India where the squabbling continues. Greatness as Malvolio puts it in the “Twelfth Night” is not something to be afraid of “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” That seems to be the running theme in the book as it focuses on people on whom greatness is thrust upon, on the ones who were born so and more importantly on the two people who achieve it. Chanakya’s chant traverses the life of Chanakya whose mission is to install Chandragupta Maurya on the throne of Magadha, defeat Alexander and unite the various warring kingdoms to create a strong, self sufficient Bharat. His greatness is achieved through a series of events in his life, which shapes his philosophical as well as his political views. With the Takshila University forming the background, the setting is laid for the master strategist to craft a worthy revenge against the King of Magadha for murdering his family, while plotting the downfall of Alexander who comes to India seeking fame and new lands to conquer. His biggest coup-d’etat however will be seeing his protege Chandragupta Maurya become the king of Magadha and usher in the Age of Empires through the Mauryan empire.
Roughly two and half thousand years later, Pandit Gangasagar Mishra in Kanpur with providence and divine luck on his side, uses similar strategies to bring his protegee Chandini Gupta to power by making her the Prime Minister of a united India. Every means, be it lying, fudging the truth, murder, concealment, inciting violence, threat or plain cunning strategy is used to justify the end. Both Kautilya and consequently Gangasagar believe in the principles of Saam, Daam, Dand, Behd – Equality, Enticement, Punishment, Dissension. They use it strategically to extract the maximum benifit resulting in book that is fast paced, gripping and riveting to read.
The research and the fictionalized history blend beautifully and makes the tale of the two Chanakyas enchanting. The part I found interesting was how both Chanakya and Gangasagar keep chanting the Shakthi Mantra as a means of strength and in Gangasagar’s case wisdom, and yet have no qualms in using religion itself as a means to achieve the end.
Two things that disturbed about the novel was the lack of a higer goal for Gangasagar mishra. Chanakya’s every move and every strategy was planned with two things in mind, to usurp the hedonistic King of Magadha and install Maurya, therby creating Bharat and putting a break on the Alexander war machine that threated the subcontinent. Mishra’s goal however revolves entirely around making Chandini the PM on India. Chandini’s character could have also been etched better. Maurya’s character worked with Chanakya because of the teacher student relationship they shared all their life. Chandini and Mishra on the other hand seem more forced together because of the lack of background on Chandini. The historical part was more tightly woven and well written, the present becomes tedious due to a few exagerrated events and conversations and the juvenile humour in places.
The novel as a whole is excellent and the reader does not tire of the constant move between past and present. In a lot of places, the conversation bear a heavey resemblance to Jeffrey Archer novels like “Kane and Abel and “The Prodigal Daughter”. A tight, fast paced reading of fictionalized history that fits beautifully into the present.