March 30, 2020
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The Other Kautilyas

Of course, not all of India's Chanakyas are Brahmins, even though the community clearly provides the biggest talent pool for political advisors.

The Other Kautilyas
Of course, not all of India’s Chanakyas are Brahmins, even though the community clearly provides the biggest talent pool for political advisors. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav at one time banked on Rajya Sabha MP and old socialist, Janeshwar Mishra. But over the last decade, he began to rely far more on Amar Singh, a Rajput, for whom it has been a long—and fruitful—journey. Through the ’90s, as Singh cut a swathe through the SP, doing the unthinkable, bringing a heady whiff of corporate India and Bollywood into the midst of those who swore by Lohia and khadi, he gave the party an entirely new profile. But party insiders say that though Mulayam Singh too has changed, the grip he has over the party has not diminished. And when it comes to key political decisions, he relies on his core group, which includes not just Mishra and Amar Singh, but also Lok Sabha MP Mohan Singh, his brother Shivpal Yadav and cousin Ram Gopal Yadav.

Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, whose DMK’s raison d’etre was anti-Brahminism, relied for many years on Brahmin civil servant and intellectual S. Guhan. Guhan was known as much for his incisive wit and acerbic humour as for adopting a conciliatory approach in settling political and administrative disputes. He was also among those who persuaded Karunanidhi to throw in his lot with the United Front rather than the BJP in 1996. When Guhan died in ’98, Karunanidhi lost an advisor whose judgment he trusted. More recently, he has been consulting Prof Naganathan, an OBC and vice-chairperson of the State Planning Commission. The two have known each other for over 20 years—and till he fell ill recently, Naganathan would accompany Karunanidhi on his morning walks to DMK headquarters Annaarrivalayam, in Chennai’s Teynampet.

Telugu Desam Party founder N.T. Rama Rao banked on a fellow Kamma, media tycoon Ramoji Rao. Indeed, many people credit Ramoji with having "created" the party—and to this day, he remains the party’s chief strategist, promoting it in his paper, Eenadu, and advising current TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu.

Clearly, in these competitive times, every politician needs a Chanakya as much for strategy as for spin—charisma can take you only that far. The twice-born seem to have an edge in the strategy stakes, but as political dynamics change, could that too change?

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