Sanjeev Sanyal, Visiting Fellow at IDFC Institute, in this Economic Times article argues that the weak and all-pervasive Indian state is the result of "Nehruvian thinking in the 20th century led the Indian republic to follow the Ashokan model for the last 66 years" and it is time to revisit "the Kautilyan ideal [which] is a 'strong' but 'limited' State".
"....the focus of Kautilya’s Arthashastra (Treatise on Prosperity) is on governance. There is occasional mention of intrigue and spies, but only in the wider context of maintaining order. Most of the book is about taxation, municipal laws, the legal system, property rights, labour laws and so on."
"Notice how the Arthashastra is explicitly not about the welfarism of a nanny state. Instead, it contains long discussions on property rights, enforcement of contracts and consumer protection."
"He advocated a government that actively provided public goods, regulated markets and encouraged public sector undertakings in sectors like mining. The emphasis, however, is always on maintaining the overall framework of governance rather than on specific interventions in people’s lives. The text repeatedly states that self-restraint is the single most important attribute in a king. In other words, the Kautilyan ideal is a ‘strong’ but ‘limited’ State."
"A reading of the Arthashastra suggests that the first thing he would do is fix the judicial system. He would look on the 32-million pending cases as the epitome of Matsanyaya. Kautilya’s thinking would be that the delivery of justice is more important for the welfare of the poor than any subsidy scheme.Second, he would invest heavily in internal security to sternly put down violence from terrorists, Maoists, criminals and mobs of various shades. Many social scientists today take the view that poverty and inequality lead to social disorder. But Kautilya would argue that the direction of causality runs in reverse.Third, he would attempt a dramatic simplification of taxes, regulations and the administrative structure. His view would be that every complication breeds corruption."
"There is a stark contrast between the above approach and the paternalistic thinking of Emperor Ashoka just two generations later. In his inscriptions, Ashoka repeatedly says that he considers his subjects as his children and then explicitly states that his officials are like nannies meant to look after them."
"The over-extended Ashokan state caused the Mauryan empire to disintegrate from rebellion and fiscal stress while the emperor was still alive. Yet, the dominance of Nehruvian thinking in the 20th century led the Indian republic to follow the Ashokan model for the last 66 years. The result is a weak and all-pervasive state. Perhaps it is time to revisit Kautilya. After all, he created a large, well-functioning empire, while Ashoka presided over its disintegration."