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Chanakya?s office of profit

Once, a thief barged into Chanakya?s house. What happened next? Read on...

india Updated: Apr 01, 2006 12:50 IST

Now when our country is rocked by the controversy over the term “Office of Profit” for those representing us at the seat of power, I’m reminded of an incident from the life of Chanakya. As we know, he is still honoured as one of our greatest thinkers.

As a kingmaker who brought Chandragupta Maurya to power in the Gangetic plains in place of the despotic Mahapadma Nanda, and thereafter as the Prime Minister, there was little that escaped Chanakya’s shrewd brain. His Arthashastra or treatise on statecraft is known to be full of cunning strategy and worldly wisdom. But even after becoming the prime minister, Chanakya is said to have lived very austerely, because he believed that with power came responsibility.

One cold winter night, a thief barged into Chanakya’s house. Even after searching for hours the thief couldn’t find any valuables. All he could see was Chanakya sleeping on a cot in one corner, covered with an old worn blanket. He wanted to beat a hasty retreat but was suddenly struck by the sight of a large number of new blankets stacked in the adjoining room.

As he tried to make off with some, he was caught and hauled before Chanakya. “Your Excellency, I admit my offence. But one question haunts my mind. If you permit, may I ask?” pleaded the thief.

Chanakya gave the nod and the thief said, “Your Excellency, I saw a big heap of new blankets in your house, but despite that, in the bone-chilling cold, you had covered your body with one very old blanket which even had holes in it. Why?”

Chanakya who believed that those in power owed an explanation for their conduct to the people said: “The heap of new blankets was purchased yesterday for giving to the destitute. They await speedy distribution. I had no right to use them. I am using only what belongs to me. Nor do I think it correct to help myself to the blankets meant for state welfare.”