famous people died in December 2006. Everyone knows what 'Emperor'
means. But "Satrap"?
which is usually said to be of Latin and Greek origin, actually
comes from Sanskrit, via old Persian. The root is "Kshetra Paavana",
which means "region protector", which is to say, a vassal who
oversees a province or area on behalf of an emperor.
Ancient empires used satraps to manage far-flung possessions,
a tried and tested technique based on an established spoils system.
The satrap, or local lord, exercised wide powers over his subjects,
unhindered by the Empire in whose name he ruled, so long as he
proclaimed fealty to the Emperor, and, of course, forked over
a suitable portion of the revenues from his region.
It is, come
to think of it, one of the oldest recorded applications of outsourcing.
The Greek and Roman empires used it, as evidenced by the word
itself. Empires in India did the same: the great Emperor Ashoka
(circa 300 BC) was known to have a great many satraps, as did
the Moghuls (1526-1707).
So has the
practice continued, right down to our times, although the nature
and form of the spoils system has evolved. During the Cold War,
the West and the Communist bloc's each had their own set of satraps,
turning the world into a checkerboard of allegiances.
the Great invaded the Punjab, he faced a local king, Porus, who
fought with great valor before being defeated. When Porus was
brought before Alexander in chains,the story goes, Alexander mocked
him, asking, "how would you like to be treated?" Porus is said
to have replied, "Like a king treats a king!"
Alexander is said to have been so impressed by his bearing and
dignity, not to mention his bravery, that he gave Porus his kingdom
back, and made him a satrap. I've always wondered how a spirited
soul like Porus could come to an accommodation that would leave
him a vassal. But then, the swallowing one's pride at the right
time is evidently a time-honored skill essential to both business
and statecraft. How many times have we seen proud CEOs of an acquired
company mutating into meek heads of departments in the new dispensation;
all it took was a few million dollars!
go the other way too. Sometimes, a satrap would get too big for
his boots, and develop notions of independence or delusions of
grandeur. At other times, satraps would attempt a well judged
leap into the arms of another empire, in search of a better deal.
The task of an empire, then, became the decapitation of that satrap
and installation of a new one. Since this was a lengthy and costly
proposition, wise emperors would make sure the vassals were kept
in fair humor.
The age of
Revolution's changed this some. Woodrow Wilson's encouragement
of nationality changed it even more. Whereas "Civis Romanus Sum"
was once a proud cry, no local ruler could retain bolster the
self-respect of his people any longer by open fealty to an outside
empire. Subtler ways were needed. Nothing was more vexatious than
democracy, where, by definition, there could be multiple opinions,
even on which Empire to align with. Far easier to foster a dictatorship
as with the old satrapy, where keeping the local ruler in power
was all it took to retain allegiance. As a corollary, the more
emasculated the people, the less effort required to maintaining
note that two former satraps of America, in two different hemispheres,
died at the end of 2006. Both ran regimes that, everyone agrees,
perpetrated untold numbers of crimes - murders and disappearances,
torture and rape.
One was sought
by half-a-dozen countries for many years, yet escaped prosecution
for "crimes against humanity", partially with the help of the
United States. He died of natural causes, before he could be tried,
having used every artifice to avoid the certain prospect of the
was hunted down and captured by the United States, and kept in
its custody for three years. He was tried, after a fashion, in
circumstances that would hardly be called dispassionate by any
Western standard. A sentence of death handed down, for "crimes
against humanity". Following an appeals process that was over
almost before it started, he was executed by hanging. Saddam Hussein
mounted the gallows saying that he was not afraid, for this was
the path he had chosen.
less fazed by irony with each passing day, America lionized Pinochet,
upon his death, as a visionary responsible for Chile's resurgence.
In Saddam Hussein's case, it welcomed his execution as a vindication
of the judicial process. All this, too, while simultaneously heaping
praise upon the recently departed President Ford for pardoning
President Nixon in advance, thereby sparing the nation the agony
of the selfsame judicial process!
It is testament
to our public diplomacy that women in India, of all places, have
vowed to name their newborn sons "Saddam".
is written that he who rises by a hanging (Chad) will fall by
a hanging. Sad.
Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast. His
writings can be found on http://www.indogram.com.
He can be reached at [email protected]
or visit http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com
Other articles by Niranjan Ramakrishnan:
And Timid Men
Fig (Leaflet) Of Warning
Power Of Arrogance
Trade Or Free Speech
Use It Or Lose It
Paradox Of Prosperity