Mahatma Gandhi: The Dhritarashtra of Modern India

Mahatma Gandhi: The Dhritarashtra of Modern India

The great Pandurang Shastri once said that that the most adharmic thing that anyone did in the entire Mahabharata was a message sent by King Dhritirashtra to Yudhisthir prior to the outbreak of the Great War. The message was along the lines of:

“Dear Yudhisthir. You are righteous, but my sons are foolish and stubborn. You should know better than to fight a destructive war for a mere kingdom, when you know that everything in the world is fleeting and unreal. It is better for someone as righteous as you to live a simple religious life, or even live as a beggar, than to involve yourself in a struggle for a kingdom that is going to result in huge slaughter. If you avoid fighting this war, even if Duryodhan refuses to give you any land at all, you will have acted righteously and your name will be respected in this world and the next”.

This drew a sharp rebuke, most of all from Krishna.

The reason why this message of Dhritarashtra to Yudhisthir was considered to be the pinnacle of adharma and confusion is that it comes cloaked as righteousness and provides a metaphysical and spiritual argument to allow unrighteousness to rule society. It is quite a seductive argument at first glance and is capable on wreaking great havoc in the minds of the righteously inclined.

Although Dhritarashtra’s message is cloaked in the veil of righteousness, it actually amounts to handing the world to oppressors on a platter, giving them a free reign to do what they like. In reality, there is nothing righteous about giving up society to the forces of evil, or in allowing others to trample over your rights and dignity.

I am currently reading the Mahabharata myself, and just recently came across this incident which Pandurang Shastri was referring to. It occurs in the “Udyoga Parva” of the Mahabharata. Dhritarashtra sends Sanjay for conveying this message to the Pandavas, prompting Krishna to visit Hastinapur on behalf of the Pandavas.

Mahatma Gandhi

Although Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t speaking out of materially selfish considerations (unlike Dhritarashtra), in the prelude to the Partition of India, I was always struck by how his advice to normal Hindus was very much like that of Dhritarashtra. He told Hindus that it was morally and spiritually superior to give up life and country meekly to a violent aggressor rather than put up a struggle.

“Even if Muslims decide to wipe out the Hindu race, there is no point in Hindus getting angry on Muslims. Even if they slit our throats, we should be patient and accept death. Let them rule the world, we will pervade the world and merge with it. At least we should not be afraid of death. The providence is made of life and death. Why feel unhappy about it? We will enter a new life if we face death with a smile. We will create a new Hindustan.”  (April 6 1947, source: http://odisha.gov.in/e-magazine/Orissareview/2011/aug/augreview.htm  – page 41-44).

There are many quotes like this from the Mahatma – this is not a one-off occurrence in the statements that Gandhiji was making around that time. This was strikingly different to the advice he gave in regards to the freedom struggle against the British.

I am not a Gandhi-hater; I have enormous respect and admiration for his role in our country’s freedom struggle, his love of all humanity and creatures, as well as his important work in defending Hinduism and Hindu society against disintegration such as his work for uplifting the Harijans and preventing the British from classifying them as non-Hindus, as well as his stance against missionaries and conversions.

However his preaching to Hindus as per the quotation above is the epitome of adharma, and is more dangerous because it takes the veneer of righteousness. Mahatma Gandhi was telling the Hindus of the time that it is better to allow the society, country and even the entire world to be taken over by aggressors that to put up any kind of struggle. And before anyone misunderstands me, I am not suggesting that the correct struggle in the circumstances was “retaliatory riots”; there are many types of struggle that could have been resorted to minimise loss of life rather than suggest it is best to  die defenseless and even give up your home and nation.

Why did the Mahatma give such advice? What was he trying to achieve?

Clearly, a strategy of non-violent resistance which had worked quite well against the British (who at least had some sense of sensitivity and refinement) was not working too well in preventing huge murderous riots, and eventually failed to prevent Partition. In my opinion, rather than just facing up to the fact that the approach he had been trying wasn’t working and modify it accordingly, Mahatma Gandhi was too attached to his experiment. He therefore kept trying along the same lines harder and harder, without actually examining exactly what he was beginning to say with a cool and detached head. He may not have even realised that he was beginning to preach Dhritarashtra’s teachings, not Krishna’s.

The correct attitude to deal with injustice and atrocities

The world is crying out for a proper dharmic approach to deal with injustices and atrocities. This involves taking a proactive and well thought out approach in ensuring the protection of basic human rights and dignity, such as freedom to live without fear of violence. The two extremes which must be avoided are passively allowing ourselves and others to become victims of asuric forces, yet at the same time never resorting to indiscriminate violence against entire communities or nations.

~ Rajesh Patel


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18 Responses to "Mahatma Gandhi: The Dhritarashtra of Modern India"

  1. Harish  June 6, 2015 at 11:38 am

    krishna says in bhagawat gita that “zulm karna to paap hai par zulm sehena us se bhi bada paap hai…so the righteous ones have to stand up and fight against “adharma”…injustice…that is what living righteous life is all about…strategies may differ from time to time…we live in times where everyday life is dharmayudh..

  2. Balagangadharan V O  June 7, 2015 at 1:55 am

    I love Gandhiji.But I believe he was not a practical politician.Mostly Utopian.If Churchill had continued history would have been different.Just like social reforms in India were kindled by forward caste visionaries,the freedom was given to India by labour party and its leadership in Britain.Not only India many other colonies in Asia and Africa got independence.The changes in the world after 2nd world war forced them to give freedom to colonies.
    If Gandhiji was a politician like Lee kwan Yue {Singapore Prime minister}or Mao se Tung,the history of India would have been totally different.

  3. MP Udayanarayana  June 7, 2015 at 3:21 am

    Kouravas were 100+
    Now ??? Almost Every—- & Every Where—- ?

  4. MP Udayanarayana  June 7, 2015 at 3:41 am

    Cong-full -1.Duryodhana-2.Lallu Dusshyasana-3.Mulla Yadav ? Like List goes on !!!
    Arjuna- Modiji !!!

  5. Sreedhar  June 7, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Excellent article.

    Dharmam is athi sookshmam. Very subtle to understand.

    Superbly written.

  6. Rajiv Ahuja  July 29, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Gandhi made grave mistakes. He chose Nehru over Patel; when CWC disagreed with him. Nehru went on to commit many blunders for which the Nation still paying eg Kashmir & 62 debacle.

  7. Viji  December 1, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    It’s like laced drink. Difficult to know if the drink is mixed with a bad substance. Likewise, Gandhi made the error of judgement. He wanted people around him to raise to his level not knowing that he was not standing tall at that time. The big question is: ‘would he have said the same thing to Muslims?’
    He systematically killed merit and discipline in the country and gave the common man the ‘Right for Strikes’. The glorification of one man has robbed the due respect and credits to thousands of real heroes who relentlessly struggled for our Freedom. We need such interesting articles to kindle the youth and make them understand that the Country and Our People are as important as at any other part of the World and they should not surrender to anyone.

  8. subramanyam  January 4, 2016 at 7:09 am

    unfortunately we we were deprived of leaders like vallabhai patel and subash chadra bose to become pm of this country due to the sheer favouritism of gandhiji.

  9. Govind Tripathi  March 17, 2016 at 2:24 am

    The given link is not working, it’s opening the odissa government site but not the pdf which is mentioned

  10. Kanessn  April 28, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Superbly written

  11. Suri  June 26, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    Gandhi was a scholar of Holy Gita yet he misinterpreted the essence of the Gita to please Jinna and pro Muslim foreigner Nehru. He wanted to handover the Hindu country to Muslims once again, by sending the British home, to reintroduce the Mughal type rule. Partition was based on religion then why India is secular. India has been a religious country since thousands of years. Diversity of people is good for the nation but the congress made majority Hindus as minorities for selfish motive. Nevertheless meta Bharat Mahan. Kai Hind

  12. Ashish  June 26, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    I think Gandhi’s role in freedom struggle was unmatchable in the beginning. After Tilak died he became self proclaimed dictator of congress. Took all the decisions without consulting anyone. His decisions directly resulted in carnage durning partition. He never publicly took any responsibility of it. Yet kept blackmailing by fasting or may be it was preplanned somehow he seems to be sold out in the hands of Nehru. His bad decisions/deeds way surpasses any good that he did for the nation. It was correct parallel that he was dritharahastra of modern India.

  13. bala  June 27, 2016 at 4:27 am

    gandhiji was a complete failure after 1940, both politically, morally, spiritually. his experiments on brimahcharya at his ripe old age 70 with sathvic, frugal food is unnecessary.
    what is he trying to prove at that old age?

  14. bala  June 27, 2016 at 4:33 am

    by resigning from government 1939, created vacuum, all congress leaders imprisoned, leaderless, ruderless, muslim league , jinnah exploited the folly of gandhi and consolidated his position. so indirectly gandhiji provided the much needed tonic to jinnah. so from a position of weakness to a position of strength 1945/46 jinnah was placed in a better bargaining position.
    Rajajis warning on jinnah, quit india movement was never heeded, ignored

  15. Manohar sharma  June 27, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    There is no doubt that Gandhi ‘s advice to Hindus was ” adharma in totality “. He knew Gita but obviously he has not understood it at all. Krishna is categoric and totally dharmic when he tells Arjun to do his duty. Results are not for you to judge or to worry about. Gandhi was being unethical when he appointed Nehru in place of Patel over riding the democratic majority verdict.

  16. Mysore Sudhakar Rao  August 5, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    In my view, each of the India’s independence movement leaders had their individual strengths & weaknesses, which they coordinated mutually or kept out of one another’way on occasions, to lead to the India that we see today in a positive image in the world today. No one leader could be assumed to have been capable of handling every issue that the fledgling republic had to face after partition particularly. Gandhi, through the power of his personality, could unite the villager & townsman into a common cause of the ideal of an independent self governed India. Nehru foresaw that India could be seen as signifant politically & economically only by throwing itself into high technology education & rise of its middle class to control its political destiny through a parliamentary democracy. Through the non- alignment policy, he steered the country through difficult times by strict neutrality between the Western & Soviet power blocs, taking developmental aid from both, but keeping out of military treaty alliances with either side. Patel brought the fragmented native states rulers to give up titular rights & join the mainstream Indian Union without much conflict. Any Mao Tse Tung or Lee Kwan Yew in their place would have plunged the country into either a civil war or produced a flight outwards of intellectuals & free thinkers in all walks of life, as these two respectively did in their own settings.Subhash Bose, had he succeeded in his plans, would have created a civil war between his INA & the regular Indian Army, who regarded his force as a band of deserters who had gone over to the enemy Japan after their capture as prisoners of war. Further, the Americans, who took charge of the Eastern sector of the war from the battered British, French & Dutch from their home German bombing, would have bombed the India of that time back to the Stone Age in anger at bringing in the Japanese to install Bose in power at Delhi. Let us realise that all this disaster did not happen, & much more good than bad resulted from orderly takeover of the Congress party from the British at independence, We must learn to accept our blessings on this issue in all fairness, I ‘m afraid!

  17. Ravi  August 6, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    I find Sanskriti articles quite interesting but have read quite few articles on Gandhiji which were against him every time . No one seems to be agreeing with the path he practised and ways he preached . It is very difficult to express my opinions to be accepted because the way people opinions are currently can’t not be changed I know . But just remember he used non violence as a tool or weapon and not mere surrender . Also Hindus definition ( though there is no Hindu religion as such as it is coined by some foreigners ) or Vedic scriptures have laid lot of emphasis on love and non violence and it is one of the essence of this that he got into practice . A related example is of Mahavirji or Buddhaji who moved more forward and established their own faith. And people followed them . Vedic dharma has few main essence … Partice dharma , seek truth (not believe ) . It is just that he went on to catch one of them and was engrossed in fully which is also way progressing in realising true self . I think one should have respect for him and should love him for the path he has shown , one may argue with his decisions .


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