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.
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.