I was piqued to write this article after having read in the Mumbai edition of THE TIMES OF INDIA, dated 13 April 2014 (10.04 AM IST) a small report comparing the former Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to Bheeshma of the epic Mahabharata. The comparative remark appears to have been made to partially nullify the sagged and badly damaged image of the PM, especially during the second phase (2009-2014) of his 10 years of supposed-rule. But, this comparison is outlandish, unequal, undeserving, misleading and pretentious since the two personalities are poles apart.
Let us now evaluate and compare the two from known facts.
Birth and Education: Bheeshma was royal-born, the eighth son of Bharat vamshya Kuru king Shamtanu of Hastinaapura and goddess Gangaa. By virtue of his privileged birth, Bheeshma received the finest and the highest quality education (and training) in the hands of the most illustrious sages of his time – Brihaspati, Shukracharya, Vasishtha, Chyavana, Sanatkumara, Parashurama, Markandeya – and he studied directly under them from a tender age.
In contrast, Dr. Singh had a humble birth in a far-flung village Gah Begal of Punjab province of Pakistan and did not grow up in any exalted environment like Bheeshma who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. I do not know the ranking of Punjab University in the 1950s and the number of students who passed the public examination in the subject of Economics in the year Manmohan passed with high grades/credits and such other details as the ranking of the college where he studied. The majority of Indians, I believe, would agree that none of the universities or centres of higher learning of those years are comparable to the aforementioned seven sages.
Abilities and Skills: Bhishma was an all-rounder who, by the time he grew up to be a youth, had mastered the arts and crafts of governance (statecraft) within the framework of Dharma. He was a saintly warrior, an unparalleled archer and maintained the status of being the most powerful kshatriya (warrior) of his time till the end. His name struck fear in the minds of his adversaries. He was invincible in war and was known as the ‘warrior who never dies.’ Bhishma was champion of righteousness.
Dr. Singh did not evince any such qualities because he did not possess them.
Physical Appearance: Bhishma was described as Gauranga (fair-bodied) and Shwetaveera (white warrior). He was known to be tall and well-built like many of the ruling kshatriyas of his time.
Renunciation: Bheeshma’s original name was Devavrata. After he took those three terrifying oaths (bheeshan pratijnaa), voluntarily relinquishing his hereditary right to the Hastinapur throne for himself and for his progeny by taking the life-long celibacy pledge, his life-long commitment to serve the Hastinapura throne unconditionally, he came to be known as Bheeshma which means ‘He of the terrible oath’. This act of supreme sacrifice done for his father Shamtanu, a weak character, speaks high not only of the strength of Bhishma’s character, his strong will, but also of the intensity of his filial love.
It is important to remember that Bhishma took all the vows entirely on his own going by the words of MatsyaGandha’s (Satyavati’s) father, a fisher-folk. Shamtanu did not ask him to take those vows. He was not even aware of it. Bhishma was then a mere youth. Taking such terrible vows at such an young age speaks tons of his upbringing, his intrinsic nobility of character and goodness, and his readiness to forego his own pleasure, to do anything for the happiness of others in the family. (Genuine renunciation is held in high esteem in Indian society, even today.)
Mr. Singh never took any such vow of renunciation. He or for that matter any body else has neither the caliber nor the requisite desire. Yes, one renunciation he made and that was he sacrificed the nation at the altar of his throne.
Fidelity to Word: Bheeshma stood by his vow through thick and thin, though there were extremely trying situations when he could have gone back on his word and there was no one to question him for that. One such instance arose when he had to take the most unpleasant decision of his life by accepting the challenge from his revered guru Parashuram to fight with him because Bheeshma refused to marry the abducted and rejected Amba, thus remaining committed to his vow of celibacy.
Bheeshma Was Not King, Singh Was: Bhishma was not king, and therefore, he was not the final decision maker. His role was essentially that of an advisor and he discharged that duty admirably without deviating from the path of righteousness. Even if he was deeply wounded when an unsuccessful attempt was made to disrobe Draupadi in the assembly hall of Dhritarashtra, he stood his ground. In comparison, MM Singh was on saddle, not for one term, but for the full two terms of 10 years.
Bheeshma Valued Merit More Than Kinship: As the eldest living member of Kuru clan, Bheeshma was addressed as Pitamaha (great grand sire or paternal grandfather). He loved both the Kauravas and the Pandavas equally, but saw and recognized higher merit in the Pandavas. That was why his heart was all along with the Pandavas.
Former PM MM Singh had one merit through and through, and that merit was to continue to sit on PM’s chair.
Absolute Loyalty to Hastinapura Throne: Bheeshma’s loyalty to the throne was beyond any doubt. He had taken a third vow that whosoever would sit on the throne of Hastinapura, he would see his father’s image in him and serve him to the best of his ability. It was due to this absolute commitment to throne (chair), to protect it and abide by its final decision that he fought the Kurukshetra battle on the side of Kauravas. But he did that with a heavy heart.
Manmohan’s loyalty to Ms. Sonia Gandhi was beyond doubt but not to the job that went with the chair he was occupying.
Singh Lost a Historic Opportunity: The highly qualified, highly experienced Dr. Man Mohan Singh lost an opportunity of life time that comes only to a few lucky ones at very rare moments of history. He could have performed wonderfully and gone down in history as one of the greatest nation builders. He lost the opportunity not in ignorance but in full awareness of what he was doing. He appears to have made up his mind to use the PM office for making a number of VVIP tours, domestic as well as overseas, spending the hard-earned tax-payers’ money like many others holding public offices do.
Many of us had expected that Dr. Singh would substantially improve the economic and financial health of the nation, and lift the nation’s economy which was in very bad shape then as he was perceived to be a very matured man who has, before, held many high offices during his long service career. It was thought that he very well fitted into the role when he was chosen by Ms. Sonia Gandhi for the most powerful office of India. But he turned out to be a colossal disappointment.
Sensitivity to Happenings at Hastinapura: Bheeshma was not insensitive to what all were going on at Hastinapura including the machinations by Duryodhana and his mamma (maternal uncle) Gandhaara Naresh.
But MM Singh was insensitive. Knowing everything, he turned a blind eye. He was silent throughout. He had only one merit however and that merit was to stick to PM’s chair at all costs fully aware of the goings-on in his administration.
Deal with Indian National Congress (Congress): The very fact that Dr. Singh did not resign before completion of his two terms means his functions were broadly pre-determined, pre-decided. He very well knew the terms and conditions of his appointment, the purpose for which he was put on PM’s chair. This could not be something that developed after his becoming Prime Minister. It was a pre-arrangement, a deal, an understanding between him and the Congress, akin to the pre-poll alliances between political parties. He honoured the deal because it benefitted him tremendously.
Summing Up: It is one of the greatest ironies of history that a true human (no deification) such as Bheeshma, who was the fittest to become king by virtue of his knowledge, training, stature and character, did not only sit on throne, but lived a life of loneliness, sadness, despair and distress, in state of perpetual conflicts of mind, victim of his own vows. There is no one his equal to-date, nor there will be for centuries to come. He remains the greatest human character ever known and shines as the most eminent, most prominent and the most powerful character, not because he held any high office but because of his worthiness.
I have no way to explain his case except to say it was his destiny as it was the destiny of Dr. Singh. We are all subject to destiny, for the good or for the bad. But for some the influence is enormous and becomes glaringly visible. If it is for the bad, we say it is a curse as in the instance of Bheeshma, and if it is for the good, we say it is a boon as in the case of Dr. Singh. Destiny restricts us all in ways we can not even think of. We can only be what we can be.
It is apparent from the factual analysis presented above that the personality of the former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh is quite contrary to Bheeshma of Mahabharata. In fact, he is an anti-thesis to Bheeshma.
By Dr Sachidanand Das