Political Philosophy of Bheeshma
There is a sharp difference between western model of political philosophy as understood and practiced today and ancient Indian concept of polity. The difference essentially consists in shift from one end to the other, i.e., from rights to duty, with duty as the focus of sermon. Even democracy, the most liberal form of government prioritizes duties of citizen in spite of the fact that every citizen is entitled to undamental rights. There is absolutely no gainsaying in holding the view that directive principles form the backbone of any democratic set-up.
Bhisma’s views on polity, on the other hand, provide a very different picture. He specifies only the duties and responsibilities of ruler with Indian Scriptures no mention of the duties of citizen. Against this backdrop, it becomes obvious that in real sense, citizen is the king and ruler is his guardian. Several centuries before Plato visualized the role of guardians, the Mahabharata portrayed king in a similar fashion. Bheeshma’s lecture not only explicitly mentions king’s qualities and duties but also it is first ever treatise on public administration.
Let us consider these aspects briefly. King should be proactive, truthful and straightforward. According to Bheeshma, these are the most important qualities of king. He should be compassionate but not too soft. It is interesting to note that Plato starts from the other end, but arrives at the same result. According to him, guardians should be given moderate physical training coupled with music lest they will transform to beasts. The essence of ‘rajadharma’ is safe-guarding the interests of citizen. In fact, Bheeshma lists thirty-six qualities in an ideal king which are necessary to follow Rajadharma without which the citizens do not receive protection from the king.
Foreign policy is another aspect of public administration. Foreign policy involves two forces, enemies and friends. The role of friends is not much highlighted. But he emphasizes that king should know how to deal with enemy. Prudence is always the guiding force. Bheeshma makes it very clear that war is not the solution. Nor did he mean that enemy can be spared. Constant vigil, concealing one’s own weakness and proper judgment only can ensure safety and security. All these descriptions apply under normal circumstances, whereas in distress even enemy should enjoy compassion because a humanitarian treatment may destroy enmity. Ultimately, humane outlook scores over other considerations.