The State, its subjects and the relationship that both these entities share vary from nation to nation. Needless to say, no State can claim to have a perfectly sanguine relationship with its people, the subjects. This especially holds true for all the nations that are governed by a Constitution and where the people, directly or indirectly, elect the executive.
Now, the Mahabharata, the Indian epic set during the Vedic age, is considered to be an authority in matters of State, government, polity and philosophy. Even though the epic was written centuries ago, the political conflicts described therein resonate strongly with the events of today.
There are numerous interpretations of the epic and the events that led to the Great War of Kurukshetra, but there is one particular incident that it is agreed proved to be the final blow in the rivalry between the Kauravas and the Pandavas — the attempted disrobing (cheerharan) of Draupadi in the court of Hastinapur. It was after this incident that the Pandavas decided to avenge their honour, inheritance and the kingdom which, according to law, was rightfully theirs.
The Kauravas, given their proclivity for wreaking havoc on the Pandavas, invited Yudhisthira to play a game of dice, fully aware that gambling was his weakness. Shakuni, the maternal uncle of the Kauravas, had a boon that made him the inevitable victor in any game of dice. In the spree of matches that followed, the Pandavas lost everything they owned due to the unfair means employed by the Kauravas.
The last thing that the Pandavas “owned” was their wife, Draupadi, who was menstruating during the match. Nonetheless, the Kaurava prince Dushasana forcefully fetched her out and presented her before the court. Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, ordered Dushasana to strip Draupadi naked in front of the people. Elders like Dhritrashtra, father to the Kauravas, sat and watched the events unfold without any protest. Draupadi would have been disrobed in front of the court that day had it not been for Krishna’s intervention.
Compare this to the cheerharan done to the people by modern-day governments, which justify that their actions are not illegal since they fall in the confines of the Constitution. Dharma or the right way of living was the equivalent of the Constitution prevalent during the times of the Mahabharata. It was the guiding principle that provided the basic framework for kings to follow while making any law or passing any command. Since the code of Dharma could not be violated and any law in contravention with Dharma was against the society, it can also be compared with the modern-day principle laid down by the Supreme Court of India called the “basic structure doctrine.”
When Draupadi protested against her disrobing by asking the Kauravas if it was Dharma to treat a woman in such a manner, Karna, a Kaurava ally, retorted that if a man loses himself in gambling, his master becomes the master of all his possessions, including his wife. He further told her that the ancient laws allowed a woman to go to only with four men with her husband’s permission. Since Draupadi had been with five men, he said, she was a whore and public property, according to law. Hence, her disrobing was justified as it fell well within the bounds of law.
Draupadi represents the modern day nation-state and the subjects who are stripped of their rights and are told that they are helpless since the State action is not illegal. The Kauravas represent the government that uses Dharma (Constitution) to justify their actions. Dhritrashtra represents the sovereign authorities like the President, who, despite their status as head of state, are helpless because the real power lies in the hands of the government; they are mere nominal heads who can’t act against the “real authority” even if an adharmais being carried out in the name of Dharma.
So, who does Krishna – whose divine intervention Draupadi from the cataclysm of a dharma – represent? To me, he represents the “will of the people”. This is the will that eventually takes the shape of a revolution against the atrocities committed by the State. When the excesses of the government reach a boil and the saturation level of the people is reached, it is their conscience and their will that changes the incumbent and puts Dharma in place.
Krishna (conscience) in the course of Mahabharata always comes to the rescue of Draupadi (people). They are believed to have taken birth together from the sameyagna that was performed by King Drupad. Krishna stayed with Draupadi during her adolescent days, making her understand worldly affairs. Krishna saved Draupadi from being stripped in the court. Krishna came to the rescue of Draupadi when she went into exile with her husbands. Krishna stayed with Draupadi during and after the war of Kurukshetra.
Krishna, the will of the people and their conscience, is the saviour to Draupadi, the nation that comprises and represents the people. The relationship between Krishna and Draupadi continues even today and no matter how many cheerharans are carried out by Duryodhana,
Krishna will always prevail because among all the entities of the cosmos, he is supreme.