Yudhisthira, Truth and the Predicament  

In the epic Mahabharata, Yudhisthira the first one among Pandavas was known as Dharmaraja ( ‘righteous king’ or ‘king of dharma‘) for his piety.

Yudhishthira’s true prowess was shown in his unflinching adherence to Satya(truth) and Dharma (righteousness to fulfil one’s moral duty), which were more precious to him than royal ambitions, material pursuits and family relations.

Due to his piety, he was well regarded as a wise and pious man even by his enemies. He was considered so pious that some sources say his ratha (chariot) used to fly four fingers above the ground in the battle of Kurukshetra.

Drona (Dhronacharya) was the royal guru to Kauravas and Pandavas. He was a master of advanced military arts, including the Devastras. Arjuna was his favourite student. Dronas love for Arjuna was second only to his love for his son Ashwatthama. During Kurukshetra war  Drona was on the side of Kauravas.

All knew that defeating Drona was tough in the war. So, Lord Krishna played a trick. He asked Yudhisthira to tell guru Drona that Ashwathama was killed by Bhima. Yudhisthira was not ready to tell a lie. So, Krishna made a war trick and asked Bhima to kill an elephant which had the name Ashwatthama. And then they announced loud that “Bhima Killed Ashwathama”

Drona approached Yudhisthira to seek the truth. This time on the pressure from Krishna. Yudhisthira gave an answer that was a halt truth. He answered “Yes, but Naro wa Kunjaro wa” meaning Yes, Ashwathama is dead but I am not sure whether it is your son or the elephant”. This explanation was not heard by Drona in full as it was morphed with the sound of drums that Lord Krishna had asked to play.

Drona believed that his son Ashwathama is dead. He dropped his powerful array of weapons and sat down to meditate towards atmasamarpan i.e. transcending his soul to the heavens. Draupadi’s brother Dhrushtadhumana took this opportunity and severed his head with a sword.

Here, the moment Yudhisthira said the lie, though it was true but not an act of Dharma, his chariot came down and touched the ground.

My Professor friend asked me to attend a very important and high-level meeting at the Ministry of Environment, Forests and (Climate) Change. The meeting was to be chaired by the Minister. My job was to take notes for the Professor.

At sharp 11 am, Minister entered the meeting room surprising everybody as he was on time. He was wearing a mask with a face shield due to the risks of infection from COVOD-19. We could not clearly see his face. But that was understandable.

The meeting had three agenda items.

First agenda was about the National Mission on Clean Ganga (NMCG)

Officials heading the NMCG made an impressive presentation to the Minister. It included statistics on effluent load “before” and “after”, closure notices served to industries etc, number of automatic real time water quality and effluent monitoring stations installed, number of sewage treatment plants constructed and the policy on environmental flows. The last slide was on the moneys spent. Everything seemed to be in order and on track. Next, a 3-minute video was shown on the awareness program conducted, programs taken up for the  community involvement and examples of waste management during pilgrimages etc. The entire effort seemed very holistic (“holystic”)

The Minister was attentive throughout the presentation. He was taking some notes too. After the presentation, he asked following questions

Are you addressing the fertilizer and pesticide laden non-point discharges into the river from the agricultural activities? Could they be equally or perhaps more dominating than the point wastewater loads? You appear to be squinted eyed.

Do your automatic real time water and wastewater monitoring stations actually work?  Have you checked and interpreted the data collected? Have you factored the variations in the river flows in this data interpretation?

“Tell me the truth” He asked this piercing question, but softly.

There was silence in the meeting room.

The next presentation was on National Clean Air Program (NCAP)

Senior officials directing NCAP gave an impressive presentation consisting 40 slides with some video bytes in between. Both me and Professor were highly impressed. The Minister was listening. After the presentation, he asked the following questions.

The program seems to be monitoring focussed with huge expenditure on the procurement of automatic real time air quality monitoring instruments, that generally don’t work.

The 102-city air quality action plans seem more of “boiler plate”, generated by consultants and not  created involving the citizens and other key stakeholders. Capacity building of the Urban Local Bodies seems to be on low priority.

I also see that you are completely missing addressing the indoor quality. I presume that you want to ultimately protect the health of our citizens.

Finally, I see that budgets allocated for implementation of these plans are rather frugal. I don’t think we will see much on the ground except new monitoring stations.

Minister ended his volley of questions by asking “With these limitations, do you think the NCAP will be effective and sustainable at all? – Tell me the truth”

Surprisingly, he asked these questions without raising his voice.

“Well colleagues, I see possibilities of corruption too”. He sighed.

This was not the usual experience with the Minister.

The last item on agenda was about the plan to launch a National Mission on Eco-Efficiency

Presentations were to be made by the think tank NITI Aayog and senior officials of the Ministry of Environment for a Change. We thought that this presentation was going to be most crucial as it would usher India to become atmanirbhar.

I was however thinking that the apt title of the mission could have been Circular Economy, todays buzz word. I whispered about this suggestion to the Professor, but he did not listen or at least did not appear to be.

Masala tea was served with cashew nuts when this presentation started. While organizing space for the teacup and plate of cashews, I dropped my pen. So, I bent down under the roundtable doing some acrobatics. The Minister had received a mobile call at the time, and he was standing up while speaking.

And I noticed something very strange. I saw that Ministers feet were floating in the air, four fingers above the ground. Something extraordinary!

I immediately understood that King Yudhishthira had come disguised as the Minister. No one recognized him as he was wearing the mask and face shield. It was not surprising that he was seeking the truth all the time and insisting on practicing dharma in his questions.

I whispered about this shocking finding to Professor, but he was in no mood to listen. “Dr Modak, don’t hallucinate – I am asking a question to the Minister”. He shut me up.

Professor asked (actually to Yudhishthira)

“Minister Sir, how would you interpret the term Eco-efficiency?”

I knew only Professor could ask such a stupid question.

But I saw that Minister was a bit stumped. He had just finished his conversation on his mobile then. He was still standing. I noticed that his mobile had a Krishna colour i.e. with a blueish haze by some coincidence.

The Minister answered Professors question with a pause.

“Professor, I support the Eco-efficiency mission, but I am not sure whether “Eco” means “Ecology” or “Economy”. His voice was low and not very clear.

This response sounded like Naro wa Kunjaro wa as he had said in the great epic of Mahabharata.

If one interprets “eco” as economy then our quest of mere economic progress (however accelerated it becomes) would certainly damage our ecological assets. Unfortunately, most ruling masters of the countries today have a 5-year vision.

I bent down the roundtable to look at Ministers feet. They were no more floating above the ground. They were like all of us, down and firmly grounded.

(Was it Lord Krishna who had made that mobile call?)


Cover image sourced from https://sheokhanda.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/yudhistra-son-of-yama-hades/

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  1. Classic master piece. You have very aptly interwoven methology with environment. We as regulators face this dilemma very day and take recourse to half truths to stay afloat. I dream whether a day will come when regulators will only be asked to regulate.

  2. Very interesting as always. Two points which arose in my mind. 1. The ‘truth’ in the present context is so complex and involves so many dimensions. Does anyone really comprehend it? Or is it our interpretation of truth (sometimes with a misplaced conviction that it’s the only truth). 2. How cleverly various stakeholders play with varying degrees of ‘truth’ including half, the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth

  3. Wow analogy is simply superb but don’t think call was by Krishna but by Yudhstara to his minister, can’t equate minister to yudhishtara , my opinion.

    1. Thanks Manu for reading this blog. Extending the same analogy, it was Krishna who advised Yudhisthira on how to answer Drona diplomatically – he probably helped Yudhisthira once again in responding to my Professor friends question!

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