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Vikarna: Expressing dissent based on principles is always lonely, thankless and even lethal

Updated: Feb 27, 2022


Blog #26

  • Do you choose principles and values over winning?

  • Are you comfortable being ridiculed for your focus on principles and values?

  • Are you prepared to be called a traitor to the cause?

  • Are you prepared to be called a bad team player?

  • Will you stand alone on values knowing fully well you will lose power and influence?

  • Are you prepared to sacrifice power, status, life itself to protect your values?

  • Are you willing to put Dharma first unconditionally and at all times?

The Mahabharata Context

Vikarna was the third son of Dhritarashtra, King of Hastinapura and his wife Queen Gandhari. King Dhritarashtra was anointed King of Hastinapur only due to the resignation of his elder brother, King Pandu who was the righteous heir to the throne. The conventional rule of succession in those days was bloodline, not merit. However, King Dhritarashtra felt entitled to the throne and did not see himself as a custodian, even a caretaker for the next in line, Prince Yudhisthira, son of King Pandu. King Dhritarashtra encourages jealousy and poisons the mind of his young son Prince Duryodhana early in his childhood. Vikarna, on the other hand, refused to support this populist ideology that the Kaurava brothers shared. Prince Vikarna chose to speak up against ninety nine of his own brothers clearly, consistently and publicly. Duryodhana is often outraged by this lack of loyalty brazenly displayed by Vikarna to him.

Prince Vikarna spoke against the outrage of Princess Draupadi in the court by his two elder brothers, Prince Duryodhana and Dushasana. Vikarna also makes a hard choice choosing to go to war on the side of Kauravas as part of his duty and loyalty to the throne of Hastinapur, not the principles or values of his brothers. During the war, Prince Bheema clearly acknowledges Prince Vikarna's virtues and encourages him to walk away from certain death. Vikarna refuses and valiantly fights Prince Bheema again on principles knowing fully well he was no match for him. Prince Vikarna's death is mourned by the Pandava clan more than it is by his own clan, the Kauravas. Vikarna's name is remembered in history today as the one principled sibling who refused to cow-tow to his evil brother Prince Duryodhana.

Our null hypothesis about the Vikarna persona

Vikarna was educated by Sage Dronacharya along with his other kaurava siblings and their Pandava cousins. Vikarna was brave, strong, courageous, excellent in archery, with the mace and a good wrestler. He was also learned and had a strong moral center based on his learning of the scriptures and his strong devotion to God. Vikarna was a man of Dharma, not a politician and chose to be right rather than be seen as a good team player. He chose principled informed dissent but did not abstain for making the hard choice not to switch sides to avoid being seen as a traitor. His decisions were guided by righteousness and idealism not a willingness to win at all costs. Amongst the hundred Kaurava brothers, Vikarna was alone in his idealism and was seen as a traitor. His persona obviously had great self-confidence and poise to withstand the constant negative attacks and abuses hurled at him by his own clan.

Lessons learned

In today's highly polarized world, there is a lot of debate around populism versus principles and values. Many of us are either comfortable with the idea of not making waves or forced to choose being part of a process/team first in order to provide for our families. We choose not to make waves, not rock the boat, know where the skeletons are buried and know our organizations often look for us to be loyal team players to them often at the cost of our values.

Prince Vikarna gives us a timeless reminder that whether we are in the corporate arena or in the political arena, history is kindest to those whistleblowers who did the right thing irrespective of the personal cost to them. No victory is worth abandoning our principles and no wealth, no fame, no career is worth selling our souls to a corrupt ideology. What % Vikarna do you have in you?

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