Draupadi’s question (on the dharma of a king) also brought home to me the immorality of silence. Vidura accuses the nobles, kings, and the wise elders—all the less-than-mad-Kauravas—who stand by silently as Draupadi is dragged by her hair before their eyes. When honest persons fail in their duty to speak up, they ‘wound’ dharma, and they ought to be punished according to the sage Kashyapa. In answer to her heart-rending appeal, Bhishma ought to have leaped up and felled Dusshasana to the ground instead of arguing over legal intricacies.
A similar conspiracy of silence diminished the office of the President of India in the summer of 2007. The official candidate for the office was a woman Congress Party leader, Pratibha Patil, against whom there were extensive charges that were widely reported in the press. She had started a cooperative bank in Maharashtra whose licence was cancelled by the Reserve Bank. Her bank had given ‘illegal loans’ to her relatives that exceeded the bank’s share capital. It had also given a loan to her sugar mill which was never repaid. The bank waived these loans, and (it was) this which drove it into liquidation.... Six of the top 10 defaulters in Pratibha Patil’s bank were linked to her relatives.
In July 2007, the nation had a Bhishma-like person of unquestionable integrity in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But he remained largely silent, deferring to his party’s choice of the presidential candidate. In passing, he called it ‘mudslinging’ by the Opposition, and the nation believed him. In any case, the Congress Party had the votes and Pratibha Patil dethroned perhaps the most upright and popular president in Indian history. After that, the charges were never investigated.
Draupadi’s example is an inspiration to free citizens in all democracies. Her question about the dharma of the king should embolden citizens to question the dharma of public officials, especially when they confront the pervasive governance failures around them. These failures are commonplace and they range from sending troops to fight unnecessary wars in places like Iraq or the absence of school-teachers in government schools in India. They test the moral fabric of society. When there is no other recourse, citizens must be prepared to follow the Pandavas and wage a Kurukshetra-like war on the corrupt.