4. Bharata’s Decision – The Unbiased Meritocracy

The throne of Pururava was later inherited by many able candidates from among the progeny and the royal bloodline continued to rule for centuries. There list included great kings like Yayati, Puru, Dushyanta and Bharata.

Of all the above mentioned kings, Bharata, the son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala was a king par excellence. His reign did not only see impeccable governance and enhanced improvement of the society, but also an unimaginable expansion of the already vast Kuru kingdom. His borders extended from Kanyakumari in the south to Himalayas in the north (even up to China according to some texts) and so huge was his popularity among the citizens that Indian sub-continent got from him the name – Bhaarat.

Like every king, Bharata too reached a stage when the time came for him to choose his heir. Who would be the successor to the throne of Hastinapur after one such as the great Bharata? Everyone wondered and eagerly waited for the wise king to make his decision.

Bharata was undecided among his sons. No son of his from any of his wives was worthy enough in his eyes. But the heir still had to be chosen. So his mother, Shakuntala and his advisors told Bharata to select his eldest son as the heir. Bharata, of course, didn’t follow their advice, or else, we would not have been discussing him under this title.

After much thought, Bharata finally declared his adopted son, Vitatha as his heir. He was presented to Bharata by the Devas after his parents had rejected him. Under the care of Bharata, Vitatha had grown up to be a wise and powerful man and he possessed all the qualities of a great king.

“Law states that the eldest son should be the king’s heir. How can you be succeeded by an outsider?” said one of the advisors.

“Should a kingdom be entirely left at the hands of a son whose only achievement is the similarity with the king’s DNA? Is it not my responsibility to ensure that the most worthy man becomes the king? To me, all the citizens of Hastinapur are like sons and it’s my duty to choose the most worthy one. Vitatha is better than any of my biological sons and so I choose him”, said Bharata with gleaming pride.

Surprised by her son’s decision, Shakuntala went to Bharata and said, “In the history of mankind, you are probably the first king to have deprived his sons of their rights for some outsider.” Bharata politely replied, “Mother! A father lives for his sons, but a king lives for his kingdom. In the choice between being a father and being a king, I choose the latter. The day when a king will prefer his personal interests over the interests of the kingdom will be the day when the downfall of governance will begin. Such kings and kingdoms would end up only in battlefields to see terrible consequences.”

Bharata’s decision is the most classic example of an unbiased meritocracy. Even though his progenitors had set examples of selecting more worthy younger sons as the heirs while rejecting the older ones, Bharata’s decision surprises more because he goes out of the bloodline to ensure the wellness of the kingdom. However, the wisdom of Bharata will be forgotten by the following generations and Hastinapur will end up with Dhritarashtra, who clearly kept his son’s interests over that of the kingdoms’. As Bharata had said, such kings and kingdoms did end up in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, not paying the prices alone but involving almost the entire mainland to pay for their mistakes.

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