King Vikramaditya : Choosing a commander
King Vikram made his way to the gnarled tree from which the corpse was hanging. Unmindful of the pitch darkness in the cemetery and the howling of jackals, he brought the corpse down once again.
Slinging it astride his shoulder, he had just begun his return journey when Vetal said, O King! I fail to understand why you embarked on such a dangerous mission in the dead of night. Perhaps you are following the advice of some wise and learned person, your minister, maybe. But sometimes, even the advice of such a person can prove misleading. Let me tell you the story of a king who took a wrong decision, based on the advice of his trusted minister.
The tale that the Vetal narrated went as follows:
Mahipal, the king of Virpur, was an able ruler. He consulted his minister, Dharmasila, in all administrative matters. Following the sudden death of his army commander, the king left the job of choosing the right candidate to Dharmasila.
After testing the generals in service, Dharmasila concluded that none of them were suitable for the post. Following his advice, the king issued a proclamation inviting all aspirants to participate in a contest to be held in the capital. Numerous candidates turned up at the venue on the appointed day. They were put through a series of competitions that tested their skills at archery, fencing, wrestling, and athletics. At the end of the contest, Dharmasila chose two candidates – Sushil and Roopsen.
Calling both of them, he announced, both of you have proved your mettle as fine warriors. But the commanders’ post is a highly responsible one, requiring not just valor and physical prowess but also intelligence of a high order. I will now test your mental ability. I shall pose three questions to you in front of the king and the court. The person whose answers are found to be most suitable will be chosen for the post of commander, said Dharmasila.
The next day, the two aspirants presented themselves in the court at the appointed hour. The contest began. Standing up, Dharmasila said, The first question is suppose you were walking along the main highway in the city and you come across two young men fighting on the road. What would you do in such a situation? Roopsen said, Sir, it is an offence to fight on the highway. So, I would arrest the two and put them in jail. After that, I would ask them why they were fighting, and bring the matter to the king so that he can judge the dispute.
Next, Sushil said, If the two men were fighting on the highway, there must surely be some good reason! I would first investigate and learn that reason. Then I would find out who is at fault, and settle the dispute.
Whispers of appreciation rose from the audience at this response. Dharmasila nodded and went on, the second question. You come to know that a group of rebels are stirring up a popular revolt by instigating the masses against the king. What would be your next step? Using my spies, I would get details about the rebel’s moves. I would find out how strong they are, what kind of arms they possess, and who their leader is.
I would also learn whether they enjoy the support of the common people and whether any neighboring king is helping them. Then I would bring out the army in full force to crush them. No one can revolt against my king and get away with it, declared Roopsen passionately.
But Sushil’s answer was different. If so many people commit an act of treason, it is surely an indication of some lapse in the administration. I would talk to the rebels and find out the reason for their revolt. If they have a genuine grievance, I would present the matter to the king for redress and set them free. If, on the other hand, their only motive was ambition, I would punish them without hesitation.
The minister nodded in approval and said, and now for my third question. You are out on a hunt with the king, when he is attacked by a lion all of a sudden. What would you do?
I would remove the king from the spot and confront the lion alone. I would even give my life to save the king, if necessary answered Roopsen unhesitatingly. What about you? asked Dharmasila, turning to Sushil. If I were with the king, there is no question of such a situation ever arising, for, I am always watchful declared Sushil confidently. Again, his reply was greeted with loud applause.
For a moment, the minister was lost in thought. Then, he turned to the two youths and said, Gentlemen, I had thought of asking you three questions. But now, I have decided to ask one more. Imagine that three countries border our kingdom. One of them is rich in gold and gems; the second is equipped with an excellent armoury; and the third has a very well-stocked granary. If you had to go to war with all the three, which would you attack first?
The commander’s job is to obey the king’s order. It is for the king and the minister to decide who should be attacked first. I shall launch the war campaign as per the king’s order, said Roopsen.
Sushil said calmly, the primary duty of the commander is to strengthen the army. Good weapons are essential for a powerful army, as they boost the soldier’s morale and enable them to win in battle. So, I would launch the campaign with an attack on the second kingdom, so that we can gain possession of its weapons.
His answer left the entire assembly gasping in admiration. There was no doubt among the courtiers that Sushil would be the one to be chosen for the commander’s post. But much to the surprise of the assembly, Dharmasila announced that Roopsen had been selected as the new commander. The king agreed with his decision.
Concluding the story, Vetal demanded, O king, after Sushil and Roopsen had proved equally well-matched in all the martial arts, Dharmasila announced that a decision would be taken, based on their intelligence.
The entire assembly, including the minister himself, was impressed by Sushil’s astuteness. Still, the minister chose the less intelligent Roopsen for the post and what’s more, the king too agreed with his decision! Isn’t this a grave error of judgment on their part? If you know the answer to my question, speak out otherwise, your head shall shatter into smithereens!
King Vikram replied, Sushil was obviously more intelligent. But a commander’s job is to motivate his soldiers and carry out the king’s orders. Taking policy decisions is the king’s prerogative.
Even the minister only gives advice; it is for the king to accept or reject it. A commander who takes decisions on his own is a major threat for the king and the kingdom. A man skilled in warfare, possessing ordinary intelligence and loyal to the king, is definitely a better choice for commander than a highly intelligent but self-willed man. By nominating Roopsen to the post, Dharmasila proved himself to be a far-sighted, shrewd minister.
On hearing this, the Vetal nodded in approval, before going off into peals of thunderous laughter. The next moment, he moved off the king’s shoulder with a jerk and flew back to the tree.