Thorny Thrones 


Game of thrones is a thorny game.  Winner takes all and the loser usually loses his life.  Rarely does the loser get away with his life.  It has always been that way.  Sadly, it will always be that way too.  Winner has too much to lose by keeping the loser alive.  Just because we don’t have kings anymore, don’t think losers of democratic elections are treated any differently.  When the ‘Milliband’ brothers battled it out for the leadership of British Labour party in 2010, the loser had to leave the country!  Loser of all such games – kings, presidents or priministers – often become non-descript nobodies in the world they once occupied as stellar characters.  In countries where dictators rules, those who lose to the new dictator are lucky to ‘forgotten’ because most end up in some forgotten torture chamber, wishing they had never been born.


In the world of royalties, when thrones mattered and KINGS were Kings with a capital K, the coveted throne was the ultimate prize.  Princes vied with each other to sit on the velvet chair and were often ruthless in their pursuit of the elusive powers the seat gave them.  Sadly, kings knew that the throne could only have one master.  Even if having only one heir was not an ideal strategy, having ‘spare’ sons was always going to be heart wrenching.  Any perceived challenge to the throne was as good a real and kings knew, it had to be eliminated.  Most coronations were accompanied by blood baths, wiping out several male relatives of the new ‘KING’.  Princesses and daughters of rivals usually survived the generational annihilation by acquiescing and marrying according to the will of the new king.  Even then, marriage to a royal princess was a poisoned chalice and in times of trouble, the consort of the princess could be seen as rivals!!  In Iraq, Sadam Hussain’s son-in-laws found this to their cost.


There is an old saying that a queen truly rules only in the lifetime of her son, rather than her husband.  This is especially true if polygamy is allowed in that society.  Many a time, it was the queen who plotted to raise her sons as the most eligible heirs and schemed to malign princes born of other women.  Rivalry borne in the seraglio often spilled out in the royal court and relatives of royal paramours competed to control access to the throne.   The fair-sex rarely played fair and more often than not, the king was duped by the best ‘drama-queen’ into believing whatever she wanted him to.


In Ramayan, queen Kaikaey plots to put her son on the throne and exiles the king’s favourite for 14 years.  In the Vedas, Diti and Aditi battle it out for the affection of their husband sage Kashyap before their sons, Devas and Danavas, fight it out on the battlefield.  In Puranas, Uttanpad’s favourite queen wants him to get rid of Druva and promote her son Uttam as the heir.  In the Old Testament, Abraham’s wife and concubine battle it out for supremacy and the old man has no peace till he has permanently sent his first born away.


In Mughal times, after Emperor Akbar, all other emperors refused to marry their daughters to anyone except their own nephews and cousins.  In this semi-incestuous arrangement, any heir of royal blood had full claim to the throne.  As this wasn’t always possible, most royal princesses often remained unmarried.  Royal sons were trained to be rulers and given important jobs in the government to keep them busy from plotting against each other.  However, their mothers, sisters and aunts often plotted from behind the throne, bending the emperor’s ear to their candidate, using rumours and false news when real information would not suffice.  Empress Nur Jahan even married her daughter from previous marriage and a niece to imperial princes as a way to bind the emperor to her side of the family.    


Bloodbath usually followed every Mughal ascension.   Male relatives were sacrificed to security concerns of the new emperor.  Walls of the Red Fort in Agra and Dehli often sported organic shades of red as princes, nephews and uncles from several generation were killed along with aristocrats who supported competitors to throne.   As a result, there was always a dearth of males in Mughal households.


This is one of the reasons why when anyone says they are the heirs of Mughals, one has to doubt the authenticity of their claim.  After the failed war of 1857, the British killed off the minor Mughal princes and imprisoned the ex-emperor and his heir in Rangoon.  They were both held prisoners till their death and they were buried with quick lime to speedy up the decay of their cadavers.  Only princesses and concubines could have escaped the British wrath.  Because they lived in a patriarchal society, their heirs can have no claim to the Mughal line.  Any real Mughal princesses remaining in India after 1857, found it impossible to marry into royalty or nobility, as everyone with any vestige of power  feared alienating the British by marrying them.


Kingship knows no kinship.  Generally, it wasn’t just princes who suffered in intestinal wars between royal relatives.  Wives, concubines and daughters also paid the price of losing.  Reduced to instant poverty, they were also often cut off from all former ‘friends’ and acquaintances.  Just a few decades ago, when heir to Congress Sanjay Gandhi died, his family was sidelined and Rajiv Gandhi’s family removed every vestige of power from their hands.  They were so alienated from their former ‘friends’ in Congress, they have joined the opposition to gain any voice in Indian politics. 


It is surprising that despite practicing polygamy, royal families often had problems securing heirs.  Rivalry between queens sometimes resulted in engineered ‘accidental miscarriages’, infanticide and outright murder.  Even where monogamy was the rule, kings like Henry the VIII bent rules to sire a male heir to the throne by marrying several women.  Wars also took their toll on lives of young princes, fighting recklessly to secure fame and prestige of victory on the battlefield.  Hunting and alcohol were equally fatal for princes who had nothing to do but wait for their father to die before having a meaningful role in life.  Afterall, kingship can only be arrived at by filling in the shoes of the dead. 


Sometimes kingship fell in the hands of the unsuspecting.  Either by design or by divine providence, the most unlikely candidate sometimes got to wear the crown.  Wars, revolutions, calamities and coups bring fresh blood to reinvigorate politics.  A shepherd called David became King of Israel by winning in a single dual.  To marry his true love, King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to his brother George VI, giving up a number of grand titles including ‘Emperor of India’.  Often course of history and futures of nations changed on such events. 


Thrones often look glamorous and grand.  They promise unimaginable power and prestige to those who can sit on them, harnessing its power for eternal glory and a place in history forever.  However, those who manage to sit on the ‘velvet covered bench’, as Napoleon called it, found that the velvet cushion was often stuffed with thorns.  Often, those who sit on the throne find that their powers are rather proscribed.  Often what seemed easy to order from the throne, is actually not even possible.  But you can’t know that until you sit there – in glorious isolation – admired & feared by all !!  Hamstrung by rules and procedures, incumbent of the throne often suffers the greatest disappointments by being unable to do that which seemed so easy whilst standing in front of it.  Magic and power of the throne dissolves for those who sit on it.  Unable to sit, unable to get off, the incumbent often finds what seemed like a blessing, is actually a cruel curse.  A curse, mainly because the throne magnifies and brings into sharp focus all the positive and negative aspects of its incumbent.  No one likes to be put under such scrutiny, especially when the person being examined is themselves. 


Strange thing about thrones is, they give power to those who dare sit on it in due measure to its incumbent.  It’s easy to master and rule over others.  But it’s near impossible to master and rule one’s own self.  Thrones test those who sit on it by making them test themselves. 


Being a ruler is a very responsible task and should not be taken lightly.  Those who sit in position of power and prestige have the chance to achieve great things.  They can impact many millions of lives by the policies they enact and laws they put in place.  Their actions impact lives of those they rule and laws they enact impact lives of many millions in future for generations to come.


However, what most rulers forget is that ‘TIME’ ticks on and waits for no man, woman or megalomaniac.  Those who want to achieve need to implement it quickly whilst they have time and power.  All too often the sands of time flow away and rulers often rue the fact that they did not enact as many changes as they wanted.  Regrets and repentance are often too late.


So next time you see a seat of power, throne, chairmanship, presidentship or any post of power, know that no matter how attractive it looks, it is more like a ‘crazy bronco horse’ than an elegant elephant.

© Bhagwat    [email protected]


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