“If this is how we fight we’ll end up losing Pitamaha. You are being too lenient on the Pandavas”, howled Duryodhana.
“You are wasting your breath dearest nephew. It is clear which side the Pitamaha wants to see win this war”, said the cunning Shakuni.
“You had Yudhishtir in your sights today. You could easily have killed him. At least captured him. That would have ended the war immediately”, continued Duryodhana.
“Why? You are again being very naïve my dear Suyodhana. Bheeshma would never harm any Pandava let alone kill him. If Karna were in the battle today the Pandava camp would be cremating Yudhishtir’s body tonight. There is a reason the Pitamaha did not want Karna to fight alongside as long as he himself was the commander-in-chief”, said Shakuni adding fuel to the raging fire inside Duryodhana.
Bheeshma thought for a moment. The real reason he kept Karna out of the battlefield was not because Karna was a fearless warrior and general, or because Bheeshma thought less of Karna’s birth. Bheeshma knew very well the real identity of Duryodhana’s best friend.
Bheeshma’s role in the war was first and foremost commander-in-chief. He was the supreme general. His job was to manage and lead eleven diverse and disjointed armies – some of them at war with each other before Kurukshetra. His role was to keep them united and focused while laying out battle strategies. Administering these armies itself was a herculean task.
Bheeshma’s plan was simple. If they prolonged the war enough the higher Kaurava numbers would eventually prevail. All they had to do was protect their generals and commanders. The Kaurava army was more than one-and-a-half times the size of that of the Pandavas. Conventional warfare was enough to defeat them without resorting to special weapons. He needed to keep it simple. Having Drona and Kripa gave him confidence without having to worry about rebellion in the ranks.
Karna on the battlefield would have fiercely complicated things. Duryodhana would have put his entire faith in Karna. He would have gone to Karna whenever the chips were down. He would push Karna to override the Pitamaha’s plans, as all he wanted was to either kill Yudhishtir or capture him alive. Karna would have to say yes, as he was extremely loyal to the evil prince and owed him everything – his name, fame and recognition.
On the other hand Karna himself had been culpable of overriding commanders during earlier battles. Several times he had taken things into his own hands much to the displeasure of other generals. When goaded, he was reckless and uncontrollable. He was driven by his hatred towards the society and his antipathy towards the Kuru royals and their instructor – Drona. He always held a personal grudge against the world. His actions in war would reflect that attitude. His rage usually got the better of his judgment. He would go berserk breaking all rules and conventions of righteous warfare. Duryodhana would love that. He would encourage Karna more and more, much to the detriment of the power structure required in a war this huge. The lower cadres and soldiers would be confused as to whom to be loyal to. It would dispirit the army and result in mutiny. Karna would have created a second power center – leading to catastrophic consequences.
That, more than anything else was the real reason Bheeshma mandated that Karna be kept out as long as he himself was the chief commander. He cared less about someone’s birth as long as they were a worthy warrior and capable of inflicting severe damage on the enemy. But insubordination and disobedience he would not put up with.
“I’ve had enough Pitamaha. I respect you and I know you are the greatest warrior of our times. But you are getting old. Maybe your love for the Pandavas is clouding your judgment. Maybe the physical stress of the battle is making you weak. Tomorrow I shall unleash my own brothers on the Pandavas. I will send ten Kauravas to take care of at least one Pandava”, boasted Duryodhana before storming out of the tent.
Bheeshma still did not say a word. His face was as peaceful as it was when butchering hundreds in the enemy. He turned towards the Kauravas’ uncle.
Shakuni threw a wicked smile at the Pitamaha before limping his way out of the tent.
Bheeshma called his servant and his charioteer into the chamber. He told his charioteer to ride close to Bhimasena on the morrow. Then he instructed his servant to prepare 10 special funeral pyres for the next day.
He knew the mightiest Pandava would kill Duryodhana’s brothers. There was no way to stop him.