Jumbo threat to VIPs: No elephants in Red Fort play for audience safety
The Delhi forest department will not allow the use of an elephant, named Lakshmi, in a much-publicised play on Maratha King Shivaji that starts playing Friday at Delhi’s historic Red Fort, because it fears for the safety of the audience, which includes VIPs.
Titled, Raja Shiv Chatrapati, the play, originally in Marathi, has been staged several hundred times since it was first staged in 1985, and its appeal includes the use of elaborate sets and props including live camels, horses, even an elephant.
The Hindi version of the play is being staged in the Red Fort, from April 6-10 under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture.
In a letter to the play organisers, Ishwar Singh, Delhi’s chief wildlife warden said that untrained elephants like Lakshmi might become aggressive and pose a “serious threat to people and VIP’s security.”
Home minister Rajnath Singh and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan have confirmed their presence at the inaugural show, according to the organisers.
Raja Chhatrapati Mahanatya Ayojan Samiti, which is organising the play, requested the Department of Forest and Wildlife on March 27 to allow them to hire horses, camels and an elephant from Delhi and use them in the play.
“We wanted to bring the animals from Pune but due to complications in (securing) permission, we decided to hire them from Delhi,” says Sri Ram Joshi, a member of the organising committee.
Transporting animals across state borders is difficult in India.
While the forest department permitted the use of horses and camels, it had problems with the elephant for two reasons: a dispute over the ownership of the elephant in question, Lakshmi (one of the seven privately owned elephants in Delhi) ; and the safety issue.
Then there’s the issue of a Delhi high court order saying there can be no captive elephants in Delhi, based on which the department is working on the confiscation of elephants and cancellation of certificate of ownership. The forest department has said it wants to translocate the elephants to other states “for better housing and feeding conditions owing to the inability of the elephant owners to provide housing, maintenance and upkeep facilities...”
In its letter to the organisers, the department also wrote: “...these are not trained elephants and may become aggressive at any point of time which may pose a serious threat to the security of the people and VIP’s present in the function.”
Joshi hasn’t given up, though. On Thursday evening, he said he would try till the last moment to persuade the forest department to allow the use of Lakshmi because her part is crucial. “We have made a huge effort in creating a grand four-storey stage, with a live impression of a fort.”
Still, if it doesn’t work out, “the play has other attractions,” he said and “her absence will not make much of a difference.”
The play is authored by celebrated historian, Shiv Shahir Babasaheb Purandare, 96, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August 2017 and asked for his blessings in holding the play in Delhi.