On Padmavati, Raje and Shivraj are playing vote bank politics | editorials | Hindustan Times
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On Padmavati, Raje and Shivraj are playing vote bank politics

Chief Ministers have to uphold the rule of the law, not kowtow to anyone, least of all groups that indulge in violent protests or issue vile threats.

editorials Updated: Nov 22, 2017 13:30 IST
Hindustan Times
Padmavati,Vasundhara Raje,Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh and Akhil Bharatiys Kshatriyahasangh members protest Sanjay Leela Bansali's upcoming film Padmavati in Mumbai (PTI)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh has announced his government’s decision to ban Padmavati, the controversial Bollywood movie, ahead of its release, and that Rajasthan has said it will do the same unless the Union information and broadcasting ministry does what its chief minister has asked it to. Indeed, Rajasthan has also said that it will do this irrespective of the Central Board of Film Certification’s decision on the movie.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise because both states are headed to the polls next year and have sizeable Rajput populations. The film’s theme has offended the Rajputs, who believe it slights Padmini, the legendary queen of Chittor dating back to the 13th or 14th century. It isn’t clear whether Padmini was a real or mythical figure, but her legend is well known, and also deeply entwined with certain Rajput practices. Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, two other North Indian states with sizeable Rajput populations, have also indicated that their sympathies are with those protesting the release of the film.

While all four states are governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the opposition to Padmavati, cuts across party lines. In Rajasthan, the Indian National Congress is opposed to the release of the movie. And the Congress’ Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab, has also made amply clear his opposition to the release.

India doesn’t have a free-speech and free-expression law as strong as the US’ First Amendment, but even seen in that context, the behaviour of the chief ministers is not acceptable. Chief Ministers have to uphold the rule of the law, not kowtow to anyone, least of all groups that indulge in violent protests or issue vile threats. There’s enough legal recourse available in India – too much, some would say – for anyone upset or unhappy with the depiction of historical, mythical, religious, even fictional figures in books and films. Once the CBFC, which is a statutory body, issues a certificate to a movie, it is the duty of the state governments to ensure that it can be screened (and viewed) safely in their states.

In some ways, the utterances of the chief ministers highlight a larger problem, and one that isn’t particularly unique to India: the conflict between the political and administrative imperatives for elected representatives. It is the rare chief minister who will take on an influential electoral group even when the latter is in clear violation of the law. That, though, is what good leadership is all about

First Published: Nov 22, 2017 13:09 IST