From Rajput community issue to Hindutva debate: How Padmavati protests evolved
The issue of hurting Rajput pride has transformed into an assault on Hindu pride and experts see a political agenda behind this politicisation.jaipur Updated: Nov 20, 2017 11:48 IST
Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati, which has seen threats against the makers and actors by several fringe Hindu outfits, has been in the eye of the storm from the word go. The narrative has changed from ‘hurting Rajput pride’ to ‘an assault on Hindu pride’ and now experts see a political agenda behind this politicisation.
Though this is not the first historical film to face anger, the scale of the protests this time is unprecedented. Bhansali’s film has galvanized all communities -- Rajputs, Brahmins, Jats and Muslims -- in Rajasthan and in other states against alleged distortion of historical facts. The protests have found resonance in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Protests began in January when Bhansali was shooting for the film in City Palace, Jaipur. Karni Sena activists vandalized the film set and roughed up Bhansali over an alleged romantic scene between Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji, the Delhi ruler who was smitten by her and attacked the Chittor fort in 1303 to claim her.
Bhansali denied romanticizing the relationship. But the issue refused to die down. After the song ‘Ghoomar’ was released, there was more flak. Apart from Rajput organisations, erstwhile royal families joined in the criticism, saying a queen would never dance before the public or bare her midriff.
Since then there has been no let-up in the frenzy. The issue has now moved beyond dishonour of queen Padmini to becoming an issue of women’s honour and then to being an insult to Hindus. Brahmin, Jat, Gurjar and Muslim organisations joined in the clamour for a ban on the film.
The issue was politicised with leaders across political lines, from the BJP and Congress, saying that sentiments should not be hurt and distortions of facts cannot be justified.
Sociologist Rajiv Gupta sees this as a dangerous trend. He says the BJP is playing up the film as a caste and Hindu Muslim issue for polarization. “To turn attention away from its political and economic failures, the BJP is directly or indirectly giving support to religious and caste identities,” says Gupta.
He says the Gujarat assembly elections present a challenge to BJP and to counter the caste issues of Patidars in Gujarat the BJP is coming out with Rajput identity as a political tool. He said not all communities but only the Rajputs, Brahmins and Vaishyas were protesting against the film.
“The role of feudals in the freedom struggle has been debatable and so they claim nationalism by presenting symbols such as Padmavati.” The BJP, he says, is trying to consolidate the upper castes. “Till now the lower castes and tribals were important to acquire political power. But now they are trying to reverse this trend so that power concentrates in upper castes.”
Narayan Bareth, former professor at the mass communication department in the University of Rajasthan, agrees there is a political agenda. “Some parties are using the issue to further their political agenda so that the debate does not centre on issues such as education, poverty, employment and development,” he says.
The Shri Rajput Karni Sena has been at the forefront of the protests and vandalism. The outfit is no stranger to controversy.
When director Ashutosh Gowarikar was filming ‘Jodha Akbar’ in Jaipur in 2008, he too had faced protests by Karni Sena . The film was eventually not released in the state.
Its leader Lokendra Singh Kalvi says there is no compromise possible now except a ban on the film as Bhansali has backtracked on his promises.
Raj Bansal, director of Yashraj Jai Pictures Pvt Ltd says the protests are unwarranted as no one has seen the film so far. “Though distorting history is not justified, the protests so far are based on assumptions.”
He says losses for distributors due to the protests will run into crores of rupees.
“We were expecting that the film will release in 200 screens in Rajasthan but if it does not then the losses will be to the tune of ₹8-10 crore in the state,” Raj Bansal said.