Rajput pride, moustachioed men and legacy: What drives the Karni Sena protests against Padmaavat
Shri Rajput Karni Sena, of which Kalvi is the chief patron, is spearheading the protests against Bhansali’s film Padmaavat.
The voice of 67-year-old, burly, turbaned Lokendra Singh Kalvi undulates with near theatrical prowess in the press conferences.
One moment he thunders against Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and the next – his tone butter-smooth and hands folded – he says, “I went to Gandhi’s birthplace yesterday. Baapu, give me strength, I pleaded. You removed the British from this country, I just want to remove the film Padmaavat.”
The significance of symbolism is also not lost on him as brawny mustachioed men stand behind him, some wearing a Che Guevara style beret. “Gardanein katwayi hai mere poorvajon ne. Apne sunehre itihaas ko kaali syaahi se mitne nahin dunga. (My ancestors sacrificed their lives (for honour). I won’t let our golden history be smeared with black ink),” he says, looking at the door sized portraits of Rajput kings at Shri Rajput Sabha Bhavan.
Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS), of which Kalvi is the chief patron, is spearheading the protests against Bhansali’s film Padmaavat. They allege that it hurts the Rajput sentiments by distorting history regarding the 14th century Chittor queen Padmini, whom Kalvi refers as “Maa” (mother). Kalvi’s SRKS is actually a splinter group, formed by him after he defected from the original one founded on September 23, 2006.
In the middle of 2006, a group of some half a dozen people started meeting frequently in a 20 ft X10 feet office of a builder in Jaipur’s Jhotwara area, debating the charter and genesis of the organisation that would come to be known as Shri Rajput Karni Sena. Kalvi was central to the foundation of the original organisation.
“The central objective was securing reservation for Rajputs. Putting an end to the sidelining of Rajput figures in textbooks and the Rajput legislators in the government were the other aims,” says Ajit Singh Mamdoli (38), the builder in whose office the meetings would be held.
When the Shri Rajput Karni Sena came into existence, Mamdoli became its first state president. In its initial years, the organisation protested against the films Jodha Akbar and Veer. In the succeeding years, it would split into three organisations.
While Mamdoli came from a modest background, the son of a subedar in the Indian army, Kalvi’s father had been a Union minister in the Chandra Shekhar led-government in the early nineties. While Mamdoli studied at University of Rajasthan, Kalvi went to the Mayo College and later, the Government College, in Ajmer. The six-footer Kalvi, who often mentions his weight (120 kgs) during his monologues on Rajput pride and glory, was a national level basketball player.
Kalvi contested unsuccessfully twice for the parliament, once as an independent candidate from Nagour in 1996 and later on a BJP ticket from Barmer in 1998. Prior to the 2003 assembly elections, he formed the Social Justice Front, a body of Rajputs and Brahmins to demand reservation for economically backward upper castes that was led by a veteran Rajput politician of the state, Devi Singh Bhati. The result was a rout – of the 50 seats the nascent party contested on, it won only one. The duo fell out later over differences over their views on caste based politics.
“When the Karni Sena was formed, Kalvi ji did not take a post as he was uncertain of its future. It was later, when he saw the numbers at our rallies that he began associating with it openly,” alleges Mamdoli. In the run up to the assembly elections in the state in 2008, within two years of its formation, its leaders lent support to the Congress on the condition that a certain number of tickets will be given to Rajputs, he added.
Over differences among the Karni Sena in the negotiations, Kalvi left the organisation. Reportedly, he vied for the Congress ticket in 2009 general elections that he never got. In 2010, he joined the Congress and also formed his own Shri Rajput Karni Sena.
Mamdoli filed a case against Kalvi’s SRKS for using the name of his organisation that was already registered. The case is sub judice. Meanwhile, Kalvi appointed Sukhdev Singh Gogamedhi – educated till Class 10 who has quite a few criminal cases against him – as the state president.
Gogamedhi (44) split with Kalvi over demands for reservation and defected to form the Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena in 2015. Meanwhile, Kalvi appointed Mahipal Singh Makrana, a topper in MA dramatics from University of Rajasthan, as the state president of his SRKS.