What’s the Politics Behind the Padmavati Row?
A nationwide ruckus is created over the screening of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 190-crore movie, Padmavati, by a little-known organisation –the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, which is a feudal warlord organisation of the upper-caste Rajput community’s arch-reactionary section. The Shri Rajput Karni Sena and other Kshatriya-Rajput organisations affiliated with the BJP and the RSS in North India have not only threatened to stall the film’s promotion and screening, but they have also threatened Bhansali and his lead female actor, Deepika Padukone with death and physical violence if the film is not immediately stopped from releasing. It was the Shri Rajput Karni Sena that attacked Bhansali during the shooting of the film in Rajasthan and the BJP government of Rajasthan didn’t protect the director and his crew, rather the government unapologetically backed the reactionary Rajput hoodlums. The patronage that the Shri Rajput Karni Sena has got from the government of Vasundhara Raje, herself a Maratha queen and a strong supporter of feudalism, bolstered their spirit and helped them in initiating further violent campaigns.
Rani Padmavati is a fictitious character of a folklore; the character was named as queen Padmini and was first mentioned in an Awadhi poem called Padmavat, composed by a medieval Muslim poet Malik Muhammad Jaisi. The epic, Padmavat, was based on the siege of Chittorgarh by Alauddin Khilji and it became quite popular among the Rajputana people because it depicted the Rajputs as a heroic community and thereby gave a morale booster to the community, which lost its hegemonic control over the right-to-rule after the Mughal kingdom became strong. After centuries of its creation, the character of Rani Padmavati is now considered as a demi-goddess in the Rajputana, the fiefdom of the Rajput feudal warlords. As part of the RSS’ effort to consider every folklore, mythology and epic as an integral part of a “glorious Hindu past”, Rani Padmavati too became a figure whom the Rajputs in particular and Kshatriyas, in general, started to revere due to her anti-Muslim stance and her “loyalty” towards her husband.
The film made by filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is known for his love for feudal, upper-caste Hindu elite traditions, customs and family values, projects the “honour” and “pride” associated with being upper-caste Kshatriya and Rajput, thereby legitimises the domination of the Kshatriya caste on the broad masses of Indian people in the pre-Mughal era. The Muslim ruler is stereotyped as a narcissist and power-hungry demon who wants to plunder India. Bhansali cunningly turns the flags of the Rajput king of Chittor into saffron, which was actually the colour of the Maratha Peshwa kingdom, while using a resemblance of the Pakistan flag, a distorted version of the Islamic flag, as the banner of Khilji. It’s purely Bhansali’s sinister effort, funded by the Reliance group, to portray the caste supremacy of the Rajputs in a positive way and portray the Muslims as the worst type of people. This project, however, couldn’t save Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his team from the very bigots he was trying to serve. The RSS pounded upon him using its feral affiliates.
In the film Padmavati, Sanjay Leela Bhansali purportedly shows a scene, where the Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji dreams about Padmavati and dances with her in a romantic mood. This scene, according to the Taliban in Rajasthan, aka the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, hurt their pride because it depicted their women in poor light, especially one like Rani Padmavati, who is revered by the Rajputs, by showing her romancing with a Muslim man, the community which Rajputs affiliated with the Hindutva camp loathe and despise. Though the filmmaker denied showing anything such, the Shri Rajput Karni Sena refused to give-up their violent agitation and united the community throughout the Northern parts of India to vandalise the cinema halls that dare to show the film. To appease one of its most loyal vote banks, the BJP-ruled states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have banned the screening of the film, even when the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has certified the film for public screening.
The Rajputs are a dominant socio-economic caste-group in Rajasthan, where, thanks to the discriminatory and pyramidical caste structure of the Hindu religion, they have consolidated power and retained their feudal dominance for centuries like everywhere else in North India. The Rajput community forms the core of the RSS’ organisational base in North India and they have professed their loyalty to the idea of the Hindutva fascist kingdom for decades, as the same will officially guarantee them the second highest status, only after the Brahmins, in the society. Though the community has a great number of progressive and democratic people, a majority of the rural population, or those who are strongly connected with the countryside still profess their allegiance to the idea of feudal-theocratic dictatorship of the upper-caste Brahmin-Kshatriya nexus throughout the country and would like to officially turn the Dalits, Tribals, Muslims and Christians into second-class citizens, deprived of any political rights.
The allegation of disrespecting a Rajput women, citing which the Rajput Karni Sena is steadfast in its effort to stop the screening of Padmavati, is as hollow and sham as the British stooge RSS’ claim of being a truly patriotic organisation, because Rajasthan is one of the topmost North Indian states infamous for female foeticide, crimes against women, especially sexual violence. The feudal powers deny the women their equitable status in the society and even today, the feudal landlords brutally murder couples who dare to marry outside their communities or from castes lower than that of theirs. The “honour killing” concept is quite a hit in Rajasthan, which comes next to Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh in the crimes committed against women in the name of protecting “honour” and “pride” of the patriarchal feudal system that forces women to be servile to men.
Apart from “honour killing”, the reactionary and feudal section of the Rajput community is also a great fan of the Sati system, under which a woman is forced to burn and die in the funeral pyre of her husband, as a custom of protecting her “honour” and “pride”. It’s no wonder that the violence and oppression meted out on them by a large number of reactionary feudal Thakur landlords forced women like Phoolan Devi to take up the gun against their oppression in the past and many women have either died or are in the process of getting killed by the men who take pride in their patriarchal hegemony. However, no organisation affiliated with the RSS or the BJP would voice their opposition to these inhuman practices, against the oppression and exploitation of the women in the 21st century.
When the Padmavati film is produced by Viacom media, a subsidiary of the Reliance group, to which the Modi regime swears its allegiance to, then it raises a question that — why the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, a militant organisation of the RSS in Rajasthan, initiated a violent campaign against the film? Actually, the aim of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena in Rajasthan and other Kshatriya organisations in other states is to use the movie Padmavati as a smokescreen to build up mass opinion against the Muslims, the minority community that is reeling under the terror of the cow vigilante – Gau Rakshaks, who are killing hapless Muslims by accusing them of either cattle slaughter or beef consumption. They want to use the pretext of the wrong depiction of a Rajput woman in a Hindi film, in which Muslims are regularly portrayed as villains, to incite communal tension and intensify the hatred against the Muslims among the Rajputs.
The BJP government in Rajasthan, led by an erstwhile monarch and manned by upper-caste feudal elements, has endorsed the violence by the Rajput Karni Sena, as it did in the case of the Gau Rakshaks. Both are dear to the RSS and they enjoy the state’s patronage, which empowers them to act with absolute impunity in the states it rules. The demand and the vision of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena and other Kshatriya organisations is in sync with the RSS’ endeavour to revise the history and saffronise it in entirety to portray a glorious past under Hindu rulers, who were Kshatriyas, and paint the period of Muslim rule, especially the Mughal rule, which actually unified India, as a dark period for the Hindus. The BJP, which will face an assembly election in Rajasthan, where its government failed to deliver on the promises of welfare and development, now needs a reason to woo the majority Hindu community to vote for it. The Rajputs, due to their socio-economic status commands the allegiance of the people, who are under obligation in the feudal Rajasthan to abide by the diktats of the Rajput landlords. Hence a vitriol against the Muslims using the film as a weapon can help the BJP to polarise voters from now onwards and then help it sweep the assembly election, scheduled to be held in late 2018. Revisionism in history is a key tool to polarise the masses by brainwashing them.
Under the guidance of the RSS, the die-hard fans of Hindutva fascism are now revising India’s history to show the Rajput kings as victorious in battles wherever they fought the Mughals. Rana Pratap is now shown as the winner of the Haldighati battle fought between his army and the Mughal army led by another Rajput general of Emperor Akbar. The Rajasthan government under the BJP stood shamelessly beside the Gau Rakshak mob, it legitimised the killing of Muslims accused of eating beef or cattle smuggling and it forced school students to attend a Hindutva fair organised by the RSS where children were brainwashed using the toxic propaganda and vitriol against the Muslim community. The concept of “love jihad”, which the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath peddled to garner support in favour of his communal adventures that elevated him to the highest post of the state, is now used by the Rajasthan-based Hindutva fascists, including the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, to evoke hatred against the Muslim community and thereby polarise the majority community before the onset of the Rajasthan assembly election.
Padmavati row is not a non-issue made out of the RSS-led Hindutva camp’s intolerance towards a film that they are not able to digest. There had been several instances of the RSS’ vehement opposition and mob attacks on several films; the Shri Rajput Karni Sena is accused of attacking the epic film, Jodha Akbar, which depicted the love story between the Mughal emperor Akbar and his Rajput wife Jodha Bai, didn’t result into this scale of violence and threats issued against actors, filmmakers and even the chief minister of a state. The opposition of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena against the film, which is refusing to simmer down this time, the subsequent threats issued by the ruling party’s stalwarts and the banning of the film’s screening in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to appease the caste supremacy and male-chauvinist ego of the reactionary feudal elements within the Rajput community, indicates that the ruckus is actually a smokescreen used by the Hindutva camp and the Modi government to divert mass attention from some of the severe issues.
The Modi government is taking due advantage of the Padmavati row to strengthen its campaign of saffronising the Indian history of the ancient and the medieval period. The government is also using the ruckus and the media attention it’s gaining to distract the people’s attention from the deteriorating health of the Indian economy, the crisis in the manufacturing sector, the growing unemployment and a severely paralysed agriculture, which has no scope of recovery under the present regime. As unemployment, starvation deaths, farmers’ suicide and working class’ distress are growing at a fast pace, the BJP’s urge to divert the mass attention is also happening. Yogi Adityanath calls secularism the biggest lie despite being the chief minister under the oath of protecting the Constitution, the RSS chief shows extreme disregard towards law by stating that the Hindutva camp will establish the Ram Temple at Ayodhya only, while the Muslims continue to die due to lynching by Hindutva mob, all at a time when the BJP and its much-hyped Modi government is in backfoot due to the economic crisis that India got trapped into — this makes it the right time to amplify the bigotry-filled communal cacophony and use lies peddled by corporate media houses and the RSS propaganda wing to flare up the fire of communal tensions, at limited scales to prevent loss of man days or properties for the corporate houses.
Padmavati, the film, should not get more attention than it deserves because as a film, it strongly stands by the feudal India and its misogynist outlook, things that Bhansali loves to portray. The women in the film are shown to be fighting for their pride, which is actually the protection of the caste hegemony of Rajputs against the villain Muslims and Sati, an inhuman system that the Rajputana feudal system promoted for centuries, doesn’t find thrashing by Bhansali, who could never rise outside the rank of mediocre and casteist filmmakers. The concentration and focus of the people should be on the ulterior motives of the RSS and the BJP, which includes flaring-up communal tension and violence in limited scale to consolidate the atmosphere of fear and mutual distrust among communities, especially among the minority communities that the Modi government has created in the last three and half years. The people should not give in to such nefarious designs, rather they should fight for their unity, across communal lines, by waging an uncompromising struggle against the Brahminical fascist Hindutva camp and the corporate-lackey Modi regime, demanding freedom from feudalism, crony and comprador capitalism, corruption, communalism and foreign capital’s domination.
Neeladri Mukherjee is a former high school teacher and a Rabindra Sangeet lover. An M.A. in Political Science (not entire), Neeladri is a close observer of West Bengal politics, South Asian affairs and the trade union movement.