CM Vasundhara Raje, Padmavat Should Be the Least of Your Worries

POV

CM Vasundhara Raje, Padmavat Should Be the Least of Your Worries

Illustration: Palak Bansal

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ast evening, I imagine Sanjay Leela Bhansali must have heaved a sigh of relief when it was confirmed that Padmavati would finally release in theatres on January 25 as Padmavat, fresh from a CBFC-approved makeover. The news came after months of uncertainty over whether the film would eventually end up seeing the light of day. The lead actors dodged death threats, the filmmaker had to release a Karan Johar-inspired video, and the completely irrelevant Rajput Karni Sena was afforded prime real estate in our attention spans.

Just when it seemed that we could bid goodbye to the epic spectacle that had gripped the collective conscious of every Indian (especially politicians and fringe outfits), Vasundhara Raje dealt the harshest blow: By announcing that Padmavat will not be releasing in the state. Bhansali’s sigh of relief remained short-lived.

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Tasking the Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria with ensuring that the film is not screened in the state, Raje offered justification for her decision by offering a feeble “emotions of the public should be respected”. She further added, “Rani Padmini’s sacrifice is associated with the honour, esteem and pride of the state, so Rani Padmini is not merely a history chapter for us, but is our self-esteem,” concluding with a firm“We will not allow her dignity to be hurt howsoever.”

This great declaration, about prioritising the feelings of a fictional queen and a violent mob of people that calls itself the Karni Sena, comes after the film was reviewed by an examining committee comprising a special advisory panel (including historians and royals) besides regular committee members and CBFC officials. A host of modifications — including the title change — were suggested and the film was passed with a U/A certificate. The question then is, if Bhansali is altering his film, removing bits and parts, “respecting the emotions of the public” and the decision of the Censor Board, what reason does Raje have for being so adamant?

The question we should be asking — again — is, why is Raje so concerned about a work of fiction, but not about the widespread violence the Karni Sena has been carrying out against actual people?

In fact, the CBFC board acted on her suggestion to invite a panel of historians/academics and members of the Rajput community, to “sanitise” Padmavati. Technically, all of Raje’s demands have been met: Bhansali was asked to make changes in the controversial “Ghoomar” song and remove most references to locations in Rajasthan.

The question we should be asking — again — is, why is Raje so concerned about a work of fiction, but not about the widespread violence the Karni Sena has been carrying out against actual people? She has completely refused to speak out against the Sena that has issued death threats to the actors, has vandalised the film’s sets, and assaulted the director.

The Padmavat fracas is only the latest in a long list of far more frightening and controversial decisions that her government has taken. A couple of months ago, Raje brought out an ordinance that attempted to stop the media from reporting on corruption charges against public servants, magistrates, and judges in Rajasthan. Under her guidance, Rajasthan has become a state that boasts of self-styled vigilante gau rakshaks ever ready to beat up anyone they suspect is a cow smuggler. Take 50-year-old Pehlu Khan for instance. It didn’t matter that Khan was a dairy farmer from Haryana and not a cattle smuggler. What mattered was that the gau rakshaks did their duty. It’s also a state that allows murderers like Shambhu Lal Regar roam around freely despite burning an innocent Muslim man to death on allegations of “love-jihad”.

If one conclusion emerges out of this, is that Raje’s government has a serious law-and-order situation. And now the refusal to release Padmavat is only further proof of that.

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