India is not only becoming a republic of bullies, the bullies also happen to be peddlers of violence par excellence. While the protests over the imagined "Rajput honour" being sullied by the yet-to-be released film Padmavati refuse to die down, in fact escalating with a fresh dose of controversy every day, the ruling BJP too is warming its hands in the fire of this endlessly manufactured brouhaha.
No longer hiding behind the fig leaf of "fringe elements" causing ruckus on cue, the Haryana BJP media spokesperson - Suraj Pal Amu - has offered to pay Rs 10 crore in bounty to anyone who "beheads" Padmavati's female lead Deepika Padukone and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In fact, Amu has "doubled" the bounty first announced by a Meerut-based youth called Thakur Abhishek Som, who had announced that he'd pay Rs 5 crore prize money to anyone cutting off Padukone's and Bhansali's heads, saying that the duo had brought disrepute to "Kshatriya pride".
Amu said Bhansali has money from Dawood that's gone into the making of Padmavati, echoing earlier baseless statements from BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, who first tweeted saying this, disparaging Padukone for playing the titular and mythical Padmavati.
Cine actress Deepika Padukone giving us lecture on regression!! Nation can progress only when it is regression from her perspective.— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) November 14, 2017
The Padmavathi protests has given a set back to seven other films planned to show “humane” Muslim badshahs pursued by captive Hindu queens— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) November 17, 2017
Amu made his offer during a function of the Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Mahasabha in New Delhi on Sunday, and ANI tweeted his statement: "Want to congratulate Meerut youth for announcing Rs 5 crore bounty for beheading Deepika, Bhansali. We will reward the ones beheading them with Rs 10 crore, and also take care of their family's needs."
Want to congratulate Meerut youth for announcing Rs 5 crore bounty for beheading Deepika, Bhansali. We will reward the ones beheading them, with Rs 10 crore, and also take care of their family's needs: Suraj Pal Amu, Haryana's BJP Chief Media Coordinator pic.twitter.com/IKPL9Di5Fm— ANI (@ANI) November 19, 2017
Though the BJP has issued show-cause notice to Amu over his ludicrous statement, it has already had its intended effect of instilling more fear and paranoia over the film, which is now indefinitely shelved and wouldn't release on December 1, as was the original plan. That in the postponement of Padmavati's release are the collective and coordinated contributions of BJP heavyweights such as Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Smriti Irani, Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje (who has asked I&B minister Irani to ensure the film is not out until "necessary changes are made so that sentiments of any community are not hurt"), BJP MP Swamy, and myriad other leaders who are either part of or affiliated to the ruling party in the Centre, is beyond a shred of doubt.
Party has nothing to do with such statements, a show cause notice has been sent to him. There is rule of law in Haryana and no one can issue such fatwas: Anil Jain,BJP On BJP’s Suraj Pal Amu announces Rs 10 crore bounty on Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Deepika Padukone pic.twitter.com/Suyr6b6Hae— ANI (@ANI) November 20, 2017
I have no information of any show cause notice issued: Suraj Pal Amu, Haryana's BJP Chief Media coordinator pic.twitter.com/BtT9Vbp36e— ANI (@ANI) November 20, 2017
It's crucial that the pot has been kept boiling at a time when the high-stakes, high-voltage Gujarat elections are just a few weeks away, to be held in two phases on December 9 and 14, and for which both the ruling BJP, with its 22 years of unbroken stint, and the chief Opposition in Congress, newly energised by Rahul Gandhi's spunkier, more assertive avatar, and the trio of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor, commanding Patidar, Dalit and OBC youth votes, respectively, have joined hands with the vice-president of the grand old party.
BJP in the Gujarat polls, it seems, has but abandoned the "vikas" plank, and raw communal polarisation, the merging of Gujarati "asmita" with Rajput "valour", is somehow expected to stir up passions that the ruling party is an expert is arousing during election times.
Therefore, the statement of Suraj Pal Amu of Haryana BJP, though sidelined by the party officially, must be seen in the context of the highly volatile political and emotional make-up of the country at present, with Hindu majoritarian sentiments having peaked over Padmavati, and its "dream sequence" between Alauddin Khilji and Rani Padmini, something that has been denied many times by the cast and crew of the movie.
Though the Rajput Karni Sena has been vandalising the film sets and also threatening to chop off Padukone's nose for saying that the film would release and the crew is only answerable to the censor board, they are but foot soldiers in this massive manufactured agitation, in which major BJP leaders have played a key part by giving crucial support to the agitators on the streets as well as the retinue of former "royals", who have suddenly woken up to past glory.
Like Diya Kumari, the former princess of Jaipur, who's also a BJP MLA, the erstwhile aristocrats have latched on to the Padmavati furore to remind everyone of their princely past, which has only emboldened characters such as Suraj Pal Amu, who resorted to the "fatwa" of sort in announcing the Rs 10 crore bounty on Padukone's and Bhansali's heads.
At a time when "nationalist channels" and their TV anchors with god complex play "judge, jury, executioner and also the censor board" - by pre-screening the film for a "select" media group in order to decide whether or not Padmavati brings dishonour to the Rajput community, we see inanities of every kind taking centre stage. What the Padmavati row, every bit a recalibration of the past to suit a particular narrative in the present, exposes is the general dip in comprehension of how to read history, how to learn from it and how not to conflate it with the here and now, so as to not repeat the old mistakes of endless and needless identity and territorial wars.
Whether it's Rajput pride, or Kshatriya honour, or Hindu sentiments, these intangibles have become more important than human development indices such as infant mortality rate, maternal health, healthy girl child, education for the girl child, sanitation, among many others, in which Rajasthan lags behind most other Indian states. As the narrative is allowed to so spin out of control that open threats of beheading become commonplace, followed up only by a toothless show-cause notice in a state where the chief minister has already floated a "gag ordinance" to muzzle the media, it is clear that majoritarianism is both the means to and an end in itself.
Also read: Media should have covered Padmavati protests differently: Less sensationalism, more objectivity