Padmavati row: As state cedes space to the fringe, idea of freedom takes a hit

Akshaya Mishra

Jan,30 2017 18:22:07 IST

The fringe goes berserk again and as usual the entire debate around the core issue veers the wrong way. Whether Rani Padmavati was real or fictional is not the central matter here; neither is whether director Sanjay Leela Bhansali took creative liberties with Malik Mohammad Jaisi's account of the Rajput queen written in the 16th century. The fact that Bhansali, the citizen of a free country, was roughed up by members of the Karni Sena, a fringe group claiming to be representing the Rajput community, for making a film of his choice is what should be bothering all.

After Karni Sena damaged the sets of the film Padmavati and forced the director to abandon shoot and go back to Mumbai, the Hindu Sena has jumped in, alleging distortion of history by Bhansali. Some of its members allegedly issued death threat to the latter - the organisation has now dissociated itself from the threat - besides warning him against continuing shooting of the film in Mumbai. The Shiv Sena has come up with its two bit saying there should be no character assassination of any Hindu king or queen. If the senas come together there's no way the film is going to have a smooth release.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali. PTI

Sanjay Leela Bhansali. PTI

Last heard, Bhansali has clarified to the Karni Sena that there are no objectionable scenes in his movie and agreed to a pre-release screening of the movie for its leaders. Translated in simple words, it means the director has capitulated to pressure and the veto on his film remains with the group. The right questions in this context would be: who allows these people to trample on the freedom of others with such impunity? Where is the state? Why do these outfits - they are often referred to as the fringe but are as mainstream as it can get given the capacity they enjoy to disturb the normal - have a free run everywhere?

It needs no overstating that their activity is a travesty of the idea of rights and freedom given to every Indian by the Constitution. This is grand idea is exactly what the state and its instrumentalities are expected to protect and save from vulgarization. Democracies won't simple work without the state standing guarantee for the freedom of people. Curiously, while all our anger is directed against groups such as Karni Sena or Maharashtra Navriman Sena or several such outfit known by different names, the inadequacy of the state to intervene gets under noticed.

It is quite evident by now that state after state are happy to cede space to vigilante groups. In Maharashtra, the government sought to play mediator between MNS and producer Karan Johar during the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil controversy. In the present case, the Rajasthan government has not intervened strongly in favour of Bhansali, virtually leaving him helpless. Other states react in the same way when such outfits chose to assert themselves over individuals. The police refuse to act. Courts are an option but with the governments deciding to play safe, help from them won't amount to much.

Political parties have long stopped taking an unambiguous position in such matters. They usually take the populist position, fearing a backlash if they take a firm position this ay or that. They fear that there would be a political price to pay. Now, who do people like Bhansali or Karan Johar fall back on? Nobody really. If the film fraternity — it applies to all in the intellectual and creative community as well — were united and had some way to arm-twist governments it would help. It is the same way the fringe groups exert pressure on the latter - if you act against us, forget our votes next time.

Does this mean that the state is losing its moral authority? When it fails to safeguard the rights of individuals then it certainly is. If the current state of affairs continues we would soon have gangs of goons making lives of citizens miserable. Is there a solution to it? If there's one it is not visible. The country needs to introspect.

Published Date: Jan 30, 2017 18:22 PM | Updated Date: Jan 30, 2017 18:22 PM