Supreme Court lifts ban on Padmaavat, but will BJP govts stare down Karni Sena and Rajputs in an election year?

Sandipan Sharma

Jan,18 2018 14:07:43 IST

Padmaavat now has the support of the censor board, the ministry of information and broadcasting and the imprimatur of the Supreme Court.

Will BJP governments of six states continue to defy the Constitution and the Union government to appease a handful of hotheads? Will they still find ways to block the release of the film so that Rajput votes fall in their pockets?

The apex court's decision to stay the ban on Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film is a watershed moment in the history of India. In one swift move, the SC has upheld freedom of expression, artistic freedom and the basic tenets of our Constitution. In doing so, it has forced the BJP governments of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to decide whether they are loyal to the Constitution or take patently illegal decisions for the sake of votes.

These governments would now have to decide whether they can uphold the Indian Constitution, impose the law in letter and spirit or if they will allow thugs to block the film. In a few days, we would know how much jauhar (courage) Shivraj Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje, ML Khattar, Vijay Rupani, Jai Ram Thakur and Trivendra Singh Rawat can show in this battle with hotheads. If they don't, these CMs would not only show themselves as not having the spine to protect uphold the Constitution.

Deepika Padukone and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Deepika Padukone and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

The first signs of whether the BJP governments of these states can look beyond Rajput votes would be visible in Rajasthan. So, watch that state.

The ban on Padmaavat was triggered by protests by self-proclaimed leaders of Rajputs in the state. They were spearheaded by Karni Sena (the group is named after Karni Mata, a deity revered in west Rajasthan) chief Lokendra Kalvi, otherwise a genial and level-headed person with a robust intellect. The Karni Sena has turned Padmaavat into an ego issue. So, it is unlikely to back off in spite of the SC directive.

Having lost the battle with the censor board and in the SC, it may resort to threats and blackmails to dissuade theatre owners to screen the film. Its foot-soldiers may attack viewers and staff of cinema halls screening the film. Or take the easy way out to impose a “ban” on the film by leaning on cinema owners to “voluntarily” refuse to take the risk of screening the film.

The onus, thus, would be on the Rajasthan government to ensure that the state is not run by Karni Sena dikat; that the honour of the SC is upheld. To do this, it will have to stare the Karni Sena down, be firm with its leaders and use the law and order machinery to tame hoodlums who might be tempted to unleash violence at theatres and on the roads. Once the Karni Sena is tamed in Rajasthan with an iron leash, it is unlikely that hotheads would have the courage to defy the Constitution in other states.

This is not the first time Raje would have to deal with the Karni Sena and its rabble-rousers. More than a decade ago, the Karni Sena had led a violent agitation for reservation for Rajputs in Rajasthan. Incensed by the BJP's refusal to support the demand, it had threatened to disrupt Raje's rallies and unleash violence on the roads. Back then, Raje had looked them in the eye and rubbed their nose in the ground. So, history suggests, she has both the ability and the courage.

But, the problem is, the BJP is going all out to woo Rajputs ahead of elections in 2018. Two days ago,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Rajasthan to re-inaugurate a refinery that was launched by the previous government five years ago. The highlight of the event was a clear attempt to appease Rajputs by praising local war hero Dalpat Singh, former finance minister Jaswant Singh (who, incidentally, was denied a Lok Sabha ticket in the 2014 elections forcing him to contest as an independent), and former VP Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who, again incidentally, was so upset with the BJP just before his death, that he threatened to renter politics and launch an agitation against corruption. Obviously, the BJP is trying to let bygones be bygones to appease Rajputs.

Everything seemed to be fine with the Rajputs demanding a ban on Padmaavat and the BJP government delivering it. The SC order has disrupted the Rajput-BJP bon homie. Trouble in the alliance of convenience is guaranteed.

Updated Date: Jan 18, 2018 19:45 PM