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Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s sudden fondness for Padmavati reeks of appeasement politics ahead of 2018 MP polls

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan perhaps needed lessons in history all this while. And now he has found a historian for the most accurate lessons. That's filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whose upcoming film Padmavati has inspired Chouhan to declare the medieval queen Rani Padmini or Padmavati of Mewar in Rajasthan as a national icon.

Chouhan, who has been making strange statements of late, like declaring that the roads of his economically-backward state of Madhya Pradesh were far better than those in the US, has come up with another gem in his berserk reaction to the furore surrounding Bhansali's film Padmavati.

The veracity of the film's storyline is highly debatable, particularly when compared to the widely-accepted historical facts. One version of the story — as was written by the 16th Century Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in Padmavat — mentions Queen Padmini burning herself on a pyre (jauhar) when her husband and ruler of Chittorgarh, Maharaja Ratan Sen's kingdom was invaded by the Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji, who also had an eye on the beautiful queen. The queen preferred death to being captured by the enemy king, so goes the story.

 Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s sudden fondness for Padmavati reeks of appeasement politics ahead of 2018 MP polls

File image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. AFP

Several historians have refuted this incident, calling it a fictional account by Jayasi.

Noted historian of ancient and medieval India, Irfan Habib told Firstpost, "As many historians have noted, it’s a fictional account. There’s no mention of the incident in contemporary history."
In a hilarious attempt to overreach himself, Chouhan announced Queen Padmini as ‘Rashtra Mata Padmavati’, ordered an installation of her bust, and instituted an award in her name. The first edition of this award will be given to the recent Bhopal gang-rape survivor.

A question that needs to be asked is why Chouhan wishes to publicly out the survivor, regardless of the fact that he would like the world to believe that she showed great courage in undergoing the horror?

Rani Padmavati and jauhar, gang-rape in Bhopal and the award – Chouhan's is the most ingenious way of putting all this together to make a mess for himself. It's a matter of great surprise that a person of the stature of chief minister — of one of the biggest states of the country — should be indulging in this episode. If he had a particular problem with the film, like most other BJP chief ministers such as Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan have, he could have chosen hard facts and a more respectable manner in airing his views instead of naming an award after the protagonist and giving it to a rape survivor who perhaps, doesn't really need this as part of her process of healing.

It’s worth mentioning that the victim, a 19-year old college student, while returning from her civil services coaching class in the evening of 31 October, was gangraped in Bhopal city. She and her parents had to undergo a horrifying ordeal to get an FIR registered. After the incident got highlighted in the media, a few police officials were suspended, but it didn’t stop there. The government doctor goofed up the medical report, claiming the 'gang-rape was consensual sex', which was later corrected.

Immediately, after the chief minister’s announcements, his home minister Bhupendra Singh reportedly told ANI that the state government had been considering giving the Bhopal gang-rape survivor the award. "The government is considering the proposal to give the award to the gang-rape victim, who showed exemplary courage in facing the situation and brought the rape incident before the public (by filing an FIR). She is very brave and deserves the award. The chief minister will take the final decision," the home minister reportedly said.

The Padmini saga doesn't stop just yet. The latest in the story is what Chouhan said in Ujjain on 22 November: "The story of Rajput queen Padmini will be taught in Madhya Pradesh schools from next year." Former chief secretary of the state and president, Mahila Chetna Manch — an NGO, Nirmala Buch told Firstpost, "The attempt by the chief minister is a part of politics and has nothing to do with history. Instead of eulogising icons and models, the government's focus should have been on issues like farmers’ distress, education, health and safety of women. By announcing an award to a rape survivor, the serious issue like rape has been trivialised."

Political adversaries of Chouhan see these announcements made by him and his home minister as "political stunts, opportunism and an appeasement exercise" ahead of the Assembly election in Madhya Pradesh in 2018.

"Chouhan has been exposed on several fronts — right from corruption to his failure in dealing with farmers’ distress. This is his diversion tactic to distract the attention of the public from mis-governance. By announcing an award and including Padmini in text books now, Chouhan has been trying to gain political mileage ahead of the 2018 Assembly polls, as he has become frustrated by the ground realities in the state," remarked CPM central committee member and state secretary, Badal Saroj.

The Congress has questioned Chouhan’s intention stating that the announcements he made were to appease the Rajput community in Madhya Pradesh. "By appeasing the Rajputs, Chouhan wants to neutralise Jyotiraditya Scindia’s vote bank. It’s an attempt to undercut him," a Congress source said. It may be recalled that the Scindia scion, a Member of Parliament from Guna in Madhya Pradesh, is being billed by some as the likely chief ministerial candidate for the Congress in the next year's Assembly elections.

Even if it's an appeasement exercise by Chouhan, it's a very poor and distasteful effort.

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Updated Date: Nov 24, 2017 10:29:10 IST