Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati is far from lighting up big screens in India but the Shri Rajput Karni Sena is a super-hit already, making headlines across the nation and hogging prime time across channels. Swords are being flashed in public, and Karni Sena clones are talking of beheading or maiming the actress who plays the lead role.
The man at the focus of the Sena’s exertions against Bollywood’s historical forays is Lokendra Singh Kalvi. Describing himself in a recent interview as 6-foot-4 and 118 kilos, Kalvi flirted with both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party for years before launching his Rajput organisation in 2006. Here’s a Lokmarg report:
“Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a jihadi,” Shiv Kumar Raghav of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena told Lokmarg on Wednesday, the day his organisation’s top brass descended on Delhi’s Press Club to interact with the media on the Padmavati controversy. “All the cinema halls in India that screen the movie will be set on fire,” he said, invoking the term jauhar—the ritual mass immolation that is the stuff of Rajput legend—for his dire prediction. “Rajputs are ready to resort to violent means if our history is distorted.”
Raghav got his lead from Sena supremo Lokendra Singh Kalvi. Addressing the media, Kalvi declared that the “reels of the film should be put inside a box and be committed to jauhar.”
Kalvi’s campaign against the distortion of history in a yet unreleased film about a 14-th century ruler of the Delhi Sultanate period and his siege of a fortress in the Rajputana of that time has gathered nationwide momentum, jumping from the fringes into the political mainstream. At last count, three Bharatiya Janata Party chief ministers and one from the Congress were against screening of the film in their states.
Asked about his campaign against the film, Kalvi told Lokmarg: “People across parties and communities have come out in support of a ban on Padmavati. Bhansali despite being slapped decided to go ahead with project. Karni Sena maintains will not allow the film to run. Bhansali doesn’t want to show it to us; he never contacted us. So, there’s no chance of any change in view.”
The Karni Sena got off to a start in 2008 with its campaign against Jodha Akbar, an Ashutosh Gowarikar film based on Mughal emperor Akbar. The ‘historical inaccuracies’ the Sena raged against meant several states banned the film. The matter went to the Supreme Court then and the ban was lifted, but letters written in blood by Karni Sena members to theatre owners in Rajasthan meant the ban, in effect, stayed. The Sena then took on Ekta Kapoor for producing a TV serial on the same topic, some members allegedly unleashing violence on a Jaipur office of the channel that broadcast it.
The Sena, whose Facebook page says it has 7 lakh committed members, remains enmeshed in student politics, which in Rajasthan boils down to centuries of bad blood between Rajputs and Jats, an agrarian community that has, with the exception of two districts, always felt oppressed in the state. Bollywood has churned out a few hit films on this feud.
The Karni Sena
- A caste group of Rajputs, the princely landowning caste most associated with Rajasthan, it was formed in 2006
- It does not have a website, but describes itself on a Facebook page as a nationalistic social organisation
- It claims 700,000 committed members but has a deeper reach in Rajasthan and its border regions with other states
- It is against Padmavati because it ‘distorts history’ and ‘wrongly depicts’ the legendary Rajput queen
More recently, the Sena came out in support of Anandpal Singh, a dreaded gangster from Nagaur who was killed in a police encounter in June this year. Anandpal, a Rajput, had become a mythical Robin Hood character who ended the free run of many rival gangs of Jats in the state, escaped from jail, and was killed in what the Sena said was a staged encounter.
A CBI probe was demanded; civil unrest ensued in Nagaur, and Anandpal was secretly cremated by the police weeks after his death. The Sena was at the focus of all it all when a condolence meet ended with a vow to vote against the BJP in the next elections.
Rajputs, a princely landowning caste group, make up about 10% of the state’s population but have very high weightage in Rajasthan’s politics. The Karni Sena’s influence, in turn, is far more than its membership suggests.
The Sena suffered a great deal of embarrassment in September when the organisation’s president, Sukhdev Singh Gogamedi, was secretly filmed by a news channel striking a protection deal for the bait of a period film about a Mughal emperor and a Rajput princess. Gogamedi, who posts on YouTube, said the video was doctored and threatened the channel with legal action.
He’s been at the forefront of the Padmavati
campaign this year. The Karni Sena ran riot on a set of the film in Jaipur this January, slapping Sanjay Leela Bhansali in the process. Videos of the violence went viral. In March, a room in the Chittorgarh fort related to the legend of Queen Padmavati was vandalised. Then a set in Kolhapur was wrecked by arsonists.
Bhansali was forced to meet Sena leaders. They say he allayed their fears and promised to show them the finished film before beginning the process of its release.
After the BJP on November 2 sought a postponement of Padmavati’s
release from the Election Commission over what it said was wrong depiction of history that would hurt some communities , there’s been no stopping the Sena.