'We're ready for violence': Karni Sena on warpath

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.” Strong-arm tactics 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.
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Chouhan, Amarinder say no to Padmavati release

Also on the Padmavati front

  • Deepika pulls out of Global Summit: Actress Deepika Padukone, who is at the centre of a row over “Padmavati”, has pulled out of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), that will have US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend the inauguration on November 28 in Hyderabad. A senior official of Telangana government said on Monday that Deepika has withdrawn her name from the event. She had earlier confirmed her participation, the official said. The actress was one of the speakers at a session on ‘Hollywood to Nollywood to Bollywood: The Path to Moviemaking’.
  • SC rejects plea to restrain release: The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a plea seeking to restrain the release of controversial film “Padmavati”, saying that that it is premature and would amount to pre-judging the matter. The reaction of a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra came after it was told that the Central Board of Film Certification has yet to clear the film. “‘Padmavati’ has not yet received certification from CBFC. In view of this, our interference will tantamount to pre-judging the matter. We don’t intend to do so,” the court said in its order, rejecting the plea to block the release of the movie.
  • Censor Board chief says talks are on: Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Prasoon Joshi on Monday said the Board was trying to follow a process of dialogue vis-a-vis the stalemate surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film “Padmavati”, whose release has been delayed because of opposition from conservative groups. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the inaugural function of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) near Panaji, Joshi said: “We are trying to follow processes. Instead of arguments, attempts are being made to have a dialogue on the issue.”
  • BJP leader stands by bounty offer: Kunwar Surajpal Singh Ammu, a ruling BJP leader in Haryana, on Monday said he firmly stands by his announcement of a ?10-crore reward for beheading Bollywood filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali and film actress Deepika Padukone over their movie “Padmavati”. Ammu, chief media coordinator of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state, said he gave the statement as a “Rajput” and not as an office-bearer of the party. Ammu said he had doubled the bounty on the heads of Deepika and Bhansali to Rs 10 crore. Ammu also issued a threat to break the legs of actor Ranveer Singh.
  • National Conference leader wants ban too: NC legislator Devender Rana urged Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to ban the release of ‘Padmavati’ in Jammu and Kashmir, whenever it gets the go-ahead from the CBFC. In a letter addressed to Mehbooba Mufti, Rana said: “The release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmavati’ is likely to hurt the sentiments of a particular community/religion and thus holds the potential to disrupt peace in Jammu region.” He said he was for a ban on the movie in the state as many delegations from across Jammu region had approached him on the issue in the last couple of days.

Amarinder Singh, in his comments said: “Anything that is historical event… no one will object. But here they are distorting history,” Singh told reporters. “I have also gone to Chittor and returned and seen all things there… So, this is distortion of history and no one will accept it.” “And if communities are objecting to it then it is their right to object,” the Punjab Chief Minister added. The comments come a day after the release of “Padmavati” was “voluntarily” deferred from its scheduled date of December 1. On Sunday, Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, had said the film would not be allowed to release in the state unless its “controversial portions were removed”. Even Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had on Saturday written to Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani to ensure that “Padmavati” is not released without necessary changes. The film has been mired in controversy over conjectures that it “distorts history” regarding Rajput queen Padmavati, a contention that Bhansali has repeatedly denied. Some Hindu groups, mainly the Karni Sena of Rajasthan, have been vigorously protesting against the movie’s release while some political outfits have demanded that its release be deferred in view of the Gujarat Assembly elections. “Padmavati” features Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh in lead roles.

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