The Bharatiya Janata Party has attempted to walk a tight rope while dealing with the Padmaavat row, with some states attempting to ban the film while others, including the Centre, remained mostly mum even as Rajput organisations took their violent protests to the streets. The groups have alleged that the film – which was released in theatres on Thursday amid tight security – distorts history, though commentators argue that the historical drama is based on the fictional heroine of an epic poem.
Giriraj Singh Lotwara, the president of the Shree Rajput Sabha, a community organisation that has been around for decades, believes Rajputs will see through the ruling party’s ambivalent approach. “It is all vote politics,” he told Scroll.in. “They want to keep both the fingers crossed. They are not running the films in three to four states, where they are trying to honour Rajput sentiments. But in other states, they have not stopped it. If I wanted to see the film, I will just go to the adjoining state.”
Fearing attacks, multiplexes in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa have decided not to screen the film, according to media reports.
The Shree Rajput Sabha, unlike the now prominent Karni Sena – of which there are several factions – is an older organisation built around the community rather than simply political mobilisation. Lotwara said the Sabha has been around since 1939, and existed even before that as the Sardar Sabha. Lotwara is among a clutch of Rajput leaders who have become nightly fixtures on news channels of late, as they have sought to argue that Padmaavat should be banned, with many others encouraging the violence that burst on to the streets in the last few days.
Lotwara says the Sabha does not support the violence. “It is good whatever they [the Karni Sena] are doing if it is in the interest of the community,” he said. “But we feel they must remain within the framework of the Indian Constitution and not take the law in their hands. This is what I believe… Violence should not be practised at all, it should be avoided.”
However, he has a justification for why young Rajput men in states like Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have dominated headlines with their violent actions over the last few days: unemployment. “What I see is because there has been tremendous unemployment,” he said. “Karni Sena is a cluster of youth, and most of the youth there, they are all unemployed. And once you have unemployed people, they can go to any extent. And they will do nuisance, because there is no direction to them. So the need of the hour is to provide direction to them.”
‘Prime minister is sleeping’
That direction, according to Lotwara, is unlikely to come from the BJP. The Rajput community has generally been considered a mainstay for the saffron party in Rajasthan, but the party under Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje also has the support of Jats. Raje is a Rajput from a royal family but was married to a Jat royal. In the state elections in 2013 and the Lok Sabha polls the following year, the BJP is believed to have received the bulk of Rajput votes. That might now change.
“When there is hue and cry in the whole country, our honourable prime minister is sleeping,” Lotwara said. “The Rajput community has been a tool for this government to come into power. For the last 60 years, we have been working for the BJP and the Jan Sangh, but still after coming to power, we have been totally neglected and arm-twisted by all means, financially, legally as well as personally.”
The Shree Rajput Sabha chief, in fact, believes the BJP’s actions have something to do with a broader plan to transform into a party that draws votes from beyond the forward castes. “The government has started feeling we can do well without Rajputs. This notion has to be brought down from the minds,” Lotwara said. “The BJP has started thinking we can only work for the OBC [Other Backward Classes] and do nothing for the upper caste. Because they will be our tame dogs all the time.”
Elections in Rajasthan are slated for the year-end. But before that, bye-elections to three Assembly seats that fell vacant will be held on Monday. Several Rajput organisations have already said they will support the Congress in these elections to send a message to the government. Lotwara has himself complained about a service tax levy being imposed on his organisation, among other concerns. He claims other parties are unlikely to offer the Rajputs much either, but the community has to send a message to the BJP.
“Other parties are bound to be receptive, but they have nothing to give us. But we are giving them support, for the reason, because let [BJP] at least realise what wrong they have done,” he said. “I feel if they lose the bye-election, definitely they will go in search, it is going to make a large impact on the party. A handful of votes which were in their pie all the time is shifting away.”
Lotwara added, “Definitely, the community will show their anguish.”