Not for the first time, Kangana Ranaut is in the news for making controversial remarks. In a conversation with the Isha Foundation leader Jaggi Vasudev at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts on August 8, the Queen actress criticised India’s liberals and also weighed in on mob violence and undocumented migration.
The 90-minute discussion was part of the In Conversation with the Mystic series hosted by Vasudev, in which he talks to celebrities about matters ranging from earthly to esoteric.
The conversation touched upon such topics as politics, nationhood, spirituality and mysticism. The bits that have attracted the most attention, however, were the disparaging remarks about liberals and comments on mob violence in the name of cow protection. At one point, Ranaut even insinuated that liberals, with their finger-pointing, were trying to incite civil war.
The conversation veered into political territory when Vasudev, hailing the diversity of India in the context of how the country has survived centuries of invasions and years of colonial rule, said, “They found this land there is no sameness anywhere...but they called this one nation because this was the only nation which was a land of seekers, not a land of believers. This is why we have always identified as seekers....of truth and liberation.”
While liberation and freedom have always been the country’s highest values, “now the so-called liberals are talking about freedom as if they’re talking about it [for] the first time”, Vasudev added.
Liberalism, the belief that puts liberty and equality at its core, has become a catch-all term for all those who disagree with the Right-Wing in India. Ranaut’s comments echoed that perception. The actress said that while they were filming her upcoming Rani Lakshmibai biopic Manikarnika, her crew decided to change a scene where the Queen of Jhansi saves a calf to one where she saves a lamb, ostensibly because the makers did not want to indirectly condone the spate of lynchings carried out in India over the last few years in the name of protecting cows.
“For me it’s very conflicting,” she said. “As a person you feel very protective of who you are what your values are and you want to save all the animals, why just cow? But you definitely want to save the cow for sure...but a lynching for cow takes place and you look like an idiot and then, you jump to the other side, which has always been criticising and never wanting to protect cows...these are so-called liberals.”
She then said that liberals, by definition, are those who are accepting of diverse opinions, but in India, “liberals will not take you in their group unless you hate the same people as they do”.
At this point, Vasudev interrupted and said, “No, no. They are fanatics.”
Ranaut continued, “If this is for the betterment of the country you don’t mind hating on BJP, you don’t mind believing that everything that is being done by Amit...literally Amit Shah is practically doing, but, what I don’t get is, what is their agenda and plan of action for bringing this country out of the pit?”
The actress then commented on soldiers fighting on the border and the murder and alleged rape of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua in January.
“When a war breaks, liberals are the first ones to say...to demotivating an Army man who is protecting the borders for you. A rape takes place in Kashmir and they say ‘Hindustan raped our daughter’. To be pointing fingers at each other when the country is so vulnerable and trying to break [into] a civil war. Is that what liberals do?”
Vasudev offered a theory about why cows are considered sacred in India and went on to contend that those who debate the subject of lynchings are cut off from reality. “In this country, which is a pastoral country, cow and cattle was the wealth of this nation...so if somebody stole a cow, they cut you and beat you up. This whole lynching debate that’s going on in the country, the people who are talking about it, have not seen India. They’re just living in cities and television studios and endlessly talking about these things. Let me say this clearly. I’ve always been connected with rural life. In my life, I have witnessed three lynchings. In two, they were killed and in the other one, nearly killed.”
Lynchings happen because of the absence of timely law enforcement in parts of the country, Vasudev concluded.
He then insinuated that critics were using the cow-related lynchings to score ideological points. “If we want to change this, there are many things we have to do,” he said. “Not going on about, ‘somebody saved a cow’... Cow is an easy thing right now to go at.”
The two also weighed in on the violence that surrounded the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat in 2018. Rajput groups had agitated for months to ban the film, contending that it misrepresented facts and sullied the image of the fictional Queen Padmavati, and threatened violence against the director and the film’s cast, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.
Ranaut said that being a Rajput as well as a film industry member, she found the controversy disturbing and embarrassing, but she said it was unfair to associate criminals with a particular religion.
Sadhguru said, “I don’t think it was about religion at all...When it was happening in full flair, the Padmaavat issue...When they were burning buses then I called somebody, a very responsible person in the country, and said, ‘How are we allowing this to happen?’”
Vasudev said the person he called told him that there were 100 women dressed as brides, ready to immolate themselves in protest. The law enforcement authorities believed it was a better option to let the Rajput groups burn some buses because if even 10 of the women were to kill themselves, it would become an international issue.
“I thought this is a strange kind of wisdom, but it is wisdom,” Vasudev said. “Instead of giving commentary because somebody went to western universities and came back...giving that kind of commentary without understanding the realities. No. There are unfortunate realities of various kinds of divisions that people are trying to play up. When they don’t get any voice to say something, they will gather...their community together and do something on the street to get attention. ”
The two briefly discussed cross-border migration before the conversation veered towards philosophy, mythology and cosmology, with debates about Shiva and the quest for meaning in life.
Ranaut’s remarks about liberal thought and mob violence attracted criticism as well as praise on Twitter. Some rued the fact that a woman who has been hailed as a feminist icon was aligning herself with majoritarian politics.
Ranaut’s remarks came less than a week after she praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being the “rightful leader of democracy”.
Some also praised the actress for her stance.