Rajput Male Ego, the Centre of Karni Sena’s ‘Padmavati’ Battle

Much is known about the Karni Sena’s violence. What is less known are the faces behind its domination.

4 min read
A gathering of Karni Sena activists.

Karni Sena doesn’t appreciate the fact that Bollywood has villainous Rajput characters. Somewhere down the line, that bitter feeling facilitated the foundation of the party and its dominance in Rajasthan.

Shri Rajput Karni Sena’s (SRKS) violence has become familiar since Sanjay Leela Bhansali started filming Padmavati. From slapping Bhansali to burning his sets — they have done it all.

However, one couldn’t have guessed that Amrish Puri played an unwilling minor role in it.

Amrish Puri as Thakur Darjan Singh in <i>Karan Arjun</i> (1995).&nbsp;
Amrish Puri as Thakur Darjan Singh in Karan Arjun (1995). 
(Photo Couresy: YouTube screengrab)

“Rajputs have always been portrayed as rapists, corrupt in Bollywood, donning villainous roles. Amrish Puri alone has portrayed several delinquent Rajput roles... but the poor Rajputs were suffering and nobody was talking about them. So, in 2006, to bring everybody together, Lokendra Kalvi left the BJP and formed the Karni Sena,” Vishvabhandu Banna, the general secretary of SRKS, told The Quint, adding that Kalvi would be in a prestigious position today if he were still affiliated to the BJP.

Origin Story

The SRKS was founded by Kalvi, one of the prominent faces of the group, who has many criticisms for Padmavati.

Founder of SRKS Lokendra Singh Kalvi.
Founder of SRKS Lokendra Singh Kalvi.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Lokendra Singh Kalvi)

A look into their political manifesto gives an insight into their negative attitude towards the film. Kalvi was associated with the Congress for a brief period during the tenure of Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan between 1998 and 2003, and then the BJP. Ultimately, it was Rajput pride that led to the creation of the Karni Sena in 2006.

Lokendra Singh Kalvi, the founder of Shri Rajput Karni Sena.
Lokendra Singh Kalvi, the founder of Shri Rajput Karni Sena.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Lokendra Singh Kalvi)

According to Rajasthan daily Jansatta, in 2003, Kalvi joined hands with rebel BJP politico Devi Singh Bhaati to form the Samajik Nyaay Manch. The party went on to contest the state elections that year and Bhaati won only one seat. Following his victory, Bhaati joined the BJP once again. In the meantime, Kalvi formed the SRKS.

Much like the pro-Marathi ideology of the Shiv Sena or the demands of the Patidar community, one of the constant demands of the SRKS has been reservation for Rajputs, and Kalvi himself has encouraged Rajputs to unite for reservation.

“We want some reforms in the reservation system. There are poor Rajputs… we want reservations based on the economic status of the people.”

The group recognises the power of the Rajput vote bank, even as it disassociated itself from other political parties.

“We are a vote bank in ourselves. Now political parties will come to us, we don’t have to go to them with our demands. We  will only come forward when someone distorts facts about the customs, and rituals of our community,” Banna told The Quint.

Actual “Kshatriya Virtues”, Not Villainy

Padmavati has seemed to have touched a Rajput nerve, as the Karni Sena have been riled up over the depiction of the mythical character, even going as far to threaten Deepika Padukone, who portrayed the Rajput queen in the film, with violence.

In a self-made video, Mahipal Singh Makrana, a prominent member of Karni Sena, said, “Rajputs never raise a hand on women but if need be, we will do to Deepika what Lakshman did to Shurpanakha.”

Ironically, the bone of contention between Karni Sena members and Bhansali’s depiction is seemingly the deep-seated patriarchal urge to protect the dignity of "their” women and Kshatriya honour, which clash with modern critiques of caste, class, and gender discrimination in Bollywood. In its manifesto, the Karni Sena took their pride very seriously as visible in their open threats against anybody who refutes their version of history.

In a press conference, seated beside Kalvi, Makrana reiterated, “We want actual historical accounts, we just want them to show what Rajputs truly are. Baahubali may not have been historical but it portrays real Kshatriya virtues.”

Honouring “Their” Women

Although not discontent with Maharaja Ratan Singh’s non-villainous Rajput character, the Karni Sena members have two insecurities about Deepika Padukone’s character. The first being that a Rajput woman should never be surrendered to a Muslim ruler, which would be a direct blow to Rajput pride.

Secondly, a Rajput woman should not be “dishonoured”.

According to the SRKS, in the case of Padmavati, the Ghoomar performance in the film depicts an “unrealistic” picture, since during pre-modern times dance had been strictly restricted to zenana (women).

“Even today, Rajputs don’t make their women dance in front of men. How can they show Padmavati dancing in front of an audience then?” Banna said.

We have also clapped at Deepika’s films. We have appreciated her roles, her acting. But I don’t understand that ever since we have opposed this film, why are they picking a bone with us? How can she do a ghoomar dance when Padmavati never did it?
Vishvabhandu Banna, general secretary of Karni Sena

As far as the fictional quality of the character goes, Banna said that Rajput society is bound by such historical tales, which, according to him, had been attempted to be rewritten by the Mughals during their reign. “Will anybody ask if Ram is fictional? Is Hanuman fictional?” Banna said, to justify the Karni Sena’s views.

Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Jodhaa Akbar had faced a similar reception from the group. The SRKS member sent letters in blood in protest against the “distortion of historical facts” to theatre owners, reported The Times of India. As a result, the film never released in Rajasthan in 2008.

And now, it is left to be seen if Padmavati too will share the same fate.

(With inputs from Malavika Balasubramanian)

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