Politics NOT ‘Padmaavat’ Poses Danger to Tradition: Ashutosh

Debates on Padmaavat in a democratic country like India are welcome, it’s the politics that vitiates the environment

6 min read
Politics NOT ‘Padmaavat’ Poses Danger to Tradition: Ashutosh
It is often safer to be in chains than to be free.
Franz Kafka

The Supreme Court verdict on Padmaavat on 18 December reminded me of this quote by Kafka and left me a bit shaken. It also raised the question whether a film can pose danger to our history and culture.

Even after the Supreme Court’s decision, there have been voices of protest. The response of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments also raised many questions. The Karni Sena has reiterated that they will not allow the film to be released.


Viewing an Issue Through the Prism of Hindutva

A question came to mind about India’s Constitution and how it’s followed in spirit – for how long and why should an organisation like the Karni Sena be allowed to ridicule the Constitution and democratic values of the country? Another question is exactly who all are benefiting from this dispute.

Some are arguing that if sentiments are being hurt, why make and show such a film, others are asking whether it will be a big deal if one movie doesn’t see the light of day. The larger question is when there is a conflict between state and religion and the entire issue is viewed through the prism of Hindutva, then who should be listened to and who should be given a priority over the other.

Questions like these are bound to be raised in any democratic society. In an autocratic setup questions like these would have never come up; there are no debates and all discussions have to be within specified limits; crossing the lakshman rekha amounts to putting one’s life at risk.

So, I am proud that in a democratic country like ours, we are having a debate on the movie Padmavaat. However in a democracy, not only are debates needed even the logical culmination of such discussions is also necessary. With the Supreme Court verdict, this debate is now over – but it doesn’t seem so.


Historical Evidence About Padmavati

Padmaavat had hit the headlines for the first time when incidents of vandalism were reported from its sets and the film’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was beaten up. Then came the statements from politicians. Some said that it was an insult to Mata Padmavati who was a symbol of Rajput pride.

Padmavati chose to jump into fire as she performed jauhar instead of surrendering to Alauddin Khilji. There were few who glanced through history and said that Padmavati never ever existed; she was just a poet’s imagination hence the entire debate is pointless.

Others said that Padmavati, as imagined by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, came into existence a century later after Alauddin Khiliji, which means that the two never existed together in same time zone.

Few historians exerted themselves further and said that Rani Padmavati actually wasn’t a Rajput – she was, in fact, a Sinhalese native of Sri Lanka who was married to a Rajput king, and that is how she came to India. After this, another interesting debate came up: which should be given more importance, history or oral tradition?

Should Art be Confined Within Limits of Public Perception?

It is true that there is no historical evidence of the conflict between Alauddin Khilji and Padmavati. The fact that she is a living example of Rajput cultural traditions is also true. She is widely respected among Rajputs. They consider her to be a part of their culture and so the issue about whether Padmavati existed or not doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Rani Padmavati is very much alive in the minds of Rajputs and generations have looked up to her with a sense of pride, and through her, have defined their very existence. The question that arises is how much creative liberty a filmmaker or artist can afford to take in the midst of such traditions.

This is the main dispute here. What is the relationship between art, history, tradition and culture? Does art, as part of its creative pursuit, have the right to unlimited freedom or should it be subjected to certain limits? Should art be bound within certain limits of public perception?

I have no hesitation in saying that in a diverse country like India, no one should have unlimited freedom because then diversity would become a burden for the country. There will be clashes between cultures that can result in fragmentation. Therefore, art, history, traditions and culture need to a have a harmonious relationship so that the equilibrium can be maintained.


In the case of Padmaavat, my biggest concern is that no one has seen the film. The protests started based on mere rumours and then clashes erupted. Chief Ministers, lawmakers and politicians began to issue statements. Instead of a film, Padmaavat became an arena for an ideological conflict. A fight for traditional supremacy began and it reached a point where anyone who supported Padmavaat was told that he is not a Hindu.

Debate around Padmaavat had reached a point that if those protesting against the movie were deemed to be devout Hindus. This is a dangerous situation. Even after the Supreme Court verdict, the situation remains the same. Karni Sena have said that they will commit jauhar on 24 January. Is this justified?

Chief Ministers Have a Duty Towards the Constitution

The entire issue has been politicised since day one, with the conflict being projected as Bharatiya Janata Party versus others. Without even watching the movie, BJP chief ministers declared that they will not allow it to be released in their states. The Supreme Court rightly pointed out that state governments cannot cite law and order as a reason to ban the film. Maintaining law and order is their constitutional obligation. They are also forgetting that freedom of expression is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution and it can be curbed only in a state of emergency.

Freedom of expression can only be restricted in extraordinary circumstances. Since the inception of Padmaavat to its release, there haven’t been any extraordinary circumstances that would allow for the suspension of fundamental rights. So, should it be assumed that the chief ministers of the four BJP governed states have been unsuccessful in fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities?

Harish Salve, the lawyer who represented the producers of Padmaavat, while arguing, described the ban on the movie in the four states as “constitutional breakdown,” ie, the government was unable to function as per the Constitution. Article 356 of the Indian Constitution provides for the removal of the government in case of constitutional breakdown in a state.

I don’t believe for a second that the governments of the four states need to be packed off but the chief ministers of the states do need to be asked whether they are answerable to the Constitution or to an ideology, and if their response is for the ideology then they have no right to remain in that position.


Political Blame Game

Here there is another question that needs to be asked. Is it the first time that there has been such a hue and cry over a movie? No. There has been an uproar earlier as well when the BJP wasn’t in power. Cinema halls were vandalised.

Those who banned Salman Rushdie’s book and refused to accept the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Shah Bano case, do they really have a say in this matter? Why was MF Hussain forced to leave the country? Why was Tasleema Nasreen evicted from Bengal? If back, then religion weighed heavy on the freedom of expression; then why is it a problem now when the other side is doing it too?

I know that this question of mine will not get an answer; because irrespective of the colour of politics, they are all from the same strain. They are all wearing masks and masquerade as different beings when not in power. In reality, they are all ugly on the inside. The vote bank politics since the 1970s has resulted in the government acting in an opportunistic manner. This has given power to fringe forces, weakened governments and put a dampener on the freedom of expression.

Today, power is in the hands of those who are intolerant in their ideological understandings, hence brash displays of intolerance are inevitable. But those who claim to be liberals and shed tears over the erosion of tolerance are also at fault. Kafka was right. But more than him Abraham Lincoln was right when he said, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”


(The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on QuintHindi.)

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