In the past 72 hours, Suraj Pal Amu has appeared on 16 news channels, given 27 hours of interviews, juggled between three incessantly buzzing cellphones and has lost 2 kg of weight. You have to take his word on these numbers — after all, an entire national discourse today hinges on his words.
The words of the 49-year-old chief media coordinator of BJP’s Haryana unit who says he reads “10 newspapers every day” and belongs to the “gotra (clan) of Lord Ram” and has served the BJP for over two decades, as a paka hua, tapa hua karyakarta (a seasoned party worker).
In his apartment in a plush Gurgaon neighbourhood, between sips of adrak chai, he pronounces: “Is desh ke bhavnaon ke saath koi nahi khel sakta (No one can play with the sentiments of this country).” Behind him, the shelves are lined with pictures of Rajput king Maharana Pratap, Feng Shui plants and family portraits.
In one corner, is a framed poster that righteously expands the letters of his name: S-Sincere, U-Unafraid, R-Reliable, A-Active, J-Judicious; P-Pleasant, A-Affable, L-Laborious; A-Adjustive, M-Motivator, U-Unique.
On November 19, Amu jumped into the controversy over the film Padmavati by declaring he would double the bounty on the heads of its lead actor Deepika Padukone and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali to Rs 10 crore.
“I was speaking at an event to commemorate the 121st establishment day of the Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Mahasabha of which I am a member. I had heard about the Rs 5 crore being offered by a man from Meerut and I simply asked the crowd if that should be doubled. They all cheered. We did not want to dishonour anybody,” he says, adding, “Mai bada light aadmi hoon, is poori rajniti se dukhi hoon (I am a light-hearted man, sad at all the politics).”
Why discuss a film he hasn’t watched?
On November 14, he says, he had gone to watch Golmaal Again at a multiplex — “I got the most expensive tickets” — when he first took issue with the film. “Padmavati’s trailer was shown in the interval… Raja Ratan Singh bakri jaise dikh rahe the (Padmavati’s husband Ratan Singh looked like a goat) and Alauddin Khilji rakshas jaise (like a monster). I and my friends walked up to the staff and asked them to remove the film’s poster. I tore it up, very gently,” he says, showing a video of the incident on his phone.
“Koi violence hai (Is there any violence)?”
But this “bada light aadmi” has called for the murder of Padukone and Bhansali. And burning down cinema halls. Ask him why and he ducks.
“(Deepika Padukone) desh ki beti hai, zidd par add gayi hai (She is the nation’s daughter, she is being obstinate),” he says. “She is one of my favourite actresses and I thoroughly enjoy her films…I liked her performance in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani where she is paired opposite Ranbir Kapoor.”
But he is asking for her head?
“I am not inciting any violence but the makers of the film should understand Rajput sentiment.”
He claims “bahut support,” and, as evidence, puts his phone on Speaker mode. A student on the other end is congratulating Amu. The BJP leader tells him to mobilise support in his college. To another caller, he says, “Halla maine kiya, naak mein dum baaki thakuron ne (I raised the pitch, the other Rajputs created a controversy).”
Through the morning he receives nearly 50 such calls, some at the same time on all his phones. To another caller, he says, with a laugh: “Ab mere naam ki supari aane wali hai (Someone is soon going to give a contract to kill me).”
“Films are for business,” he says. “I once had a production house and was a part of the Western India Film Producers’ Association. I stayed in Mumbai for two years but no one wanted to support the films that I wanted to make.” What kind of films? “About India and its poor”.
There is an FIR against Amu filed by a “fan of Deepika,” there is a letter from the National Commission of Women to the Haryana DGP but that’s hardly a deterrent, he says, as he drops names with ease.
He claims he regularly rubs shoulders with the BJP top brass: in the mid-90s, he says, he drove Narendra Modi to meetings in Sohna; he was with Bangaru Laxman when “he turned pale” as the Tehelka scandal broke in 2001; he has worked with Uma Bharti and J P Nadda and, in 2000, went on an anti-terrorism yatra to Agra with now Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Do all of them support him now?
“Shivraj Singh has sought a ban on the film…the notice that the BJP sent me is not a very serious one.”
This is not the first time that Amu, who has a BA and a degree in law and is a member of the Bar Council of Punjab And Haryana, has been part of such a protest. In 2013-14, he says, he joined 15,000 Rajputs and ‘Hindu-wadi’ men at Jantar Mantar to protest against the TV serial Jodha Akbar. “We were lathi-charged and Rajnath Singh (now Home Minister) had come to meet the injured youth at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital,” says Amu, who hails from Sohna in Haryana. His ancestors, he says, are from Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
When he isn’t protecting Rajput pride, he is doing quite a few things. His visiting card says: working president, All India Yog Sport Association; president of Haryana Football Association; president, Haryana Gymnastics Association; president of Double Wicket cricket-federation of India; member, National Schools football/Cricket Promotion Council; member, District Grievances Committee; and member Telephone Advisory Committee (Ministry of Communication and IT Govt. of India.” The last designation, he says, helped him get a landline phone with the option to make free calls. But today it’s the cell that’s doing the talking.
At around 1 pm, as he gears up for one of the first TV news debates of the day. he talks about his family — a son who has completed his MBA from London and is set to marry a young Jain woman, a daughter pursuing her studies in New Zealand, wife Balwinder, a Sikh, who he “fell in love with during his college days.”
Half an hour later, at the Haryana News studio, seated between two anchors in a Nehru jacket, Rajasthani safa (turban), his moustache stiffly twirled, the “light” tone disappears. The camera sets off fire and brimstone: “If the BJP asks me to resign now, I will do it…but I will not compromise on Rajput honour and sentiment.” Suraj Pal Singh’s national discourse begins again.