A day after police opened fire to disperse violent mobs armed with sticks, stones and bottles filled with inflammable substance that took to the streets, burning down at least 60 vehicles parked outside four malls in Ahmedabad that housed multiplexes, the Multiplex Association of India declared on Wednesday that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmaavat will not be screened in Gujarat. The police arrested 154 persons and lodged four FIRs in police stations in Ahmedabad, charging the Karni Sena for “conspiracy” of “attempt to culpable homicide” under sections 120 B and 308 of the IPC respectively, based on CCTV footage which also shows some people in the mob wearing masks.
The protests against the release of Padmaavat continued in Gujarat on Wednesday, with incidents of traffic blockage and attempts to torch public buses being reported from various districts. Gujarat Director General of Police (in-charge) Pramod Kumar said over 200 persons had been arrested since Tuesday.
Incidents of arson and chakka jam were reported from Surendranagar and Ahmedabad-Rajkot highway, and attempts to torch a bus in Banaskantha and on Ahmedabad-Dholka highway on Wednesday. Protests were organised in Rajkot, Surat, Vadodara rural, Ahmedabad rural, Dev Dwarka, Banaskantha, Sabarkantha , among other places, where people allegedly from Rajput community blocked highway by burning tyres and creating human chains. Keeping in mind the protests, the state government deployed the Border Security Force (BSF), Rapid Action Force (RAF) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel in Mehsana, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Sabarkantha, Banaskantha and Surat on Wednesday.
Speaking to mediapersons, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said on Wednesday, “In the wake of the SC ruling, the state government has provided police bandobast to theatres that sought for it. Despite that, there was violence in rural areas and in Ahmedabad and Surat cities… The state government has tried to reach out to all organisations and asked them to protest in a non-violent manner. But yesterday evening, violent incidents took place in Ahmedabad. Today, the theatre and multiplex owners in Gujarat have declared that they will not be screening Padmaavat, keeping in mind the safety of visitors and property. When the film is not to be showcased in Gujarat anymore, I appeal to all the community leaders not to participate in the bandh tomorrow.”
Incidentally, Padmaavat appears to have put the angry coalition of Patidar quota leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and the Congress in Gujarat, which fought the BJP as a united front during the Assembly elections, on the same side as the BJP, in their view of the film “hurting the sentiments of a particular community”. While the Congress has been guarded in its support of the ban on Padmaavat, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor have demanded a ban on the film, as has the BJP government in the state.
In Gandhinagar, Gujarat ministers, while criticising the film for “distorting history” held talks with various Rajput group leaders and said that Gujarat would not close down in solidarity with the “Bharat Bandh” called by the Karni Sena on Thursday, when the film is slated to release across the country. Senior cabinet ministers met representatives of at least seven Rajput organisations in Gandhinagar and convinced them not to participate in the “Bharat bandh” called to protest the release of Padmaavat, which was anyway not going to happen.
Deepak Asher, president of the Multiplex Association of India, said in a statement, “The safety of our patrons and visitors to multiplexes is of paramount importance and since under the present circumstances it was apprehended that there could be a potential risk to such safety, all the members of the association have individually considered it prudent to not screen the movie at present”. Asher said that the association would closely watch the ground situation and would “review the decision if so warranted in the best interests of their patrons”.
Gujarat minister for law and justice Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and minister of state for home Pradeepsinh Jadeja, both Kshatriya-Rajput leaders, chaired the meeting with leaders of at least 15 Rajput groups. Other Kshatriya leaders from the BJP, like MoS Agriculture Jaydrathasinh Parmar and Balwantsinh Rajput, were also present in the 20-minute long meeting held at the Circuit House in Gandhinagar.
Chudasama told mediapersons, “If a historical event or character is wrongly or crudely depicted, then it will not be tolerated. Earlier, some multiplexes had decided not to showcase this film and today those remaining have also decided to do so. When those showing the film have taken a stance, then the issue does not stand in Gujarat anymore,” said Chudasama, narrating how the state government “stood with the sentiments of the people” and had brought out two notifications banning the release of the film in respect of the feelings of “Kshatriya and Hindu samaj”. In a separate press conference, Jadeja said that the Rupani government had put out notifications banning the film as Padmaavati and Padmaavat because of “representations made” on attempts to “convolute Indian culture and history, and tamper with our heritage”.
Raj Shekhawat, Gujarat unit chief of Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena (RRKS), told this paper, “We met the home and education minister. They understood the entire issue and have told us that the movie will not be screened in Gujarat. All the theatre owners have also confirmed the same. Considering this support to our community, we are calling off the strike that we had proposed on January 25.”
Gujarat Pradesh Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said, “We must respect the sentiments of the people. We should not overlook the emotions of the people, particularly in cases where a vast majority of the people are sentimentally attached with their historical or religious personalities.” Accusing the BJP of “playing politics” on the issue, Doshi said that it was because of the callous attitude of the state government that the “state has been thrown into violence and properties, including a large number of two-wheelers, worth crores of rupees, were damaged in the last two days”.
Hardik, who in an open letter to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on Tuesday, sought a ban on the film and put the onus of the outcome of its release on the state government, urging the Patidar community to back the Rajputs, tweeted Wednesday, referring to former CM Anandiben Patel’s resignation after the Patidar agitation to ask if the BJP would force Chief Minister Rupani to resign. The tweet said, “The ‘bhakts’ will say that Anandiben resigned on her own will. But I say that Amit Shah forced her to resign… Will they ask Rupani to resign for being unable to control violence over Padmaavat?” Alpesh Thakor, soon after being sworn in as an MLA on Tuesday, had also supported a ban on the release of the film.
Hardik told The Indian Express, “A few years ago, there was a South Indian film that was banned and later the Supreme Court ordered its release. Yet it was not released due to a suo motu action by the state. Even if the Supreme Court has asked the states to ensure the release of Padmaavat, the government could have taken some action. There is no point in releasing a film amidst violence.” Asked if he would back the film if Karni Sena was satisfied after watching it, Hardik said, “If Karni Sena chief tells me that they do not want to protest, I will also back the film. Otherwise, Sanjay Leela Bhansali should hold a press conference and clear the air.”
Hardik claimed that the violence on Tuesday night was “not done by the Rajput community. They will never indulge in such acts. This violence was orchestrated by the BJP along with anti-social elements as it wants to create a fear in the mind of the people.”
“Taking serious note of the violence that happened in Ahmedabad yesterday, we have summoned all the leaders of the Rajput community here which include the Akhil Gujarat Yuva Sangh, Karni Sena, Mahakaal Sena, Rajput Vidya Sabha, Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha, Surya Sena and Rashtriya Karni Sena. All these leaders have agreed not to participate in the bandh tomorrow,” said Chudasama while addressing mediapersons, along with the leaders of the Rajput community, after the meeting concluded.
Hardik denied suggestions that his own stand on the issue of the ban on the film was in sync with the BJP’s. He said, “There is no connection between the BJP and me. We have not had any conversation with the BJP about the film. But if it comes to the honour of the country, we will all raise our voice.” Hardik said, “The Karni Sena has read the script of the film two years ago. I had written my first letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali from Udaipur and made it clear that any distortion to history that demeans the honour of Rani Padmavati, will not be good. It should not be done. If a film can send a good message it is good, but it should not become a wrong precedent for the future generations.”
In Gandhinagar, Chudasama said, “In our principled fight, which is not just the Kshatriya community but for the entire Hindu community, there is no place for arson or violence. We all condemn the things that anti-social elements did yesterday.”
”Our entire team and the state government thanks the theatre owners. The government and the leaders believe that peace should be maintained in the state and the public property should not be damaged. To ensure that such incidents do not reoccur, we also appeal to the citizens to maintain peace,” the minister said, adding that all educational establishments, businesses and shops and markets will remain open in Gujarat on Thursday.
(Input from Syed Khalique Ahmed)