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How is Karni Sena, the group behind Padmavati protests, so powerful?

Any attack on the Karni Sena is interpreted as an attack on Rajputs – following its lead, dozens of organisations, including those from other communities, have supported the call to ban the movie.

Written by Hamza Khan |
Updated: August 20, 2018 1:49:54 pm
Karni Sena, Padmavati, Padmavati protests, Protests against Padmavati, Shri Rajput Karni Sena, SRKS, sanjay leela bhansali, deepika Padukone, Indian express Members of Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena shout slogans against fimmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali during a protest demanding for a total ban on the movie “Padmavati’ at Freedom Park in Bengaluru. (Source: PTI/File)

For almost a decade now, Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS) has enjoyed a free run in Rajasthan which has helped it grow in leaps and bounds. Created in 2006, it first came into the limelight when it protested over another film: Ashutosh Gowariker’s 2008 film Jodhaa Akbar for what it called, an “inaccurate portrayal of history.” Eventually, the film was not released in the state.

The SRKS protested a lathi-charge on Brahmins in 2008 and called for a Jaipur bandh in 2012 when BJP MLA Rajendra Rathore, now a senior cabinet minister, was arrested by CBI in connection with a fake encounter case.

In 2013, they threatened to sabotage the Congress’ ‘Chintan Shivir’ and confront AICC president Sonia Gandhi over the issue of reservations. In 2014, the group disrupted filmmaker Ekta Kapoor’s session at the Jaipur Literature Festival because of her TV serial Jodha Akbar. A few days later, the group allegedly attacked journalists at the Jaipur office of Zee News to register their protest against Zee TV which aired the serial.

Last year, when the Jaipur Development Authority sealed the main gate of Sujan Rajmahal Palace, which now functions as a heritage hotel, and is owned by the erstwhile royal family, ‘Rajmata’ Padmini Devi called upon Kalvi and Karni Sena, which greatly helped her campaign.

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This year has been even more ‘fruitful’ for the group: SRKS has demanded reservations for Rajputs, assaulted Sanjay Leela Bhansali at Jaigarh Fort and damaged movie equipment while the Padmavati shoot was underway; in July, they were among the organisations which gave a call for shrandhjali sabha in the village of Rajasthan’s most notorious gangster Anand Pal, a Rajput, who was killed in an encounter by police.

The sabha turned violent, Nagaur Superintendent of Police had his car set on fire and he barely escaped an assault while a lady IPS officer had to disguise herself in order to escape, and several other policemen barely escaped being lynched.

In March, Karni Sena vandalised the ‘mirror room’ in Padmini Palace in Chittorgarh Fort, alleging that the mirrors had been installed about 60 years ago, for Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit; they claimed Alauddin Khilji never saw Padmini or her reflection. The room overlooking Jal Mahal now stands sealed.

More recently, SRKS vandalised a cinema hall in Kota for playing Padmavati’s trailer and helped block the entry to Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh Forts – both UNESCO World Heritage sites, threatening to chop off Deepika Padukone’s nose, and violent protests if Padmavati is released. It also asked for an FIR to be lodged against Bhansali, among other things.

Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said that no one is allowed to take the law in their hands. While he is known to be a straight shooter, other politicians have either maintained silence or supported censorship of the film or its ban.

How is the Karni Sena so powerful?

Any attack on the Karni Sena is interpreted as an attack on Rajputs – following its lead, dozens of organisations, including those from other communities, have supported the call to ban the movie.

Even Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has joined the chorus, writing a letter to Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani, urging that the movie not be released without “necessary changes.”

Rajputs are among the most relevant and powerful communities in Rajasthan, electorally speaking, and with assembly elections just a year away no one wants to rile them. Rajputs make up about 12 per cent of the state’s population and have influence in about two dozen of Rajasthan’s 200 assembly seats, and also hold sway in other seats.

Importantly, other castes, bar Jats, hesitate little in extending support to Rajputs. For example, the on-going protest against ‘Padmavati’ has been supported by other castes; even the indefinite protest at Chittorgarh Fort is being held under the banner of ‘Sarv Samaj’ (all communities). Rajputs are a Kshatriya caste and hence, other communities acknowledge Rajputs when they take up an issue; going by historically established traditions, they often lend firm support to Rajputs. In turn, Rajputs take up issues of other communities, and of late, Karni Sena has asserted itself into that historical role of being the “foot soldiers,” hence their rising social capital.

For the Congress, which received a drubbing in 2013 Assembly elections, any opposition to Karni Sena is not feasible either at this point.

The community’s relevance is also reflected in Raje’s council of ministers: Rajendra Rathore, Rajpal Singh Shekhawat, and Gajendra Singh are all cabinet ministers while Pushpendra Singh is a Minister of State for Energy. Others, such as Prem Singh Bajor, Chairman of Rajasthan Sainik Kalyan Board, and Shambhu Singh, Chairman of State Seed Corporation, among others, who have been given important positions.

BJP MLA Diya Kumari, a member of the erstwhile Jaipur royal family and a Rajput herself, led a signature campaign calling for a ban on the movie. About two dozen Rajput MLAs also add political strength to the community. Also, while the Privy Purse was abolished decades ago, the royal families, including Rajputs, are still present across the state and have some pulling power.

Eclipsing them all was former Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, also a three term CM, and his electoral success is partly credited to his antecedents.

So with assembly polls a year away and Raje already beset by several setbacks – farmer agitation, gag Ordinance, High Court restraining her Gujjar reservation Bill, protests over seventh pay commission implementation – all in last three months, BJP doesn’t need to further narrow its electoral aspects.

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