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Kaun lega Prithviraj Chauhan: Now playing in Rajasthan, a caste triangle

Was the 12th century king Gurjar or Rajput? A familiar, 21st century question ahead of film release

Written by Hamza Khan | Jaipur |
Updated: May 24, 2022 9:07:39 am
Members of the Akhil Bhartiya Veer Gurjar Mahasabha address a press conference in Jaipur.

In the latest edition of history repeating itself as politics, particularly just ahead of a film release, the Gurjars and Rajputs in Rajasthan have locked swords over an upcoming Akshay Kumar starrer called Prithviraj, after the late royal.

Gurjars are demanding that Prithviraj Chauhan be depicted in the film as a Gurjar king, while Rajputs, who also lay claim to Prithviraj, want a title reflecting the same: ‘Samrat Prithviraj’.

At a press conference in Jaipur on May 20, the Akhil Bharatiya Veer Gurjar Mahasabha shared as “evidence” for its claims, a Sanskrit text called ‘Prithvirajavijaymahakavya’. Written in 1191-21 by Kashmiri poet Jayanak, who worked in Prithviraj Chauhan’s court, the text has umpteen references to Gurjar caste in the context of the king, they said.

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They cited another epic, Prithviraj Raso by Chand Bardai, written around 1400 in pingal script (a combination of Braj and Rajasthani), saying it referred to Prithviraj’s father Someshvar as a Gurjar.

Among other evidence, the Gurjar Mahasabha representatives said they had filed RTIs with the CBSE and Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) enquiring about the Rajput caste claim for Prithviraj, and got “inconsequential replies”.

Anuraag Gurjar, national president of the Gurjar Mahasabha, told The Indian Express that they had sent a notice to the filmmakers and called writer-director Chandraprakash Dwivedi, but received no response.

Manish Bhargad, state president of the Mahasabha said that since last year, they have raised the issue at various levels in multiple states, including “Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh”, and in Rajasthan with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

Accusing the filmmakers of placating both castes, he said “we don’t want to increase animosity” between them. If Prithviraj Chauhan was not portrayed accurately, Bhargad said, they would indeed protest. “Just like the Karni Sena, we are in 22 states, from Jammu Kashmir to Kanyakumari.”

The Rajput demand incidentally is coming from the Karni Sena, which is never far away from any controversy related to the community or films in Rajasthan.

Ajit Singh Mamdoli, the national convenor of the Shri Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena, told The Indian Express that the fact that “Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan” was a Rajput king is well-established, including by history books. “But a new controversy is being created. Some political forces are bent on creating friction between Rajputs and Gurjars, and filmmakers like controversy since it may lead to more footfalls.”

Ironically, many critics accuse the Karni Sena, with the politically influential Rajput Sabha behind it, of being instrumental in exactly the same.

The Karni Sena said they had approached the filmmakers when the shooting was underway to urge them to “expand” the film’s title. “Wherever you see a reference to Samrat Prithviraj, be it his statues or textbooks etc, it is ‘Samrat Prithivraj Chauhan’. But the filmmakers are not using either Samrat or Chauhan. So if they proceed without either, the Karni Sena will oppose the movie.”

Last year, the Gurjars and Rajputs had both laid claim to another historical figure, King Mihir Bhoj.

Rajasthan has also seen Rajput politics flare up over killing of gangsters, such as Anand Pal Singh, with the protests by the community forcing the government to seek a CBI probe.

The Karni Sena had first come to light for its protests against the 2008 film Jodhaa Akbar. Eventually, the film was not released in the state (led by the BJP then), though Rajasthan did not ban it. In 2014, the group disrupted filmmaker Ekta Kapoor’s session at the Jaipur Literature Festival over her TV serial Jodha Akbar.

But its biggest success came in 2017, when the Karni Sena led the protests against the film Padmaavat from the front, over its depiction of the legendary Rajput princess, at one time even threatening to chop off the nose of Deepika Padukone, who was playing her. Karni Sena activists slapped its director Sanjay Leela Bhansali during the shooting.

The protests gave it national recognition, with Rajputs forming similar outfits in other states, or setting up Karni Sena chapters.

In 2019, the outfit also protested the Kangana Ranaut-starrer Manikarnika, but found limited success.

The Gurjar Mahasabha seems to be trying to take a leaf from the Karni Sena’s book for both easy eyeballs and to get the backing of the community.

The jostling for attention comes as Rajasthan enters the last leg ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. While Rajasthan has had a Rajput CM in Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who held the post thrice, the Gurjars are yet to have a CM from their community in the state.

Sachin Pilot, a Gurjar, nearly made it as CM in 2018 but had to eventually settle for the post of Deputy CM.

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