WHAT a farce! The Karni Sena terrified Sanjay Leela Bhansali, beating him up during the shooting. Then they rampaged all over North India, even attacking a bus carrying schoolchildren. The terrified governments of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra (all BJP) surrendered their sovereignty and prostrated themselves before the Sena. The Censor board was threatened and the film title had to be clipped. The Supreme Court had to intervene and point out that banning the film or not showing the film was not an option. Even so, cowardly state governments hesitated.
Lo and behold! It turns out that far from insulting the Karnis and their remote ‘ancestor’ Padmavati, Bhansali insults Muslims and extols the Rajputs. He demeans women but then he does that in every one of his films. Yet women and men flock to his films. That is alright then. Let us hope that now the Karni Sena does not agitate to force people, especially Muslims, to see the film compulsorily. Of course if they had waited for their protest till after they had seen the film, it would have helped everyone.
The damage that this will do to the BJP is difficult to calculate. It began even before Padmavati, with the fiasco over Baba Ram Rahim. The Haryana government abandoned its duty of keeping law and order and let the ardent followers of the Baba run rampage, with police politely avoiding any gaze. The regularity with which these state governments have abandoned their duty of protecting their citizens against vandalism will be remembered for a long time.
Of course this cowardice on part of these governments is a politically motivated move hoping to capture or at least not alienate vote banks. But these groups — followers of Baba Ram Rahim or the members of the Karni Sena — may threaten violence, but they do not add up to many votes. The majority who are inconvenienced and have to keep silent while they cannot go about their daily activities will take their revenge at the EVM, as the recent Rajasthan by-elections showed.
Normally, governments in India hound citizens for real or suspected breach of even the most minor regulation. Tax terrorism extends to more than just income tax. Even the moves which are designed to empower the citizens, like the Aadhaar card, become instruments for harassing them. Babus insist that for anything given by the governments, even if they be entitlements, the Aadhaar card must be produced. Why they cower in front of noisy political lobbies is a mystery. Rajiv Gandhi banned Satanic Verses without reading it, even before it had arrived in India, for the fear of losing the Muslim vote.
India is a federal polity and there is not much the Central government can do. But Narendra Modi has to bear in mind that ultimately it is his re-election which is the most important contest in the next 15 months. His usual practice is not to make statements on controversial matters. But during the year when Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh face election, with the general election not far away, this crisis is one that he should