Haplessness of a seemingly helpless police machinery witnessed during the Jat quota turmoil in Haryana in March 2016 and during the Ram Rahim supporters’ vandalism in Panchkula in August 2017 was again in evidence when anti-Padmaavat agitators stoned a school bus and went into a frenzy in Gurugram. Haryana is not the only state where law and order machinery was mute spectator to noxiousness. Padmaavat-triggered violence in Gujarat also found the apparatus of State unable to cope with the situation. The Bhima-Koregaon anniversary-related Dalit upsurge in Maharashtra witnessed a similar scenario—even financial capital Mumbai could not boast of adequate police bandobast to cope with the violence on its streets. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan too have found the apparatus of State at a loss to contain mass frenzy. As India showcases itself in Davos as an investment destination, this frail law and order scenario does not augur well. Investors look for green and tranquil pastures. Vandalism took place in states where BJP-controlled governments had taken cognisance of the popular sentiment and had expressed reluctance to the screening of the controversial film, even though the Supreme Court had given its green signal. 

Poetic allegory penned by Sufi writer Malik Mohammed Jaisi sitting in his home in Jais (near Rae Bareli, part of present day Amethi Lok Sabha constituency) a thousand kilometres away from Chittor some 237 years after Alauddin Khilji laid siege to the Rajputana bastion in 1303, has triggered an agitation that has gone to the extent of challenging the orders of the Supreme Court and raised serious questions on India’s ability to protect creative expression. The functioning of a democratic state has been per se challenged by the KarniSena-led turbulence. Jauhar-sati, curbed by reinforced law post Deorala in 1987, has also been sought to be glorified. The turmoil reached the door of the national capital at a time when the nation was rejoicing Narendra Modi’s epic appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos and the heads of ten ASEAN states were heading for New Delhi to grace the Republic Day celebrations and strengthen India’s Look East policy. 

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has perhaps drawn on his experience as leader of the editorial team for Shyam Benegal’s Bharat ek Khoj, the Doordarshan serial based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India, which was aired three decades ago, in the Rajiv Gandhi era. Users of YouTube may watch the 26th episode of the serial in which Om Puri played Alauddin Khilji, Seema Kelkar was Padmavati and Rajendra Gupta was cast as Raja Ratan Singh—the roles now played by Ranvir Singh, Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor, respectively in the movie directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, which is in the eye of the storm. The 26th episode featured a scene in which after Chittor comes under siege by the Khilji troops, Ratan Singh agrees to a game of chess with Khilji, during which the latter is made privy to a mirror reflection of the exceedingly beautiful Padmavati. Subsequent deceitful kidnapping of the Chittor ruler by the Sultan of Delhi and the resistance offered by the Rajputana forces under the leadership of Padmavati, aided ably by the valiant Gora-Badal duo is vividly portrayed. There is a Ghoomar dance sequence (to appease Goddess Ranchandi ) in which Padmavati is a spectator, but not a participant. There is no mention of Jauhar in the episode.

The narrator in his opening remark of the episode says that the moral of the story of Padmavati is more important than the historical truth. Three decades ago, when Doordarshan was the primary source of entertainment and information and was watched almost universally, this episode did not churn an agitation.

Historians have divergent views on Padmavati—while Rattan Singh, Alauddin Khilji and the betrayal of the Chittor ruler by his dissident courtier Raghav Chetan along with the siege of the fort in 1303 is accepted as part of history, the saga of Padmavati, according to some, is allegorical, penned by Malik Mohammad Jaisi in his epic Padmaavat, written in 1540. 

East India Company’s Lt Col James Tod, whose Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, published in the early 19th century is accepted as an authority by historians, has said in his narrative that ballads of Rajputana were greatly relied upon by him as source. 

Some historians point out that Amir Khusrau Dehalvi, the musician-poet-writer of the Sultanate era, who chronicled Alauddin Khilji’s times, has mentioned a Jauhar after the fall of the Ranthambhore fort in 1301, but has not referred to a Jauhar in Chittor two years later. Alauddin Khilji had briefly served as governor of Awadh prior to ascending the position of Sultan of Delhi—perhaps Malik Mohammad Jaisi, who wrote in Awadhi (apart from Persian) and lived in Jais in the Awadh region, had heard a ballad which gave rise to Padmaavat. As ballads have been the source for James Tod, the public acceptance of the saga of Padmavati cannot be questioned, as it has given rise to writing of poetry over the past five centuries: even Atal Behari Vajpayee’s poetic persona is associated with paean to the valour of Padmavati. 

The agitation on Padmavati, coupled with a junior Union minister doubting Darwin’s theory of evolution and another junior minister questioning the preamble to the Constitution of India make Narendra Modi’s task of fulfilling his lofty 2020 vision Herculean.

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