Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s blockbuster movie Padmavati raised the hackles of the Rajput community across several states, who vandalised the film sets and threatened further violence on the grounds that it distorted the history of Rajput Rani Padmini, and hurt their sentiments.
Various persons threatened specific targetted violence like Mahipal Singh Makrana allegedly threatening to cut off Deepika Padukone’s nose if Padmavati was released, and Abhishek Som publicly announcing a reward of Rs 5 crore to the person who beheads Bhansali and Padukone.
Padmavati was sent to CBFC for certification and clearance. CBFC recommended change of title to Padmaavat – the name of Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s ballad written in 1540, which reportedly triggered Bhansali’s film – along with five modifications, and cleared its release.
The Shree Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS) and other Rajput outfits in several states were still adamant that Padmaavat should not be released, and publicly threatened violence at the movie halls which may attempt to screen it. Even CBFC chief Prasoon Joshi was threatened for clearing the film. The matter reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the CBFC clearance was sufficient and ruled that the film should be released.
The open threats of violence against Padmavati (and later Padmaavat) did not receive even a mild rebuke from the state governments or the central government. Rather, the state governments of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (and also Haryana and Gujarat) banned the movie in their states, thereby kneeling before the violent right-wing elements.
Even after the order of the Supreme Court that lifted the ban imposed by four states on the release of Padmaavat, SRKS and other outfits have reiterated their stand of not allowing its release. Following a petition by the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh seeking to stall its release citing insurmountable law and order problems, the Supreme Court directed that the states must comply with their earlier order allowing the release, and deal with any law and order problems. Perhaps the state governments plan to call the army to handle the law and order situations when they arise.
Most recently, Shree Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS) leader Mahipal Singh Makrana is reported to have called on all Kshatriya soldiers in the Indian Army, asking them to boycott their mess food for a day to protest against the release of Padmaavat. He also reportedly asked the soldiers to “lay down their arms for a day” if the government does not listen to their demands. It is clear that Makrana has little idea about the army and the manner in which it deals with “caste” and religion. The Indian Army is the national icon that it is, precisely because, in its day-to-day functioning whether on Siachen glacier, in a counter-insurgency (CI) role, or in a “peace” station, it is not politicised into caste and religion. In every army unit and headquarters, there are places of worship of more than one religion or faith, and all unit personnel, regardless of their military rank or individual religious conviction, participate in all cultural and religious functions at these regimental religious institutions. Also, all soldiers of all faiths and “castes” dine together, live in the same premises, train together, fight shoulder-to-shoulder in CI operations or any other life-threatening combat situations, and face bullets, grenades and bombs together.
In the Army (as also in the Navy and Air Force), a soldier refusing food as a mark of protest renders him liable to punishment under Army Act, 1950. Perhaps even more serious, is a soldier laying down his weapon in a mark of protest. If more than one soldier protests in these ways, it would amount to mutiny, a very serious offence for soldiers. Clearly Makrana is unaware of how the fighting forces function. Indeed, it is worth considering how a Rajput soldier of the times of Rani Padmini would have been treated if he put down his sword or lance as a mark of protest.
Whatever be the validity or otherwise of Makrana’s and other protestors’ arguments, the Supreme Court has ruled that Padmaavat will be screened. But what remains unaddressed is Makrana’s call to “Rajput soldiers” of the Indian Army to protest against screening of Padmaavat, by refusing food and laying down their weapons, even if only for a day.
Whether Makrana knows it or not, his statements are clear attempts to incite soldiers and seduce them from performing their duty. This is very dangerous to leave unpunished, as it can snowball to others inciting soldiers for whatever narrow partisan reason. Section 131 of the Indian Penal Code concerns “abetting mutiny by a soldier, or attempting to seduce a soldier, sailor or airman from his allegiance or his duty”. It is punishable with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
It is clear that no Indian soldier, “Rajput” or not, will respond to Makrana’s call. On the other hand, they, along with their Commanding Officers, will surely treat it with the contempt it deserves. But even if Makrana is ignorant of IPC Section 131, he has laid himself open to prosecution under that Section.
The central and state governments (e.g., Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh) which have seen such open threats concerning the film Padmavati or the CBFC-cleared film Padmaavat, need to file FIRs against those who have publicly threatened violence and disturbance of public order, instilling fear among the general public to exercise their right to view the film of their choice. More specifically, Makrana inciting soldiers of the Indian Army is a cognizable offence under IPC Section 131.
Failure to take cognizance will send the message that governments are weak-kneed and incapable of governance, or that they implicitly support the right-wing protestors against Padmaavat. It is very difficult to believe that governments are weak-kneed, since there has been no hestitation in various state governments filing cases of sedition and of “waging war against the state” against protestors in other circumstances. Very sadly, one is left with the uncomfortable feeling that elected governments are taking the side of a vociferous and violent minority of wrong-doers, and neglecting their Constitutional duty towards the silent majority. This is utter failure of governments in upholding the Constitution and performing their sworn Constitutional duties.
As a parting shot, one can well imagine what would happen if Indian soldiers (including sailors and airmen) get politicized and thereby justify Pakistan’s long-held erroneous view that India is a Hindu state with a “Hindu army”.
Major General S.G.Vombatkere is retired from the Indian Army