Padmaavat and Politics
As film Padmaavat is being screened across the country except for some states where there have been violent protests over the past weeks, the politics has begun on the issue. West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee rued the protests and said she would be happy if the film is released in her state. She also said that it is the BJP-ruled states which have failed to control the trouble-makers. Delhi Chief Minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal argued that the violent protests will drive away investors from the country and drag down the economy, affecting existing jobs and creation of new ones. Congress too said that the BJP ruled states have failed to control protestors and there should not have been so much of trouble for a film to be screened after the CBFC clearance and the Supreme Court's ruling in favour of its screening. The states which have witnessed violent protests include Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. BJP is in power in all of these states and of them, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will go to Assembly elections later this year and the General Elections are due mid-next year. As expected, the opposition fears that in the name of Padmaavat, the BJP-ruled states have allowed fringe organisations to create trouble and stoke caste and religious sentiments among the people, which will lead to a polarisation of votes.
BJP-ruled states and the NDA government at the Centre make no bones about championing the Hindu nationalist cause in contrast to Opposition's secular plank. Of course, BJP makes decent overtures to win away the Muslims that represent the biggest chunk of votes of the secular bloc, by following a progressive agenda for the minority community. The Centre's sincerity to bring in a law that makes triple talaq illegal and a recent decision to remove subsidy on Haj pilgrimage are two such initiatives that come as part of a new set of progressive agenda for the minority community in place of the policy of appeasement being practised in the past. Clearly, BJP and its allies and the Opposition have a differing viewpoint on the issue. As the elections draw closer, political parties for apparent reasons try to ensure that their constituencies of votes remain with them while they are able to poach those of others. Traditionally the Congress has had a vote bank of minority communities, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes besides the regular votes that it drew from the general category of voters. Over the years as electoral politics became more competitive, the minority community votes got divided between different entities like Lalu Prasad' RJD in Bihar and Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Pary in Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, the SC/ST votes were cornered by Bahujan Samaj Party of Kansi Ram and Mayawati. This phenomenon severely robbed off the strength of the Congress and the BJP's reliance on the Hindu nationalist fervor won it elections in a number of states and the Centre.
In the light of this, if the Opposition leaders are wary of the protests on Padmaavat that such protests will ultimately go on to consolidate Hindu votes in favour of BJP, their apprehensions are not misplaced. But what is interesting is to see how the minority community looks at the entire issue. As Indian Muslims have steadfastly refused to show sympathy to Taliban and jihadi elements both in the country and outside, they are most likely to stay away from the ongoing controversy on Padmaavat and may not relish the film if it depicts some characters in an inappropriate light. That is a serious blow to those pinning their hopes on reaping a dividend out of the current turmoil.
If we revisit what Arvind Kejriwal said on this issue, we would understand that he has diagnosed the psyche of the people better than his contemporaries. He did not look at the issue from the Hindu-Muslim angle because he may have guessed rightly that India has well overcome that communal divide and there is little chance of anyone being able to exploit the situation that film Padmaavat has thrown up. He talked about economy and jobs – the two key issues to India's largest vote bank, the youth -- being affected by violence in the name of Padmaavat. In Rajasthan and Delhi, there are Hindu temples dedicated to 'Maa Padmavati' – the idea was not lost on Kejriwal and he did not take any sides. The next round of Assembly and General Elections are less likely to be fought on communal sentiments and the issues identified with the youth are more likely to take the centre stage.