Srinagar: On Monday, senior National Conference leader Devendra Singh Rana wrote a ‘communiqué’ to the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti urging her to ban the screening of the period film Padmavati until some objectionable scenes are deleted. It was a paradoxical request from a leader of a professedly secular party which vouches for a liberal political outook. For one, the request went against the core principles championed by the political organization, Kashmir’s oldest, by seeking to deny people the freedom to see the movie and also arbitrarily deciding on their behalf which scenes need to be cut. And for another it sought to draw some political mileage out of it.
But more appallingly the communiqué has obvious communal overtones. For the objection is against a 14th century Muslim king Allaudin Khilji who in a popular narrative of the history is said to have launched a war against a Hindu ruler Ratan Sen with the sole purpose of marrying his queen Rani Padmavati. The story has no basis in history. Ironically, the narrative draws on an epic fictionalized poem written in 1540 by a Muslim Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Thereafter, in various adaptations of the story, the legend of Padmavati acquired a life of its own in popular imagination. She became more and more real and acquired the status of a flesh and blood historical figure. And the majority community in the country began to look at her as an upholder of the honour of a Hindu woman against an allegedly lascivious and brutal Muslim king.
This narrative snugly fits into the current political discourse in India. An oppressive Muslim king versus an honourable and valiant Hindu queen plays to the now popular tropes. And what is more, it has great electoral spin-offs for the ruling dispensation in New Delhi. But while we can understand the political and the ideological compulsion of the BJP and its allied outfits to foment the Padmavati controversy – more so, in view of the ongoing Assembly polls in Gujarat – one fails to understand what is it that impelled Rana to make a similar demand and thus reduce NC to the level of a vigilante organization. “I request you to kindly order the ban on the release of the feature film ‘Padmavati’ in Jammu and Kashmir till its contents are verified and the various religious/community groups are satisfied,” Rana’s communiqué to the CM reads.
May be Rana has made a smart political move by pre-empting a similar demand being made by the ruling BJP but it hardly validates it. The issue here is not who gets to flag a politically beneficial issue first but whose political ideology and the narrative you are buying into and in a sense further mainstreaming. Time was when the BJP’s ideological outlook and those of its larger parivar was on the fringe of India’s political discourse. But now it has hurtled to the country’s political centre stage. But far from re-asserting and reclaiming the space for the secular and liberal politics, the parties like Congress and now even National Conference are trying to outgun the BJP by trying to ply a softer version of the Hindutva. While this might do little to dislodge Sangh Parivar from its current per-eminent position in Indian politics, it will ensure that the Hindutva remains the reigning meta-narrative of the country – and it is sadly the narrative in which the minorities enjoy very little.