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Padmavati and imagined angst

Let’s get this straight. All the mayhem and madness over ‘Padmavati’ roiling India is not really about the imagined romantic encounter between a Hindu queen and a Muslim emperor, as the Hindutva hotheads insist.
Except for the epic penned by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, which celebrates love between Alauddin Khilji and Padmini or Padmavati, there are no credible historical accounts to suggest that such romantic interest ever existed or evolved. Indeed, as my friend Amaresh Misra and other distinguished historians insist, there is no evidence to suggest that Padmavati even existed. Legendarily beautiful as she was, she existed in the extraordinary imagination of Avadhi Sufi poet Jayasi.
Clearly, the notion of unrequited love between a Rajput princess and the reigning Muslim emperor of Hindustan was too good of a story to ignore for the 16th century poet and storyteller. The popular imagination at the time also apparently loved the idea of a Hindu-Muslim romance and perpetuated the myth, giving it a life of its own over the centuries.
In other words, this whole song-and-dance is about a mythical figure who did not even exist in a past that is almost as imaginative as much of Hindutva’s angst over history.
The Right’s issue is not with the glorification of a Hindu-Muslim love affair – or love jihad, as it chooses to call it – and the alleged hurting of Hindu sentiments in a movie that no one has even seen. As filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali pleads, if anyone cares to listen, Padmavati and Khilji are not seen together even in a single frame in his movie.
The Parivar’s problem is with the Muslim community itself. Since it cannot turn back the clock and undo the 1,000-year-old Muslim rule over India and all that it represents, it must avenge it by beating the hell out of a wretched minority that remains as its last symbol.
It’s not as if those protesting against ‘Padmavati’ are illiterate or ignorant. They know their history well and can distinguish it from the bunkum that they pass off as the past. They only choose to misinterpret it – deliberately.
Be it the issue of ‘Padmavati’ , the Taj Mahal, Babri Masjid and Tipu Sultan or any other imagined slights, history is a big stick in the hands of the Parivar to beat the ‘enemy’ with and keep its own flock together – not to mention the windfall of votes these shenanigans deliver come polling day.
To be fair to the BJP, it has never really kept its Hindu supremacist agenda a secret. By choosing Narendra Modi as its leader and prime ministerial candidate, the party made it abundantly clear that it was well past the stage of playing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde between Vajpayee and Advani.
So while the PM carefully plays the role of a world statesman, hugging world leaders and pontificating about fighting terror and promoting yoga, the Hindutva foot soldiers have been enforcing the Parivar’s agenda on the ground.
This again has been happening at two levels. While the RSS top brass and ideologues have taken control of the republic and all levers of power, universities, research bodies, the media, security agencies and think tanks, the thugs of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the ABVP and numerous other outfits have been using their muscle power to police public spaces.
From terrorising Muslims in the name of love jihad, the sacred cow and other disingenuous absurdities and depriving them of their livelihood to torturing and killing writers, artists and intellectuals who do not fall in line, there has been a clear method in the madness.
Those who still believe that all this does not enjoy the sanction and blessings of the highest level of the party and government, live in a fool’s paradise.
Modi is not Manmohan Singh or even Vajpayee – the charismatic, avuncular mask of the Parivar who depended on the support of its secular allies. Nothing moves or happens in the BJP or the government that enjoys brute majority in parliament without the nod of the boss.
This low-gear, slowly simmering Hindutva campaign against the voiceless minorities may have once been a way of keeping the rank and file happy and constructively engaged. But now, it has become a desperate necessity for the BJP. The party is staring at an increasingly difficult battle in the all-important Gujarat, the home state of Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Indeed, the ground is shifting across the country with the deepening public fury and frustration over the catastrophic effects of the demonetisation and the disastrous goods and services tax (GST).
Under the circumstances, the only way out is the time-tested mantra of the communal polarisation and demonisation of Muslims. After all, it has always worked, helping the BJP grow from a two-member party in parliament to its current position of invincibility.
As the 2019 general elections loom, there is a noticeable feeding frenzy in the Parivar with old issues like Ayodhya – on December 6, 2017, it will be 25 years since the demolition of Babri Masjid – being desperately revived and new emotive issues like ‘Padmavati’ invented.
The question is: when will the reasonable majority of Indians look through this old, cynical game of the BJP and its hydra-headed clan? When will the Indians say that enough is enough and insist that they will not allow the extremist fringe to speak for and dictate a great democracy like India?
It is time that the Indians asserted themselves and confronted the BJP and its fellow travellers over the dangerous games they have been playing to divide and destroy the country in the name of religion, nationalism and other emotive issues.
Unfortunately, many Indians have tolerated or even played along with the BJP’s game of ‘divide and rule’ and the witch hunt of minorities in the belief that it does not concern or affect them. Some of them even feel secretly valorised with the Hindutva’s talk of restoring ‘Hindu pride’ and avenging the ‘atrocities’ of 1.000-year-old Muslim rule. But beware the price of riding a tiger.
In the end, hate not only destroys itself, it also destroys everyone in its path. Remember how fascism destroyed a great country like Germany and a civilisation like Europe even though the Jews were its intended targets.
So if you still think that only Muslims and other minorities are the target of Hindutva rage, you need to think again. The hysteria unleashed against a harmless historical film like ‘Padmavati’, with various BJP governments vying to ban it and top BJP ministers and lawmakers announcing a bounty over Deepika Padukone’s head, is a case in point.
When you have government ministers and elected representatives threatening the country’s leading movie stars with death and damnation, there’s something wrong with that society, don’t you think?
Instead of the much-promised ‘ache din’, the BJP has brought nothing but shame and infamy to a country that was once admired for its vibrant democracy and religious and cultural diversity.
When will a reasonable majority of Indians realise that the greatest threat to India and Indian society, especially Hindu society, is not from outside but from within – from the Hindutva fascism? When will the silent majority call Hindutva’s bluff? It must speak up before it’s too late.
The writer is an award-winning journalist.
Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

Aijaz Zaka Syed, "Padmavati and imagined angst," The News. 2017-11-24.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Politics-India , Indian society , General elections , Democracy , Violence , Minorities , Terrorising , PM Modi , Amit Shah , Gujrat , India , BJP , GST , ABVP