Padmavati: Time for silent majority to speak


Let us get this straight. All this mayhem over ‘Padmavati’ roiling India is not really about the imagined romantic encounter between a Hindu queen and a Muslim emperor, as 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 such romantic interest ever existed or evolved. Indeed, as my friend Amaresh Misra and other distinguished historians insist, there is no evidence to suggest Padmavati even existed! Legendarily beautiful as she was, she existed in the imagination of Avadhi poet Jayasi.

Clearly, the notion of unrequited love between a Rajput princess and the reigning Muslim emperor of Hindustan was too good as a story to resist for the 16th century poet. 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 fictional figure from a past that is almost as imaginative as much of Hindutva’s angst over history.

Truth be told, the right-wing’s issue is not with the glorification of a Hindu-Muslim love affair — or ‘love jihad’, as it chooses to call it — and ‘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 Muslim rule over India and the rich syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture it represents, it must avenge it by beating the hell out of a wretched minority that remains its last symbol.

It is 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 or the Taj Mahal, Babri Masjid or Tipu Sultan or any other imagined slights, history is but a big stick in the hands of the Parivar to beat the ‘enemy’ with and keep its own flock together, not to mention reaping the windfall these shenanigans deliver, come polling day.

To be fair to the BJP, it has never really kept its Hindutva agenda a secret. By choosing Modi as its leader, 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 he plays the role of a global statesman, hugging world leaders and pontificating about fighting terror and promoting yoga, the foot soldiers have been enforcing the Parivar’s agenda on the ground.

This again has been happening at two levels: While the RSS ideologues have taken control of the republic and all levers of power, universities, research bodies, media, security agencies and think tanks, the thugs of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, ABVP and numerous other outfits have been using their muscle power to police public spaces.

From terrorizing Muslims in the name of ‘love jihad’, cow and other disingenuous absurdities, depriving them of their livelihoods 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 delude themselves that all this does not enjoy the sanction and blessings of the highest level of the party and government, well, they live in a fool’s paradise. Modi is not Manmohan Singh or even Vajpayee, the charismatic, avuncular first BJP prime minister who depended on the support of secular allies. Nothing moves in the BJP or the government that enjoys brute majority in Parliament without the nod of the boss.

This low-gear Hindutva campaign against voiceless minorities may have once been a way of keeping the rank and file happy and 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 what with the deepening public fury and frustration over the catastrophic effects of demonetization and the disastrous tax reform (GST).

Under the circumstances, the only way out is the time-tested mantra of communal polarization and demonization of you know who. It has always worked, helping the BJP grow from a two-member party in parliament to its current position of invincibility.

As the 2019 Elections loom, there is a desperate feeding frenzy in the Parivar with old issues like Ayodhya — this Dec. 6, it would be 25 years since the demolition of Babri Masjid by the way — being 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 enough is enough and that we will not allow the extremists to speak for and dictate to a great democracy like India?

It is high time the Indians asserted themselves and confronted the BJP and its fellow travelers 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 the BJP’s game of divide-and-rule and witch-hunt of minorities in the belief that it does not concern or affect them. Some of them even feel secretly lionized with the talk of restoring ‘Hindu pride’ and avenging the ‘atrocities’ of 1000-year-old Muslim rule. But beware the price of riding a tiger. In the end, hate not just destroys itself, it destroys everyone in its path.

Remember how fascism destroyed a powerful country like Germany and a civilization like Europe although the Jews were its intended targets.

So if you still think that only the Muslims and other minorities need to worry about the Hindutva rage, you need to think again. The hysteria unleashed against a harmless historical like ‘Padmavati’ with various BJP governments vying with each other to ban it and senior ministers and lawmakers announcing bounty over Deepika Padukone’s head is a case in point.

When you have government ministers and elected representatives threatening the country’s biggest movie stars with death and damnation, there is something seriously wrong with that society, don’t you think?

Instead of the much promised ‘ache din’ (good times) the BJP has brought nothing but shame and infamy to the country, once admired for its vibrant democracy and diversity.

When will the reasonable majority realize that the greatest threat to India and Indian society, especially Hindu society, is not from without but from within — from communalism and fascism? When will the silent majority call Hindutva’s bluff? It must speak up — before it’s too late.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: