Jaipur: The snowballing row over Bollywood film Padmavati appears to have pitched Rajasthan's ruling BJP and the opposition Congress on the same side. While the protests have turned violent and threats of shutting tourists out of Chittor fort have been made, which can hurt the state's flourishing tourism, the government is yet to crack down on the protesters. And the Congress has been largely silent.
The allegations levelled at the film - that it has invented a romantic angle between the legendary 13th Century Queen and Allauddin Khilji, the all-powerful Delhi Sultan - has found resonance among the politically crucial Rajput community.
The story of Padmini has permeated into Rajput consciousness through centuries of oral tradition and folklore. The young Queen's beauty drawing the obsessed Sultan to Rajasthan, a war to defend her honour, her final act of defiance - Jauhar, a mass self-immolation along with palace women -- and the subsequent sacking of Chittor, has acquired a strong hold over popular imagination.
The movie -- which has Deepika Padukone, Ranvir Singh, Shahid Kapoor in the leading roles -- had been beset by trouble since the shooting started. Its sets have been vandalised twice -- in Jaipur and Kolhapur. The director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who repeatedly denied the allegations, was roughed up by the group members during shooting in Jaipur. Yesterday, protesters went on rampage at a cinema hall in Rajasthan's Kota that was screening the movie's trailer.
Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is yet to speak on the issue. But some of her own legislators, like former royal Diya Kumari, and Union minister Uma Bharti have come out openly against the film.
Leading the charge against the film is Karni Sena - a group that commands a wide influence on the Rajput votebank, and through it, of some other communities as well.
The group, which initially demanded a preview to vet the film before its release, has called for an outright ban. Its call has found significant support. Across Rajasthan, Gujarat and Delhi, hundreds have turned up at the protests held against the film.
Riding the wave of popular indignation, the Karni Sena has now practically challenged the government. Unless their demands are met by November 17, tourists would not be allowed to enter the historic Chittorgarh Fort, the group has declared.
Rajasthan draws a huge section of its revenue from tourism. At a press conference today in Jaipur, the group's convenor Lokendra Singh Kalvi, said, "Jauhar ki jawala hai, bahut kuch jalega , rok sako to rok lo (this is the fire of Padmini's Jauhar, much will be burnt, stop us if you can)."
But the Rajasthan government appears unable to keep these fringe elements in check. "Padmini is not just about the honour of one section of society but about the honour of the whole state of Rajasthan... but I plead with these people -- please don't take law into your hands," Home minister Gulab Chand Katariya has said.
The Congress has criticised the BJP over the inaction. But the party also reflected a sense of the quandary. "It is not just about Rajput votes," said Pratap Singh Kachariyawas, the spokesperson of the Rajasthan Congress. "The history of Rajputs is the history of India".