If you think all of Kangana Ranaut’s recent tirades are a good launch pad for a successful political career, think again. The Bollywood actor may have played the role of Rani of Jhansi in Manikarnika with a sharp nationalist ferocity, but she forgot one key lesson from the movie – you have to have a Jhalkari Bai by your side if you want to win any battle. But upper caste Kangana Ranaut committed what is widely regarded as a cardinal sin in Indian politics. She spoke against the constitutionally guaranteed policy of reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs. Even RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had to take back his statement on the need for a review of reservation policy.
Had Kangana grasped the essence of her movie Manikarnika, she would have acted differently in her real life.
At this crucial juncture, when a part of her office has been demolished by the Uddhav Thackeray government, and Mumbai police is set to probe her alleged drug links, she needs not only widespread political support but also the support of a large Bahujan majority on the ground. It may appear as if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fully backing her now – giving her Y-plus security cover, deploying Sambit Patra to her defence, and have Devendra Fadnavis target the Shiv Sena government over the demolition issue – but her anti-reservation utterances will be the biggest roadblock for a political career.
Kangana might be happy seeing the hashtags in her support trending on social media, but at the end of the day, her office stands broken. The only seemingly significant support she got were from Union minister and Republican Party of India (RPI) leader Ramdas Athawale and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) MP Chirag Paswan.
Kangana must only rewatch Manikarnika to know where she went wrong. Especially the five-minute role of one of the commanders of the army of Jhansi, Jhalkari Bai, played by Ankita Lokhande. Incidentally, Kangana has named her Bandra Pali Hill office ‘Manikarnika’.
Who was Jhalkari Bai
Manikarnika, popularly known as the Rani of Jhansi, did not fight her last battle inside Jhansi fort. To save her adopted son Damodar Rao, who was also the heir to the throne of Jhansi, she had to abandon the fort. In the battle of Jhansi, one of the most celebrated of the colonial period, the Jhansi army was led by Jhalkari Bai Kori, her husband Puran Kori, and Gaus Khan.
The Uttar Pradesh government describes Jhalkari Bai and Gaus Khan on its website as the leaders of the battle of Jhansi. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had issued a postage stamp to celebrate the valour of Jhalkari Bai. The citation goes on to narrate her loyalty, courage and fighting prowess. NCERT’s Hindi textbook for Class 6 has an entire chapter depicting the bravery of Jhalkari Bai. In 2017, President Ram Nath Kovind, who belongs to the same Dalit Kori caste, unveiled her statue in Bhopal.
राष्ट्रपति श्री रामनाथ कोविंद ने भोपाल में रानी लक्ष्मी बाई की सहयोगी झलकारी बाई की प्रतिमा का अनावरण किया। इस अवसर पर राज्यपाल श्री ओम प्रकाश कोहली एवं मुख्यमंत्री @ChouhanShivraj एवं अन्य जन प्रतिनिधि उपस्थित थे। pic.twitter.com/cxBIssyruP
— CMO Madhya Pradesh (@CMMadhyaPradesh) November 10, 2017
It tells us that Manikarnika or the Rani of Jhansi built the largest possible coalition of social and religious sections and her commanders were employed from every section of the society. That must have been a revolutionary act on the part of the Rani of Jhansi since, according to the diktats of the Hindu shastras, Dalits were not supposed to carry arms.
Kangana, Manikarnika by name
Just compare the act of Manikarnika with Kangana’s rant against the constitutional provisions of reservation, and you can easily understand why she is not getting any support from a large section of the society or, for that matter, any prominent BJP leader — except the party’s IT cell.
Her outburst against reservation was uncalled for. Reacting to a tweet on a book by Pulitzer-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, which draws parallels between India’s caste-based discrimination and racism in the US, Kangana wrote a series of tweets rejecting caste and making unsubstantiated claims about the quota system, stirring huge controversy.
Especially in professions like Doctors engineers, pilots most deserving people suffer reservations, we as a nation suffer mediocrity and brilliance finds a reluctant escape to The United States.. Shame
— Kangana Ranaut (@KanganaTeam) August 23, 2020
It is difficult to know what agitated her. It could have been the title of the book — Caste: The Origins of our Discontents — or the common upper caste angst against the quota system or just an opportunity to create another controversy and stay in media glare. The end result is that Kangana alienated herself from the SC/ST/OBCs, who constitute the majority of Indian population.
Cast system has been rejected by modern Indians, in small towns every one knows it’s not acceptable anymore by law and order its nothing more than a sadistic pleasure for few, only our constitution is holding on to it in terms of reservations, Let Go Of It, Lets Talk About It 🙏
— Kangana Ranaut (@KanganaTeam) August 23, 2020
BJP’s political distancing
Soon after her reservation rant, Kangana started firing salvos against the Shiv Sena and the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government. It was bad timing. Just before the beginning of the battle, she had lost the support of ‘Jhalkari Bai’. And then, in her typical, exaggerated style, she compared herself with Kashmiri Pandits, drawing parallels between the partial demolition of her illegal structure in Mumbai with the exodus of Pandits from the Valley, saying she “now understands” their pain. She has been called out by people on social media, including by Kashmiri Pandits.
The BJP might find her tirades against the Thackeray government, and especially against the Shiv Sena, suitable to its scheme, but it knows full well that the reservation issue can subvert all its political calculations. This makes the party wary of going the whole hog in supporting Kangana. The BJP IT cell will support her — the anonymity and vitriol makes it easier for the party to distance itself from the group’s actions — and peripheral members like Sambit Patra will utter soothing statements now and then in her defence. Even offers to join BJP, such as one from the party’s Himachal Pradesh chief to her mother Asha Ranaut, will likely go to family members or those close to her.
But no big leader of any consequence will support Kangana Ranaut, because she has created an anti-reservationist image for herself and will now be forced to do balancing acts like invoking B.R. Ambedkar here and there.
Dear respected honourable @INCIndia president Sonia Gandhi ji being a woman arn’t you anguished by the treatment I am given by your government in Maharashtra? Can you not request your Government to uphold the principles of the Constitution given to us by Dr. Ambedkar?
— Kangana Ranaut (@KanganaTeam) September 11, 2020
The BJP certainly won’t throw its full might behind her with the Bihar assembly election just a few weeks away. The party won’t easily forget how a stray statement from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on reservation had cost it the assembly election in 2015 — at least until it returned to govern the state in coalition with turncoat Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal (United) two years later.
For Kangana, the question of reservation will keep haunting her at every step of her political journey — if she chooses one. Because this Manikarnika, without the support of India’s millions of Jhalkari Bais, is just an ordinary actress.
Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.