A woman hugs a child crouched on the floor of the GD Goenka World School bus, as a mob protesting against the film Padmaavat threw stones at their bus in Gurugram on Wednesday.
A woman hugs a child crouched on the floor of the GD Goenka World School bus, as a mob protesting against the film 'Padmaavat' threw stones at their bus in Gurugram on Wednesday.| PTI Photo / Video grab
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In the past, I have never felt the need for the Prime Minister to speak up and speak out against the fringe. Now I do.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s eponymous official handle was tweeting inspirational tweets about the children whose courageous deeds have been acknowledged with the annual National Bravery Awards. On Republic Day, these children, barring those who tragically perished while trying to save others, will participate in the grand parade celebrating the republican ideals of democratic India.

It would be safe to presume the tweets were being put out from either the Prime Minister’s Office in South Block, or his residence at Lok Kalyan Marg, earlier known as Race Course Road.

Around the same time, not too far from Lutyens’s Delhi, in tony Gurugram of BJP-ruled Haryana, goons claiming to represent ‘Rajput Pride’ were burning down a bus on Sohna Road. The people travelling in that bus escaped a horrific death by the proverbial skin of their teeth.

High on pride and low on human values, the murderous mob, which was ostensibly protesting the scheduled release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmaavat, next attacked a school bus ferrying children home. The children cowered and cried in fear as the bus was pelted with stones. A short cellphone video, possibly shot by a teacher in the bus, records the trauma and horror of the children. It has forced the police, which first denied the attack, to shamefacedly retract the denial. The driver was smart enough to hit the accelerator and escape the mob outraged by, among other inconsequential and irrelevant things, a 14th century queen shown dancing the Ghoomar.

The imagined grievances of the easily offended, in this case the so-called Karni Sena which claims to represent India’s Rajput and Kshatriya community, do not merit either recount or elaboration. Nor should manufactured victimhood, cited in defence of violence by rioting mobs, distract us from the larger issue: in this case, the Indian state abjectly failing in its primary duty of protecting lives and property, and ensuring the safety and security of its citizens from thugs and lumpen political activists.

This story is no longer about making films, authoring books, writing articles or saying things that run the risk of running into controversies. This story is not about Bhansali’s film, whether it accurately portrays Rajputana history, the hotly debated role of the CBFC, or the Supreme Court’s verdict striking down orders issued by governments of BJP-ruled states prohibiting the screening of a film that began as Padmavati and ended up as Padmaavat.

This story is about violent identity politics, the failure of well-meaning politicians to stand up to thuggery, the non-response of state governments to a serious and debilitating threat to law and order, the paralysis of those who can use moral power as a restraining force but won’t lest they discover the fringe is now the centre and will spurn their voice of reason, and above all the deafening silence of a Prime Minister who never forgets to mention, not once or twice but several times in his public statements, that his only concern, his only interest, is to look after the wellbeing of 125 crore Indians.

Wednesday’s events are not isolated incidents; they are part of a sequenced response. Goons stormed a school in Madhya Pradesh and stopped children from performing the Ghoomar dance. Karni Sena leaders issued dire threats from public platforms to Bhansali, and the actors who feature in his film. The threats ranged from noses being chopped off to heads being sliced off, and bounties being announced for targeted killings. In Gujarat, malls were ransacked, vehicles set ablaze and an ambulance attacked. Rajasthan has witnessed widespread arson. Chittor Fort has been shut to visitors by those who do not have the authority to do so. The list is long.

“Do not fan the fire in our hearts. The fire of jauhar will burn everything. The nation will burn”, says Lokendra Singh Kalvi. The Mewar royal family softly fans the flames. The BJP maintains a stony silence. The Chief Ministers of Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat do not call out the Karni Sena’s thuggery. The Uttar Pradesh administration shuts down schools. Spokespersons and propagandists point an accusing finger at the Congress—it’s a conspiracy with a political motive.

If so, why doesn’t the BJP, with the resources of a party in power in these states, expose the conspirators? Why were the Karni Sena instigators not arrested, and their foot soldiers put behind bars? Does a conspiracy against the BJP mean the party should abandon accountability? Or is the paralysis that afflicts both the party and its state governments explained by the fact that it is fearful of alienating a community and thus foregoing its votes? Which raises the question: does the Karni Sena represent all Rajputs?

While striking down the BJP-ruled state governments’ order prohibiting the screening of Padmaavat, the Supreme Court had emphatically said that “a spectre of fear cannot be allowed to prevail under the Constitution”. The Chief Justice had added: “When the right to freedom of speech and expression, which is inseparable from making a film or enacting street theatre, is guillotined, my constitutional concern gets aroused. Artistic and creative expressions have to be protected”.

We can deal with the Chief Justice’s concern later and separately, as it should be, in view of the looming shadow over free speech in India. Right now what should bother us is that a ‘spectre of fear’ is being allowed to ‘prevail under the Constitution’. The 10 ASEAN leaders who are in Delhi to attend the Republic Day parade are witness to that fear. The world leaders, investors and economists that the Prime Minister charmed with his speech at Davos would be wondering whether a lawless India is truly open for business, and safe for investments.

In the past, I have never felt the need for the Prime Minister to speak up and speak out against the fringe. Now I do because, as I have mentioned, the fringe has now moved to the centre. As a citizen and as someone who believes PM Narendra Modi is India’s best bet if we are to succeed as a nation, I feel this was his moment to speak to his 125 crore Indians.

The Prime Minister should have spoken on Wednesday, if only to reassure the children in the school bus and millions of other children, and their parents, that they are safe and he shall not allow any harm to come their way. Sadly he chose silence. In that silence lies the unfortunate message that the ‘spectre of fear … under the Constitution’ does not bother a leader who repeatedly asserts that India has only one book and that is “Bharat ka Samvidhan” — the Constitution of India.

Kanchan Gupta is a political commentator and Commissioning Editor, ABP News. You can follow him on twitter @KanchanGupta.

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7 Comments Share Your Views

7 COMMENTS

  1. Well written KG. People on the fringes being allowed a free reign by those in power for fear that the fringe today will become the centre tomorrow. That seems to be a recurrent theme in today’s world.

  2. Hi, a very thoughtful and introspective write up. We need to speak up as do our leaders against such strong actions by a few who do such damage to the nation and its resources for personal and at bed gains for a few on cast or sectarian basis. kudos Kanchan , we need such write-ups to help transform the nation and its people.

  3. I have never bought the facile argument that law and order is a subject assigned to the states under the Constitution. The physical safety of Indian citizens – also foreign citizens who are visiting – is the foremost sacred duty of the central government. The fact that these troubles are erupting in several physically contiguous states ruled by the same party adds greatly to the moral responsibility. One does not know how many Rajput votes there are in various north Indian states and how accurately the Karni Sena reflects the views of the community, but inaction carries a much larger political / electoral cost. All Indians are watching these scenes play out on their TV screens, wondering whether the promise of good governance and economic development holds true at all. The damage being done to India’s image internationally, as an investment destination, a good place to visit and as a valued member of the international community is also incalculable.

  4. Its the people like the author and others because of whom Modi rose to popularity in the twitter world.

    People like :- Kanchan Gupta , Tavleen Singh, Madhu Kishwar and others who risked it , not for personal gains , but in the hope that Modi will bring su-sashan, will change India for good, are all deeply disappointed . For BJP and Modi, they are a liability now , best ignored.

    Modi has good qualities, he doesn’t obstruct others from speaking ..he is personally honest , but then a lot of his perceived qualities (from Gujarat days) are unproven.

    Anyday better than Congress, but then India didn’t just vote for a lesser evil. India voted in hope of drastic changes .. but Modi by his slow incremental reforms, and will not touch a bee approach .. has wasted precious time. 4 yrs gone .. and the tinkering samaj sudharak approach, even with all the might and resources of the backing state ..has failed any significant change in the quality of life of the common man.

    Things which matter : Smart cities(basic water / electricity/manageable traffic/transport) is still a dream; Ganga cleaning has not started, Raw deal to tax-payers while govt spending/salaries increasing , lack of law and order enforcement .. not much has changed.

    Modi, as some have mentioned is a good events manager (vibrant gujarat, saarc, asean, african leaders meet etc etc). Good PR manager .. samaj sudharak .. but he has not much clue about governance or what it takes to bring real reforms for India to become a developed nation.

    Even his speeches are blabbering and monotonous repetition of a few buzz words:- Creativity, 125 crore, Vishwa guru, Skill development, 21 century, youth power , demographic dividend and so on ..boring.. shallow words and mean nothing ..

  5. Have you considered the possibility that failure of BJP governments to control the mobs is because they Agree with the mobs? That, forget the fringe being the mainstream. But that your mainstream thinks exactly like the fringe? When you concluded Modi was the best bet, you ought to have asked, “best bet” for WHO? Truth is a slow cook, takes time. Take your time. The worst has already happened

  6. Classic case of i didnt speak when others were attacked. Then when i was the “others” being attacked, no one was left to speak for me.

    The PM still follows the people who celebrated the death of Gauri Lankesh on a net app for the whole world to see.

    Why are you any different?

  7. Kudos to Kanchan Gupta. It’s now almost 30 years last time I saw a film. I have neither seen nor intend to see Padmavati. On the issue I had written my views 8under this very column and castigated the film maker and director. But now after the film has been cleared by the Censor Board and do also Supreme Court any violence on it is simply a crime and should be viewed as such. We must learn to respect the constitutional bodies.
    Proper way to protest now is do not go to see the film, persuade people not to go to see the film (Gandhi ji’s path) and not the violence. Please!!!

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