THE LAST TWEET from the ‘official Twitter account’ of Hardik Patel, the man who has been helming the Patel reservation agitation in Gujarat, was on 31 July and it said: ‘Is @manoharparrikar job to protect India from external aggressors or threaten fellow countrymen like actor @aamir_khan?’ This was soon after Parrikar had in a public address said that people like Aamir—who’d spoken of a climate of intolerance in India last year—should be taught a lesson. The mystery of why Patel stopped tweeting thereafter we will not know, but that he is not the kind of person to hold a candle for free speech shouldn’t have been difficult to deduce even then.
And now, in the sort of irony which surprises no one in what passes for politics in India, Patel has done exactly what he accused Parrikar of and threatened the filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali over a subject that has nothing to do with him and, in addition, he is clueless about. Bhansali is currently making Padmavati, a historical drama based on the poem Padmavat by the 16th century poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. It speaks of a queen whose beauty makes the Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji invade the Rajput kingdom of Chittor.
Bhansali is going to shoot in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Hardik Patel says he won’t be allowed to unless he allays the concerns of the Rajput community that there will be no historical distortion. Why should Rajputs come into Patel’s field of interest at all? Because he is in exile in Rajasthan at present as part of his bail conditions and claims to have been approached by Rajput leaders. Review the situation—Rajputs have no idea whether history has been distorted by Bhansali, and Patel will stop Bhansali shooting the movie based on their faint feelings of apprehension. The queen Padmavati, who is at the ostensible centre of all this, incidentally is neither Rajput nor a Patel by birth but a Sri Lankan.
The only reason such a farce is not laughed off is because Patel does have the ability to fulfil his threat, the reward that accrues to anyone who can mobilise a crowd. What is being asked of Bhansali is the impossible. Padmavat was composed two centuries after the Khilji’s Chittor invasion and Malik Muhammad Jayasi himself saw it as an allegory. According to the 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India on The Indian Empire, ‘In the final verses of his work, the poet explains that it is all an allegory. By Chitor he means the body of man… by Padmavati wisdom, by Alau-’d-’din, delusion, and so on’. What is Bhansali to be true to—how does he now make history out of an allegory?
Patel’s threat is in keeping with a long tradition of caste and community leaders. The most famous example is Bal Thackeray who kept menacing an entire city according to his whim. Patel has so far been a one-trick reservation pony and how far does that get someone? The permanent currency for an Indian politician is nuisance value.