On history’s door, opportunism knocks more than once. Queens are in the news, whether it be Padmavati or Rani Lakshmibai. In a country where the Privy Purse that gave tax-free money to royals was abolished, it is perplexing to see such kerfuffle over protecting the legacy of Indian royalty in the name of caste. The Karni Sena, which had neither seen the script of Padmaavat nor the film went ballistic in the name of Rajput pride—it only helped Sanjay Leela Bhansali by catapulting the film into the `200-crore club.
Now, a Brahmin unit is opposing the making of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi for allegedly showing Rani Lakshmibai romancing an Englishman. Caste politics is back with a vengeance. Though the makers of Manikarnika deny any such affair in the film, the Sarva Brahman Mahasabha, a Brahmin caste group could be the next follow-up to the Karni Sena. Ironically, both outfits operate in Rajasthan, which is ruled by a women chief minister who is erstwhile royalty, but that is neither here nor there.
Undoubtedly we are touchy about our heroes and heroines—ironically, the non-filmi ones who are portrayed by the filmi ones. And these usually involve Indian royalty, though movies such as The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Mangal Pandey: The Rising have bust the box offices. Everyone loves a hero. But until the Congress party came along to lead the Independence struggle against the British, the main opponents of the Raj and the Islamic invaders who established dynasties were Indian rulers whose kingdoms were at risk of being taken over by the invaders, or had already been, such as Jhansi.
The deeply inbred feudalism in Indian society then (which is alive and well even today), combined with a social hierarchy that empowered the upper castes with land, money and military might was the basis of Indian royal governance. Our kings hardly represented the ordinary Indian, but only the pride of his House. So, it is surprising that there are few films or best-sellers describing the cruelty of Indian royalty of all castes and creeds. While Ashoka was a brutal fratricidal tyrant who delighted in the most horrific tortures and unleashed a war in which thousands were massacred, the preferred portrayal is of a wise, benevolent, repentant emperor
who preached non-violence. In textbooks, Akbar is shown as a secularist who abolished religious tax, gave Hindus high positions in court and was moral and just, while in fact he was as brutal, sadistic and fanatical as other Muslim rulers. He committed pogroms, destroyed temples, was exceedingly licentious and reportedly forced Hindus to wear identifying patches like the Jews were forced by Nazis to wear yellow stars.
History is not always written by the victor, it is also written by the survivor. India survived centuries of Islamic barbarism and European sadism, ultimately triumphing over British colonialism through political action and satyagraha. None of the Indian kings, except Shivaji, ever won a war against conquerors: like Lakshmibai, they either bravely succumbed on the battlefield or became vassals.
Now they run luxury hotels. Our real heroes are not royalty, but the people of India who overcame age-old caste and feudal laws to unite as a mass movement against the British Empire. They are now the flag bearers of democracy who exercise their constitutional right to vote in their rulers. That privilege should not be allowed to be hijacked by caste groups which misuse democracy in the name of history.