Once upon a time in India, the fringe represented a pulchritudinous 1960s film star with beguiling eyes and Mona Lisa smile, whose haircut gave a signature style and phrase to generations; even to those who have never watched Love in Simla or Mere Mehboob or heard ‘Naina Barse’. The latest version of the fringe, which has grabbed the limelight also courtesy Hindi cinema, is represented by a failed local politician named Lokendra Singh Kalvi. Kalvi has stood for various elections from Rajasthan, and was trashed soundly always.
A six footer with a bass voice, he fits the ideal role of a mass leader by Bollywood standards. Instead he is its worst enemy; a rabble rouser who has hijacked the script and its heroine to emege as the true hero of Padmavati. He has seized his carpe diem moment with Rajput pride. He is now certain to get a ticket when the state goes to the polls and could achieve his long frustrated dream of being an MP or an MLA. Subsequently, he will bring his fringe values of threats and grandstanding to legislature. He will be a shining example for other politicians without a modern constructive agenda on how to become and be a lawmaker. Politicians who manipulate Right Wing ideology and bring discredit to the Modi model of governance and development.
The fringe always takes on someone who cannot hit back with violence. It mocks the legal system. It is dangerous since it seeks legitimacy within the democratic structure. Thus, it forces society to take sides and abandon sense and sensibility—no questions asked.So when a young fringe lord threatens to cut off an actress’s nose, no case is registered. Karni Sena men were caught in a sting op, exposing extortion, just like another fringe leader down south was caught on camera as an agitationist gun for hire. No punishment was forthcoming. Another gentleman threatened to shoot Kamal Haasan dead. The law has ignored them all. Is it cowardice or expediency? The urbane chief ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are competing with the klaxon as defenders of Padmavati, even though there is no historical proof she even existed. However, there is enough historical love jihad evidence of Rajput-Muslim royal marriages apart from Akbar and Jodha. Rao Maldeo of Jodhpur (1532-1562) married off one daughter Kankavati Bai to Sultan Mahmud III of Gujarat and her sister Lala Bai to Emperor Sher Shah Suri. Devaraya I of Vijayanagar was forced to wed his daughter to Sultan Firuz Shah who defeated him in war.
There were more such alliances. The irony is that Rajput chieftains steadfastly refused to take Muslim wives.When public opinion parades as public wisdom, legends will be treated as history, and myths will become facts. However, the arrogance of Padmavati’s makers is the fact that the movie was screened to the media even before the censor board passed it—a sort of fait accompli in the name of artistic freedom. It was perhaps done, anticipating such a violent response from the fringe and its supporters. In the process, Bhansali has got what he wanted—the tag of a progressive filmmaker who knows his audience well.
The Hindu backlash, political, academic and social, is a response to decades of appeasement politics. Moreover, the absence of a powerful Muslim intellectual leadership has hobbled the community to correct the anti-national stereotype. Hence, the fringe of both communities are the biggest beneficiaries of the knowledge gap.