The Power of Absurdity

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Karni Sena and the nature of the agitating beast

ON MIDNIGHT OF August 15th, 1947, while giving his ‘Tryst With Destiny’ speech, Jawharalal Nehru also had these words to say: ‘The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning- point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.’ It is a dissonant idea from a man who fashioned himself as an amateur historian—that history would be shaped by breaking off from it. India is, however, timelessly stoic in its essence and men greater than Nehru have failed at taming its habits, as recent events over the movie Padmaavat once again bear out.

‘History begins anew for us’ could just as well be the slogan of the Karni Sena which ignited the protests. Beyond its absurdities and ambitions is one single idea: that the past is whatever collective emotion says must be the past and the way to test its veracity is the success of enforcing it. It is a complete circle of truth: A is A because only A will be allowed to be A. Questioning of this sequence can only happen through force and if that is the term of enquiry, then who in his right mind will stake his security over an issue in which only Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s profits are involved? Does anyone really care if or when or how Padmavati lived, danced and died to make it worth the fight?

Especially when the state has surrendered. On January 24th, VK Singh, a former Army chief and now a minister at the Centre was quoted defending the protests: “Whenever we say something about history we must cross check it. Freedom of expression doesn’t give us any right to tamper the history. We should pacify and resolve the situation by talking to the people, who are protesting against the film. They should be asked about their concerns and objections in the film. Whenever there are clashes of interest, things will certainly be messed up.” And he is saying this a day after a bus of school children was attacked by protestors, with images of them cowering in fear telecast across the country.

Also, all that Singh says is wrong. Freedom of expression gives the right to tamper with history; that is why it is a freedom. It is not Bhansali who is claiming to represent history, but the Karni Sena, and so they are the ones who need to cross check. What can you ask them of their concerns when they themselves don’t know it? Whenever there are clashes of interest, the law is the arbiter and the Government the enforcer of that arbitration, and any government that is okay with ‘things being messed up’ is only announcing its cowardice.

What history does tell us is that governments which try to appease the lowest common exploited emotion of the masses often end up being consumed by it. Padmaavat will come and go, the Karni Sena and its copycats, more swollen with their meaning reaffirmed, will need something else. It is an unquenchable thirst to slake.