Karni Sena (Shri Rajput)
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A non-political, social organisation is how the Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS) identifies itself; a claim which fails to match its unlawful behaviour over a film. The 2006 organisation boasting of 9.63 lakh registered members, mostly under 40, in Rajasthan, has witnessed growing numbers and influence. Its presence has spread to 12 states with state presidents in Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Telangana and TN. In Rajasthan its office bearers cover all 33 districts.
Named after Karni Mata of Deshnoke town, the organisation’s members consider themselves foot soldiers of SRKS and Lokendra Singh Kalvi their chief. Its members are mostly unemployed youth and under graduates grappling with identity crisis.
Discrimination against Rajputs and the need for reservation led to the birth of SRKS, said Kalvi. The said discrimination dates back to 2006 when a gangster Anandpal murdered two of his Jat rivals in Nagaur district. Anandpal belonged to the Ravana Rajput community, which was then shunned by Rajputs, and hence they (Rajputs) had maintained a distance from him. “Despite this, Rajputs were deliberately targeted by police and the government because of the pressure from Jats. We needed to come together to fight back,” said Kalvi.
But after Anandpal was shot dead in an encounter in June this year, SRKS took up the cause of the ganster’s family demanding a CBI inquiry into the encounter. This won them the support of the Ravana Rajput community. SRKS has an 11-point agenda, the primary one being discrimination against a Rajput leader. A close second is distortion of “historical facts” and at the bottom of the list is reservation in education and government jobs. Recorded history does not concern them as much as folklore through the ages.
The agenda includes social responsibilities like widow rehabilitation and girl education. Yet, there is neither a women’s wing nor a woman decisionmaker, reflecting the patriarchal mindset of the community. The Padmavati controversy may well be the first time that direct or indirect support has been forthcoming for SRKS from R- S- S, VHP, Bajrang Dal, exroyals and political parties, bolstering Kalvi’s profile. This time, however, a majority of former royals have thrown their weight behind the cause.
Kalvi insists that there is more to SRKS than film protests. “Did we come into existence just for ‘Padmavati’? Have we existed for 11 years just to protest the film? Nevertheless this (distortion of history) cannot be allowed,” said Kalvi.
The rise & rise of the Karni Sena
Seen primarily as the coming together of a bunch of unemployed Rajput youths at its inception in 2006, Karni Sena has emerged as the community’s face in Rajasthan today. But the organisation has splintered. Among them the most prominent are Shree Rajput Karni Sena, with its patron Lokendra Singh Kalvi; Shree Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena Samiti, led by Ajeet Singh Mamdoli; and Shree Raastriya Rajput Karni Sena, led by its president Sukhdev Singh Gogamedi. These outfits have led various protests on issues involving Rajputs. Of late, they are at the forefront of the agitation against ‘Padmaavat.’ The outfits, with college students from Shekhawati as their core followers, have presented a united face but there are major differences among them due to the vaulting political ambitions of their leaders. In trying to upstage the other, all of them are trying to draw youngsters into their fold to strengthen their base.
“Kalvi was associated with Congress in 2008. Mamdoli wanted Kalvi to get him a Congress ticket and this is how they separated,” said Narayan Singh Divrala, a district president of Shree Rajput Karni Sena, which claims to have over two lakh members.
In January 2017, Karni Sena sprang into national consciousness when some Shree Rajput Karni Sena members assaulted film-maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali during the shooting of ‘Padmaavat’.
The same year, when a gangster, Anandpal Singh, was shot by Rajasthan police, Karni Sena held a ‘Shradhanjali Sabha’. Singh’s encounter became a rallying point for Rajput outfits. He had become a cult figure among many Rajput and Ravana Rajput youths who saw him as a defender of Rajputs against the “rival” Jat community. The gathering ended on a violent note as railway tracks were uprooted, public property damaged and a person allegedly killed in police firing. “At least 14 Rajput leaders are named in the CBI FIR,” said a senior CBI officer.
Karni Sena first made news in 2006, when Kalvi started protesting against Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Jodha Akbar’ for “distorting history”. The film could not be released in Rajasthan. They hit the headlines again in 2013 with threats to disrupt Congress’s ‘Chintan Shivir’ in Jaipur over their demand for quota. Despite the negative publicity, they have continued the stir against ‘Padmaavat’. Now, Bhansali has asked them to watch the film. “We have agreed... provided he allows six historians nominated by us to watch it first,” Kalvi said.