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Vande Mataram:MUCH ADO ABOUT NATIONAL SONG, by Poonam I Kaushish, 2 September 2006 Print E-mail


NEW DELHI, 2 September 2006

Vande Mataram


By Poonam I Kaushish

 Much ado about nothing! That is the sum total of the great big hungama over Vande Mataram. The beautiful and melodious national song has turned behsura, in the hands of our political drumbeaters!

Each political party is singing a different tune of Vande Mataram to suit its petty parochial ends, read vote-bank politics. It all started with an innocuous order by the Human Resource Ministry to all the State Governments, making singing of Vande Mataram compulsory in all schools on 7 September to mark completion of the centenary celebrations commemorating adoption of the national song. Little realizing that it would have the Muslims up in arms and lead to a cacophony of discordant political notes.

Muslim clerics in UP opposed the order on the ground that singing of Vande Mataram was anti-Islamic and amounted to worshipping the motherland. This went against the concept of tawheed (oneness of God), according to which a Muslim cannot supplicate to anyone except Allah. Expectedly, HRD Minister Arjun Singh hurriedly retracted the order, making the song's recitation voluntary. First at a madrassa in Uttar Pradesh and then in the Lok Sabha. Notwithstanding the fact that Vande Mataram is compulsorily played at the end of every session of Parliament.

Predictably, this was musical manna for the BJP to launch a national tirade against the ‘political infidels’ for their flip-flop on Vande Mataram. Raising its old, tired slogan: "Is desh mein rahna hai to Vande Mataram ganna hoga,” it asserted the recitation of the national song was a matter of regard for the motherland and the duty of all citizens. Adding, those who did not conform to this ideology could seek refuge in countries where Vande Mataram was not a national song. More. It ordered the State Governments to ensure that students in all schools sang Vande Mataram on 7 September. Forgetting that in 1998, the NDA like the UPA, too had withdrawn a similar circular by the then UP Government making the recitation of Vande Mataram compulsory.

Soon the double-speak in the Sangh Parivar came to the fore. The Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi was the first to tow the HRD line: voluntary recitation. The BJP spokesman dittoed the same. "It is not a question of mandatory or compulsory. It is a question of respect for the national song, a national symbol.” Countered the RSS Sanghsarchalak Sudershan: “One who does not consider mother India one's own mother cannot be a citizen of India.” But mum was the word when it came to spelling out the action a Government could take against non-compliance of its directives on the national song.

All this came as a boon to the beleaguered Samajwadi Party’s Mian Mulayam, who was thrilled. With UP set for the Assembly polls in March next year, he promptly used Vande Mataram too serenade his Muslim vote-bank by simply humming their tune. For the Left, it was a toss between crooning minority- appeasement one day and rooting for Vande Mataram’s Bengali author Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the next day. The southern allies of the UPA could not, however, understand the musical chairs being played over a song.

Strangely, the Congress, which made Vande Mataram India’s national song was non-committal in the entire controversy generated by one of its senior leaders. In fact, there are many red faces at the Party headquarters in New Delhi following its State Government in Assam making the singing of Vande Mataram compulsory in schools. In this context, it is pertinent to understand how and why Vande Mataram came to be recognized as a national song. Set in 19th Century India, Vande Mataram was written in 1875 and published for the first time in Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s novel, Anandamatha in 1882.

Anandamatha is the story of a Bengal ravaged by the famine of 1770, then under de facto rule of the East India Company, which had reduced the nawab to a puppet after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The famine was caused when the East India Company forced the farmers to cultivate neel (cloth whitener) instead of foodgrains as it was a big export earner for the Company. The cultivation of neel also made the fields uncultivable for the next crop, precipitating matters and triggering an  anti-gora (British) peasant revolt.

From the fields to the streets, Vande Mataram soon became the popular battle cry for freedom from the British Raj. Large rallies all over the country worked themselves to a feverish pitch by shouting Vande Mataram. Many were jailed and the song was banned. But it failed to stop the patriotic fervour. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore sang it in 1896 at the Calcutta Congress Session and Lala Lajpat Rai started a journal called Vande Mataram from Lahore.

The Congress formally adopted it as a national song through a resolution at its Varanasi Session on September 7, 1905. Thereafter, it became the opening note for all the Congress meetings and sessions. Its powerful patriotic lines stirred the whole nation. Neta Subhash Chandra Bose made it the Indian National Army's principal song and his Singapore-based radio station regularly broadcast it.

In October 1937, some Muslim leaders objected to Vande Mataram on the ground that it contained verses that were in direct conflict with the beliefs of Islam. True, the first two stanzas of the hymn eulogise Mother India and its beautiful natural bounties with “hurrying streams, gleaming orchards…..” But the fourth stanza of the song, for instance, addressed Mother India as, "Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned…." It was argued that by singing this, a Muslim was forced to equate his country with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Lakshmi. This went against the concept of Islam according to which a Muslim could not supplicate to anyone except Allah.

Nehru understood his Muslims brethrens’ religious predicament and soon worked out a compromise formula through some fine balancing. Even as he underscored the hymn’s national importance in the freedom struggle. The Congress Working Committee met in Kolkata in 1937 under Nehru’s presidentship and adopted a resolution, whereby only the first two stanzas of Vande Mataram would be sung. Moreover, freedom was given to the organisers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character, in addition to, or in the place of, Vande Mataram.

Interesingly, while Vande Mataram was treated as India’s national anthem for long, Jana Gana Mana was chosen as the national anthem of free India following Independence. The song was rejected on the ground that Muslims felt offended by its depiction of the nation as "Ma Durga"—a Hindu goddess— thus equating the nation with the Hindu conception of Shakti, divine feminine dynamic force. What is more, objection was taken to its origin as part of Anandamatha, viewed as a novel with an anti-Muslim message.

But 2006 is not 1937. And Arjun Singh is no Nehru. Nor is today’s Congress the Grand Old Dame of Indian politics and of patriotic freedom fighters. The tragedy of it all is that our polity has trivialized and trashed a national song, which instilled pride in Mother India, ignited patriotism, galvanised Indians to gang up against the British Raj and throw the firangis out and won India its freedom. It has also ignored the decision of the Constituent Assembly on 24 January 1950 that Vande Mataram would enjoy “equal status” with Jana Gana Mana. All to appease the minority community, garner their votes to keep their kursi intact. Never mind the nation and its sacred national symbols!  ----- INFA

(Copyright India News and Feature Alliance)






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