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Song for the Nation : Vande Matram Controversy
08/31/2006
By Ram Puniyani

After Arjun Singh, MHRD Minister clarified that singing of the (August 2006) of Vande Matram is voluntary, on 7th September, the supposed centenary year of this song, BJP went hammer and tongs blaming Congress for this 'appeasement' of minorities. In the meanwhile a section of Muslims had protested that the song is asking for worship of deities other than Allah, and that is something, which Islam does not permit. One could see the charged BJP members shouting Vande Matram in the upper house of the parliament, led by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. Various Hindutva ideologues gave a threat that those who do not want to sing this song should leave the country. BJP is planning to sing the song on its party head offices on that day. Chattisgarh has already issued the circular to all the schools, including the madrasas to sing this song on that day, and other BJP ruled states, MP, Gujarat, and Rajasthan are on the way to issue the same. In MP the singing of Vande Matram in the offices on every Monday has been implemented.  One recalls that in the aftermath of the Mumbai riots, the Shiv Sainiks had asserted to the peace marchers that it is mandatory to sing Vande Matram.

A section of Muslim clerics including Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, have raised the objection to it saying that Islam being monotheistic does not regard any other object as god or goddess. It is likely that same may be the opinion of followers of other monotheistic religions. For that matter all Muslims have not opposed it. Also it should be clear that the later parts of the song where the mother land is compared to Hindu goddesses was not accepted as the part of national song, by the committee, which said that only first two stanzas should be accepted as national song. This is what constitutional position is, and that too it was made clear that the singing of the first two stanzas of the song is voluntary, not a compulsory one. Hinduism being polytheistic, there is a plethora of gods and goddesses, though the traditional 33 crore of them may be difficult to name, motherland has been projected to be Durga in this song. One of the reasons for the section of Muslims' opposing the singing of the song may be the fact that so far Hindu right has been presenting the full song and not just the first two stanzas which has the recognition as the national song.

It is noteworthy that all the Muslims may not hold similar opinion. Surely A. R. Rahman, the music maestro has got this song into a beautiful catchy and popular tune. Shahi Imam, who has opposed the move, has been very close to BJP and has been repeatedly wooed by this party for electoral purposes to the extent that in the last Lok Sabha elections, he went to issue the Fatwa for the Muslims to vote for BJP. There is a reasonable deal of argument not to accept to sing the full song by a section of Muslim population due to its Hindu imagery. But if the matters are clarified that the circular is only for the first two stanzas, the situation may be different. The double standards of Hindutva lobby are very clear in this controversy. In 1998, when UP Govt wanted to make it compulsory the then Prime minister, Mr. Vajpayee opined against this move of UP Government.

RSS and the Hindutva family are strongly hung up on this song, more so than the Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem. After writing the first to stanzas of Vande matram, Bankim Chndra Chatterjee expanded it in his novel Anand Math. Large part of it is in Sanskrit, Devbhasha, and few stanzas are in Bengalee. This has strong anti British and also pro Hindu over tones, due to which it became popular in a section of population. The large secular movement looked at it as for its anti British sentiments, while Hindutva sections upheld it for the Hindu undertones and they used it as a battle cry against the Muslims in the communal violence, who in turn resorted to Allah-o-Akbar. It matched with the requirements of Hindutva movement as here the nation is projected as a monolithic being, in the image of Durga. The diversity and plurality, the core identity of the Indian nation is no where visible in the song.

Jana Gana Mana, Vande matram and Saare Jahan Se Achchha were the three national songs in the running for the national anthem. Jana Gana Mana conveyed the rich diversity and was acceptable to most states, due to which it was selected as national anthem while Vande Matram, first two stanzas, was given the status of national song. RSS family is using it to browbeat the minorities. By now apart from its anti colonial stance it has been made as a weapon to convey the anti minority sentiments. It is because of this reason that RSS affiliates are pushing it with vehemence. It seems, after the fatigue, which temple issue has acquired, that Vande matram may be the major plank of RSS affiliates in their social and electoral battles. Here it does not matter that even the national anthem cannot be imposed on those who do not wish to sing that, as per the judgment of the court. But   surely for BJP, which is built around the identity issues, Ram Temple, Civil code etc. it is a golden opportunity to latch on to Vande Matram to see that maximum electoral mileage is achieved by pushing it forward.

Jana Gana Mana, which is more acceptable to all, is purposely pushed back by these elements. They are projecting it as having been written by Rabindranath Tagore in praise of George V. This myth was created by the English media. In 1911 when GeorgeV visited India, Congress wanted to thank him for retracting the British decision to partition Bengal. This was the first success of swadeshi movement, the first modern anti colonial movement, which had begun in 1905. On the same day two songs were sung, one written by Tagore, Jana Gana Mana and the other that of one Ramanuj Choudhary, who had composed the song especially for George V. The English media was neither accurate nor serious about properly reporting such events. So what got reported by the British media was that Tagore song was sung in praise of George V.! As such, the intent and meaning of what Rabindranth Tagore is referring to was correctly described by a commentator in vernacular press that his song was in "Praise of the Dispenser of human Destiny, who appears in every age."

When Tagore was asked by a friend, who was loyal to British, to write a song in praise of George V, Tagore felt angered as he was opposed to the British rule. Instead of one for George he wrote a song devoted to the dispenser of Human destiny. When faced with/British media projection and RSS type criticism, Tagore wrote "That great Charioteer of man's destiny in age after age could not by any means be George V or George VI or any George. Even my 'loyal' friend realized this; because, however powerful his loyalty to the King, he was not wanting in intelligence." The song gained wide popularity all over and its English translation, 'Morning song of India' also picked in different parts. Netaji's Azad Hind Fauz adopted it as national anthem and Gandhiji went on to say, "the song has found a place in our national life." It is precisely for this reason that RSS affiliates are uncomfortable with Jana Gana Mana and want to assert Vande Matram in an aggressive way.