All national songs are meant to rally and unite nations, but one keeps wondering as to what is embodied in Vande Mataram, the Indian national song that has become such an unceasing source of friction and acrimony between the Hindus and the remaining communities in India, particularly once its title means; Salute to the Mother? We in Pakistan are lucky that the issue remains of peripheral interest but Vande Mataram’s threatening message keeps stalking the psyche of the Indian Muslims, constantly reminding them of the threat of being swamped over by a strident Hindu nationalism. The song’s potential to divide the polity in India was in full view recently by the extent of furor caused when a convention of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind supported an earlier Fatwa issued in 2006 by Darul Uloom which prevented a recitation of the song by Muslim children in state run schools. The reaction by Shiv Sena’s Executive President Uddhav Thackerey sums up the communal passions that the song stirs; “If you don’t want to salute the motherland, then whom do you salute? What is the shame in saluting Bharatmata? Those who don’t want to salute Bharatmata should go to Pakistan, Bangladesh. There is no such place for traitors in India,” he said.
Before one passes judgment on the irrationality of not saluting ‘Bharatmata’ it would be appropriate to delve into the history and politics of Vande Mataram with its proven ability to raise blood-curdling communal passions in India. The sensitivity of the issue from a communal perspective can be gauged from the fact that all Governments in India, irrespective of political hue and leanings, have endeavored to include its recitation in the morning assemblies of all schools while the Muslims in India have fought tooth and nail to prevent such practice, considering it a grave violation of their Islamic identity and ethos.
Vande Mataram was written by the Bengali writer Bankimchandra Chatterjee in 1875 as an anthem espousing Bengali nationalism. It was composed in four stanzas as a linguistic potpourri; the first two in Sanskrit and the remaining in Bengali. Its composition, which drew admiration from the likes of Rabindernath Tagore, is sweet while its recitation gets into a powerful flow cascading with emotional overtones, reaching a frenzied crescendo. Its emotional appeal, from an Hindu perspective is mesmerizing – inspiring the Hindu soldiers to draw upon the song’s homily to goddess Durga, to sloganeer Vande Mataram as a battle cry. The first two stanzas exalt the motherland in magnificently melodious cadence; but as if in satanic dream for Muslims, the mother in the third stanza transforms into Durga, the multi armed goddess of vengeance; Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen; With her hands that strike and her swords of sheen…so exalts the song the motherland to be the Hindu deity. In 1882 Bankim included the song in his manifestly anti – Muslim book; Anandmath and it acquired currency as a mantra of the Bengali nationalism in the first decade of the twentieth century when Lord Curzon ordered the division of Bengal, speedily rising to the status of a Bengali national anthem.
The Hindu leanings of the Vande Mataram were so eloquent that it soon transcended Bengal’s borders and became synonymous with chauvinistic shades of strident Hindu nationalism taking shape under the aegis of All India National Congress; outwardly masquerading as a secular party. It soon became the opening note of all Congress gatherings, much to Muslims’ revulsion and chagrin. In 1937 when Congress formed the Government in pre-independence India, instructions were issued to all educational institutions to enforce singing of Vande Mataram in the morning assemblies; an order that was strongly contested by the Muslim League. Quaid, realizing the malicious intent of Congress, took up issue with the elevation of Vande Mataram to the level of the National Anthem; calling it a grave violation of the secular ethos that Congress claimed to be championing. Exposing the core Hindu character of the Indian National Congress he unequivocally deplored the practice of singing it by Muslim students; “What did the Congress do when it got power? With all its pretensions it straight away started with Vande Mataram. It is admitted that Vande Mataram is not a national song. Yet it is sung as such and thrust upon others. It is not only sung in their own gatherings but Muslim Children in government schools and Muslim schools are compelled to sing it,” he observed during the Patna session of the Muslim league in 1938.
It was the staunch Muslim opposition, spearheaded by the Quaid and Allama Iqbal that united the Muslim opinion in India which prevented adoption of the song as national anthem of the Indian Republic. Consequently, Jana Gana Mana, written by Rabindernath Tagore was adopted as the national anthem of independent India while Vande Mataram was adopted as the national song and anointed as such by the Indian parliament. But a communalized India’s fascination with the song hardly seems to have run its course; it remains a rallying cry for the Hindu nationalists in India who continue to claim the Indian motherland as the inseparable incarnation of goddess Durga.
The recent furor over the resolution passed by the convention of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, to uphold fatwa passed years earlier by the Deoband seminary, is indicative of the deep rooted ambition of the Hindu majority to transform India as a Hindu state inspired and driven by a concept of motherland shaped in the image of Durga. Where do minorities, particularly Muslims, find relevance in a supposedly secular country, which overwhelmingly claims affinity with religious symbols of aggressive Hindu nationalism, remains an enigma. The Fatwa should not be seen by the Indian politicians and the government as an uncalled for attempt by the Muslims to defend their monotheist faith; rather it reflects the insecurity felt by the sidelined community in face of rising wave of Hindu nationalism which is gravely threatening to the political and economic interests of Muslims in India.