Mahatma Gandhi’s views on Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata Ki Jai offer lessons on divergent opinions on this slogan. He associated Vande Mataram with the purest national spirit and got enthralled by it.
The concluding words in letters written by him since 1911 were not ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Yours Faithfully’ but ‘Vande Mataram, Mohandas’.
In letters to Muslims he used ‘Salaam’, ‘Aadab’, ‘Vande Mataram’ or ‘Blessings’ as would be proper and fitting. However, he maintained that, ‘I would not risk a single quarrel over singing of Vande Mataram at a mixed gathering’.
In 1920 during the Khilafat agitation, people welcomed Gandhiji and the Ali brothers by shouting ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai’ and ‘Mohomed Ali-Shaukat Ali ki jai’. In such events, the recitation of Vande Mataram by the Hindus met with ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ by Muslims. Seeing such conflicting recitals he wrote an article entitled ‘Three National Cries’ in Young India on September 8, 1920, and urged people irrespective of faith to recite three slogans — Allah-o-Akbar, Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata ki jai and Hindu Musalman ji jai. He firmly believed that people professing diverse creeds would have no problem reciting those slogans in that order. Particularly, he felt that nobody would have any objection to recite Allah-o-Akbar as its meaning is ‘God is Great’. Very thoughtfully, he stated that without Hindu Musalman ki jai, Bharat Mata ki Jai would not be complete. It is a proven fact that Gandhiji stressed the plurality of slogans in spite of his exceptional fondness for Vande Mataram.
In 1943 he authored Constructive Programme, which had 18 points to achieve independence for India and bring about positive social change through non-violence. In the point concerning students, he categorically wrote that ‘they may not impose Vande Mataram or the National Flag on others’.
On December 23, 1945, during a discussion with political workers, when it was asked if Vande Mataram should be replaced by the new song ‘Qadam, Qadam’, Gandhiji asserted that Vande Mataram, associated with glorious sacrifice, could never be given up. However, he suggested that a new song or songs could certainly be added to the repertoire of national songs after due thought and discrimination.
When Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose coined the Jai Hind slogan, it electrified the nation and inculcated the values of patriotism and nationalism in the minds of all sections of society. But Gandhiji disapproved of attempts of some people to force others to recite Jai Hind. He stated that ‘inasmuch as a single person is compelled to shout “Jai Hind” or any popular slogan a nail is driven into the coffin of Swaraj ...’
Gandhiji’s stand was for ‘repertoire of national songs’ and against imposition of any slogan on anybody. In fact, he wrote on March 5, 1947, that ‘it would be terrible if people should recite “victory to India” and work for her annihilation’. When some people in Bihar travelled ticketless in train and shouted Jai Hind, he disapproved of using such slogans as ‘a cry for loot and murder’. As early as 1939, he wrote that calling the State a Hindu State or Muslim State constituted a libel as far as nationalism was concerned. Using force on anybody to recite a slogan constitutes such a libel. Persecuting a person for not saying Bharat Mata ki jai, though he is more than willing to recite any other slogan, is like the persecution of Prahalad in mythology by his father, Hiranya Kashyup, for praying to Lord Hari in defiance of his diktat to pray to Lord Shiva.
Gandhiji considered Prahalad, along with Jesus Christ, Imam Hussain and Mirabai, a fine satyagrahi. This lesson from mythology is relevant for the debate on Bharat Mata ki Jai.
SN Sahu is joint secretary, Rajya Sabha Secretariat. The views expressed are personal.