Divisive forces seem to be fanning a fresh controversy over the rendering of our national song, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's Vande Mataram. The debate over the issue was settled a long time ago and those raking it up again seem to be interested in deriving political mileage out of it. The HRD Ministry, which issued a circular to schools to render the song on its anniversary on September 7, is now in two minds about whether to go ahead with the programme or allow those opposed to the move to have an option not to do so.
It is not a mere coincidence that HRD Minister Arjun Singh, who also started a debate on the OBC issue much before the Cabinet approved of the idea, is again in the middle of the latest controversy. UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who immediately grabbed the opportunity sensing opposition to the move in the Muslim community, is taking pains to send out the message that the decision regarding the singing of the song rested with the Centre and the state government had nothing to do with it. The Muslim Personal Law Board, which had gained some credibility in the aftermath of the Shah Bano case, has a fresh issue over which to assert itself as the sole spokesperson of the community. Incidentally, the board is as much a representative of Muslims as the VHP is of Hindus. In all this confusion, the sanctity, essence and the historical, patriotic and nationalistic content of the song, considered by many to be the 'Maha Mantra' of the freedom struggle, is getting diluted.
The debate on Vande Mataram had last ended in the mid-Thirties when a committee comprising Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Subhas Chandra Bose and Narendra Dev overruled various objections and held that the first two verses of Vande Mataram did not offend anyone's sensibilities.
In fact, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a nationalist to the core, had written that "for years, the song was sung at the beginning of the Congress sessions and Muslims, including Mohammad Ali Jinnah, began to object only in the Thirties (and not when they were in the Congress). Jinnah left the Congress not because he thought Vande Mataram was anti-Islamic but because he had found the idea of swaraj unacceptable".
Later, Jinnah had made the removal of Vande Mataram as the second precondition of his proposed talks with the Congress. The first was that the Congress stop its mass contact programme with Muslims. The implication of this was that the Congress should remain only a Hindu party while the Muslim League be the Muslim party. He was playing a divisive game that culminated in the two-nation theory becoming a reality. But Jinnah, too, realised that politics of hate was fine so far as attaining political mileage was concerned but didn't work in the governance of a nation.
Now, the Muslim Personal Law Board appears to be repeating the same mistake that Jinnah had committed. If Jinnah advocated the two-nation theory, the board seems to be pursuing a Separate Identity theory. Obviously, one of the reasons for the Muslim League to oppose Vande Mataram, which even Mahatma Gandhi at one stage wanted to be made the national anthem, was that it was playing into the hands of British imperialists who wanted Muslims to opt out of the freedom struggle with a clear objective of weakening it.
If one goes by the free Urdu translation of Vande Mataram, as done by former Union Minister and President of the Aligarh Muslim University, Arif Mohammad Khan, there is nothing that can be deemed objectionable. It is a salutation to the motherland in so many words and is not directed against any religion. In Urdu, the song would be: Maan tasleemat, Tu bhari hai meetthe paani se, Phal phoolon ki shadabi se, Dakkin ki thandi hawaon se, Faslon ki suhani fizaaon se, Tasleemat, maan tasleemat. Teri raaten roshan chand se, Teri raunaq sabze faam se, Teri pyaar bhari muskan hai, Teri meetthi bahut zuban hai, Teri bahon mein meri rahat hai, Tere qadmon mein meri jannat hai, Tasleemat, maan tasleemat. This song should be translated in every Indian language to acquaint people with its essence and fervour.
While discussing Vande Mataram, one has to understand the full context in which it was written, way back in 1870. The song/poem pre-dates Anandamath, the novel in which it was subsequently included. If there are any references in the book that can be construed as anti-Islamic, it is because at that time, the Nawab of Bengal was hand-in-glove with the British and the freedom struggle was against the British and its supporters. One has to understand that during the freedom movement, the political agenda was often pushed in the garb of religion. Even Lokmanya Tilak gave Ganesh Chaturthi a new dimension by making it a mass celebration, which it was not before.
Vande Mataram was essentially a song of the masses. It was first sung at the Calcutta session of the Congress in the late 19th century by Rabindranath Tagore. Since then, it has been a permanent feature of all Congress functions. Even the BJP begins all its proceedings with the rendering of Vande Mataram. Every session of Parliament ends with it. Will those opposed to the song want members from their communities to stop contesting for Parliament since Vande Mataram is sung there? It is as significant as Iqbal's Sare Jahan Se Achcha and every citizen must respect it even if singing it may not be constitutionally binding. Between us.