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Losing the song for the words

Vande Mataram has been in the news but for the wrong reasons, observes Abhishek Singhvi.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2006 02:40 IST
CANDID CORNER | Abhishek Singhvi
CANDID CORNER | Abhishek Singhvi

Vande Mataram has been in the news but for the wrong reasons. Most people are reacting but also for the wrong reasons. That is because few are aware of the history surrounding the song. The fundamental fallacy is to confuse the song and its exalted status on the one hand, with its compulsory singing on the other.

In The Biography of a Song, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya points out that the song can be dated to sometime between 1870 and 1875. It is clear that the first two stanzas were written earlier by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and the later portion added when the author published his novel, Anandamath, in 1881. Thus, the author himself made a distinction between the first two stanzas and the later portion.

The song is one that India is justly proud of. It was the vanguard of the freedom movement; it inspired and enthused a whole generation of Indians, including pathfinders like Tagore (who sang it first in 1896), Aurobindo and Gandhi. It soon transformed into a slogan by itself, a slogan of anti-imperialism.

In actual fact, the first two stanzas have no religious motif or symbolism at all. They are a soul-stirring ode to the motherland and reflect one of the finest tributes to nationhood and patriotism. The subsequent paras continue in the same vein, barring two references to Hindu goddesses Durga and Kamla, i.e, Lakshmi.

Divisive British policies and Jinnah's growing opposition to the song led to the setting up of a committee headed by Nehru, acting on Tagore's recommendation, to give a special status to the first two stanzas in 1937 and to encourage its singing while clarifying that there was no compulsion to it. Thus, the first two stanzas must be sharply distinguished from Chattopadhyay's novel. Moreover, the element of compulsion was eliminated by a resolution as far back as in 1937. The last day of the Constituent Assembly led to Vande Mataram (the first two stanzas) being adopted by a non-voting resolution as India's national song.

Post-Independence, the status of the composition as India's national song, with all its attendant prestige and special status, was an established fact. It has been sung with joy by large congregations. The few who have objection to its recitation have avoided singing it but without furore and controversy. Compulsion in singing has been a non-issue.

Interestingly, in 1998, the BJP-supported UP government sought to issue a circular to make the singing of Vande Mataram compulsory. The then BJP PM, AB Vajpayee, clarified that this was not so. This is a party that is now trying to cash in on pulp patriotism by declaring its singing mandatory in several BJP-ruled states. The BJP must also answer why it did not declare its singing to be compulsory during its 1998-2004 tenure?

Obviously, because Vande Mataram's national status and its non-compulsory singing status have gone hand in hand and been an irrevocable fact now for over 70 years, since 1937. The circular issued recently by the UPA government did not use the word 'compulsory'. On top of that, the moment the controversy arose, the seven-decade position was orally confirmed - that singing was not compulsory.

Vande Mataram has stood the test of time. It has been accepted and absorbed by Indians for decades. The supreme irony is that those who want us to show that we are patriotic Indians only if we sing Vande Mataram compulsorily, do Vande Mataram the greatest disservice because they evoke a resistance to it that is non-existent when millions sing it spontaneously and voluntarily.

Destroying faith

I am not a film reviewer though I love watching thrillers and murder mysteries. I am not madly fond of Shah Rukh or Amitabh (as my wife is) or Abhishek (after all, I took that name much before it became famous or common) but I rate them both highly (my favourites are Sunny and Saif). I am not at all averse to Rani or Preity (though I prefer Juhi and Mumtaz). I was nevertheless horrified to find a horrible and shallow offering - Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna - being eulogised ad nauseam by the media.

Maybe I am dimwitted but I would like the bright TV participants who were constructing the most complex philosophical models on the basis of this film to answer a few questions. Was Kank trying to teach infidelity or extra-marital sex to Indians - to those who wrote and lived the Mahabharata? Was there any story or content in Kank? If infidelity was to be portrayed, was Kank a patch on Fatal Attraction or Arth or Unfaithful? Each of those films had a story, solid content, an extrapolation from everyday human events.

In contrast, Kank presented a inconsolable weeping Rani. What torture did Abhishek subject her to? What was so heinous about Preity's conduct that made life unbearable for SRK? Perhaps Karan JoharJohar wanted the audience to assume all such minor details. And what stopped SRK from marrying Rani after separating from their respective spouses?

All Kank had was the glitter of New York. It was all hype without matter. It was plain boring. But it shows what hype can do. By sheer advertising power, the nation was made to discuss, analyse and dissect a banal and highly forgettable movie. Fortunately, most discussions were a thousand times more tolerable than the movie itself.

The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, and Congress MP

First Published: Aug 30, 2006 02:32 IST