October 20, 2020
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Vande Mataram: FAQ

So what is the current controversy about Vande Mataram? What is this about September 7, 2005 being chosen to mark the centenary year when historians agree that nothing of note concerning the song happened on this date -- neither in 1905, nor in 1906?

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So what is the current controversy about Vande Mataram?

It began with a letter that the Human Resources Development minister, Arjun Singh, wrote to all the chief ministers on August 8, which said inter alia:

"It [Vande Mataram] was adopted as a National Song at the Varanasi session of the AICC on September 7, 1905. The year long commemoration of 100 years of adoption of Vande Mataram as a National Song started on September 7, 2005 and will be coming to a close on September 7, 2006. As a befitting finale to the commemoration year, it has been decided that the first two stanzas of the National Song, Vande Mataram should be sung simultaneously at 11.00 AM on 7th September, 2006 in all schools, colleges and other educational institutions throughout the country."

As Narendra Bhalla reports in Outlook Saptahik, the idea seems to have germinated in an all-party meet on the 150th anniversary celebrations of 1857, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where Mr Murali Manohar Joshi had insisted that in schools and government functions, not just the first two stanzas of the song, but the entire song should be sung. Mr L.K. Advani reiterated that Pakistan and Bangladesh should also be included in the celebrations, and taking note of various suggestions, Mr Manmohan Singh had gone on to say:

"I also think we must re-discover the aesthetic beauty of the freedom movement. The celebration of the writing of our National Song, Vande Mataram, should be used to underscore the cultural and aesthetic sources of Indian nationalism."

Significantly, the PM had also emphasised that

"the celebration of our freedom movement should not become an occasion for jingoism, narrow nationalism and chauvinism. Rather, it must be an opportunity to celebrate our diversity, our liberalism, our civilisational inheritance and the values of integrity and service to man that defined the national movement. I hope we can communicate these ideas and values through the programmes we undertake to organize."

Little did he know.

Soon after, Mr Arjun Singh shot off the "controversial" letter. BJP must have been thrilled, for it seemed that Muraliji had managed to wangle out of Arjunji what even Atalji and Advaniji had frowned at in 1998.

But it set the alarm bells ringing in UP where elections are round the corner. For a bankrupt and bereft bunch of self-proclaimed "leaders and saviours" of Muslims -- the Samajwadi Party and some Muslim "leaders" -- this was an issue that seemed to have been offered on a plate. A right royal hai tauba ensued. It was assumed that the directive was for a mandatory singing not only at all institutions, but by all.

The HRD minister, perhaps realising the electoral seriousness, joined the debate at a gathering of a Muslim academic institution at Jamia Salfiya in Raja Telab locality of Varanasi on August 20. He now said that his ministry's directive was "voluntary in nature". He went on to say that the recitation was aimed at paying tribute to freedom fighters and martyrs: "The song should not be viewed otherwise." A day earlier, in Mirzapur, he had said that he did not think Muslims should have any objection to reciting the song -- the first two stanzas, that is. So far so good. This after all has been the Congress line since the 1930s

Predictably, the self-appointed saviours of all Hindus, the BJP, always in search of a non-issue to make into a "national cause", jumped in the fray and charged the HRD minister with "appeasement" of Muslims because of his "clarification". All of this was enough to stall the proceedings of both houses of Parliament on August 22. Madrasas were predictably targeted. Slogans such as "agar is desh meiN rahnaa hogaa to Vande Mataram kahnaa hogaa [If you wish to stay in the country, you have to say Vande Mataram]" were chanted. The BJP wanted that Mr Arjun Singh should not have made the singing of the song "voluntary". BJP chief ministers, the party warned, would be advised to make the singing mandatory in all schools, including madrasas.

As noted historian Sumit Sarkar [1] points out,

"Clearly, the HRD ministry had been wrongly advised, and has handed over an issue on a platter to the BJP, as part of the repeated Congress efforts to steal the sangh parivar's thunder. One more effort at appeasement that every time proves harmful for secularism."

As he went on to point out, the good minister had got his dates wrong as well.

Why this confusion? When was Vande Matram written? What is this about September 7, 2005 being chosen to mark the centenary year?

According to historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya [2], Bankim wrote it "sometime in the early 1870s". According to him, Aurobindo Ghose "states very precisely that the poem was written in 1875 [but] [o]n the whole, it seems that the composition of the poem [first two stanzas of the] can be dated between 1872 and 1875." For a complete discussion and reasons cited by him, please see pp 68-94 of his book, Vande Mataram, the Biography of a Song.

But there is no confusion that it was included in the novel Anandamath in 1881.

Sumit Sarkar points out:

"It was the HRD ministry that had started it all by calling for the observance of September 7 as some kind of centenary occasion for the song. The surprising thing is that nothing relevant to the song happened on September 7, 1906 (or, 1905). The Congress did not take any decision then about its national status, for the simple reason that it always met in the last week of December. Clearly the HRD ministry had been wrongly advised."

He adds that the Congress's

"Banaras session of December 1905 did hear the song sung by Sarala Debi, in what had become a common practice since the beginning of the anti-Partition [of Bengal] movement in Bengal a few months back. But there was no discussion or decision about a national anthem, there, or in the session held exactly a year later in Calcutta in 1906."

The Congress Working Committee statement of 1937 is categorical: "At no time, however, was this song, or any other song formally adopted by the Congress as the National Anthem of India".

But what, concerning the song, happened in 1905?

While Tagore had sung the song before a gathering of the Calcutta Congress in 1896, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya points out that

"the song attained mass popularity only since 1905. The swadeshi movement, in reaction to the partition of Bengal by Viceroy Lord Curzon adopted as its theme song Vande Mataram. A society called Vande Mataram Sampradaya was set up in October 1905 ... particularly memorable was the procession led by Rabindranath Tagore on Rakshabandhan day in October 1905. ... Tagore also used Vande Mataram as a refrain in some of his own songs in 1905."

And thus from 1905,

"the Swadeshi agitation in Bengal converted Vande Mataram into a political slogan. It was sung in the Congress session in Benaras in 1905 (music composed by Tagore), in anti-Partition processions in Calcutta led by Tagore, in meetings addressed by Aurobindo Ghose. The latter hailed Bankim as the rishi of nationalism and translated the poem into English. Many translations were made, including one by Subramaniya Bharathi in 1905. Likewise, far away from Bengal, Mahatma Gandhi took note of the song as early as 1905. What is more, Vande Mataram became a slogan for the common man, to the extent he participated in anti-British agitations. Many of the militant nationalists faced bullets or the gallows with that slogan on their lips. Thus Vande Mataram became sanctified as an intrinsic part of the memories of the fight for freedom."

The Congress Working Committee's statement also talks about the importance of this period:

"At a famous session of the Bengal Provincial Conference held in Barisal in April 1906, under the presidentship of Shri A. Rasul, a brutal lathi charge was made by the police on the delegates and volunteers and the "Bande Mataram" badges worn by them were violently torn off. Some delegates were beaten so severely as they cried "Bande Mataram" that they fell down senseless. Since then, during the past thirty years, innumerable instances of sacrifice and suffering all over the country have been associated with "Bande Mataram" and men and women have not hesitated to face death even with that cry on their lips. The song and the words thus became symbols of national resistance to British Imperialism in Bengal especially, and generally in other parts of India. The words "Bande Mataram" became a slogan of power which inspired our people, and a greeting which ever reminds us of our struggle for national freedom."

What is all this about the first two stanzas? What exactly is objectionable in the song? Was it written to honour those who sacrificed their lives for the country? Is it a 'Hindu' song? Is it anti-Muslim?

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya maintains that the first two stanzas have to be distinguished from the full text that later appears in Anandamath.

"When Bankim first wrote it in the early 1870s it was just a beautiful hymn to the motherland, richly-watered, richly-fruited, dark with the crops of the harvests, sweet of laughter, sweet of speech, the giver of bliss. For several years these first two stanzas remained unpublished ...

''In 1881 this poem [i.e. the first two stanzas] was included by Bankim in the novel, Anandamath, and now it was expanded to endow the motherland with militant religious symbolism as the context of the narrative demanded". He takes considerable pains to point out that "when the poem was inserted in the novel [Anandamath] and serialised in the journal [Bangadarshan], the first twelve lines (the first two stanzas), were put within quotation marks; the rest of the poem was printed without quotation marks. Why was this done? It has been rightly inferred that the author wanted to separate the first two stanzas which he had written earlier, around 1875, from the part written later (lines 13 to 27); the latter part was put outside quotation marks. The latter part was written probably in 1881 bearing in mind the context of Anandamath. This distinction between the originally composed song and the additions made later to fit into the narrative of the novel is important, because it was the latter part which contained those explicitly Hindu and idolatorous imageries which were objected to by many outside the Hindu community."

As further evidence, Bhattacharya also mentions that

"Bankim's figure of 'seven crore' [he wrote of sapta-koti, but in the 1905 Congress session, it was sung as 'tringhsha koti' or 'thirty crores' and then later, with each new census, the figure kept changing, finally becoming "crores and crores"] was of the total population of the area under the lieutenant governor of Bengal in 1871, and thus that figure also included the Muslim population. In that quantitative sense the poem is inclusive but it is far from being so if one considers the ensemble of symbols in the poem as a whole."

Another notable point he makes, along with others, is that 'dharma' in the expanded verses is not 'religion' but 'conduct', and that indeed is how Aurobindo translates it.

Now, what was the problem with Anandamath?

Plenty can be mentioned as having been articulated, but let us take Sumit Sarkar's summary:

"Vande Mataram further is an integral part of a novel that has been much translated and read. Anandamath is set in a Bengal ravaged by the famine of 1770, where the Company had already become the ruler, reducing the nawab to a puppet after the battle of Plassey in 1757. There were anti-British peasant revolts, sometimes led by Hindu and Muslim mendicants, sanyasis and fakirs, and Bankim was well aware of these facts. His novel, however, made the nawab and the Muslims real tyrants, the British merely their compliant agents, and the whole story becomes one of aggression, brutality and violence by Muslims. The fakir rebels disappear, and the sanyasis and peasant mobs mobilised by them call for anti-Muslim vengeance in luridly communal language: "We want to exterminate all the Muslims on this land as they are enemies of God -- kill, kill, kill the Muslim wretches ... Brother, will that day ever come when we will demolish their mosques to build temples for Radhamadhav?"

What about the independence movement? Congress leader Digvijay Singh said on Rajat Sharma's India TV recently that only the extremist Muslims now have problems with the song whereas even the Muslim league never had any problem with it in the past...

Only partially correct. It is true that the problems with the song seem more political in nature than one of any religious belief, for no major complaints have been made by followes of other monothesitic religions. In fact, even when it comes to Islam and Muslims, the objections began to be articulated in the 1930s and have their genesis in the rivalry between the Muslim League and the Congress.

Let us allow Sabyasachi Bhattacharya to provide a summary of the 'problems' in the pre-Independence days:

"In the 1930s ... objections began to be raised against the song on two grounds: first, its association with Anandamath, which depicted the Muslims of the Nawabi era of the 1770s in Bengal in a poor light; second, the religious imagery and idolatry implicit in the stanzas of the poem following the first two. (Today those innocent of any knowledge of the song and the novel probably mistake the part for the whole). M.A. Jinnah, as well as a number of Muslim legislators in the provincial assemblies elected in 1937, became vociferous against the recitation or singing of Vande Mataram, a practice introduced by provincial Congress governments."

When Congress formed the government in seven provinces, the proceedings started to commence with Vande Mataram. The likes of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, never had a second thought about singing Vande Mataram.  The Muslim League members in the assembly, however, raised a storm of protest and staged walk-outs and denounced the Congress-ruled states as 'Hindu States': as proof,  it provided the singing of the Vande Mataram in provincial assemblies. The League condemned the Congress for imposing 'vande mataram as the national anthem upon the country' and termed it as 'callous, positively anti-Islamic, idolatrous in its inspiration and ideas, and definitely subversive of the growth of genuine nationalism in India'. The Muslim League further called upon 'Muslim members of various legislatures and public bodies in the country not to associate themselves in any manner with this highly objectionable song'.

All right, but isn't Tagore somehow involved in this debate? How does he come into the picture? What did he say?

Subhas Chandra Bose was up in arms in defence of the song. The Congress working committee was to meet on 26 October 1937 to address the issue, and Bose feared that perhaps "the Committee will decide to discard the song."

He wrote to Tagore on 16 October 1937:.

"I do not know your opinion on this matter and that is why I write to you. In Bengal and among Hindus outside of Bengal great excitement has been caused and I write to you now because many friends advised me to do so."

On 20 October 1937, Nehru too wrote to Tagore:

"I have managed to get an English translation of Anandamath and I am reading it at present to get the background of the song. It does seem that the background is bound to irritate the Muslims ... I do not understand it without the help of a dictionary"

On 26 October 1937, Tagore responded:

"To me the spirit of the tenderness and devotion expressed in its first portion, the emphasis it gave to beautiful and beneficient aspects of our motherland made a special appeal, so much so that I found no difficulty in dissociating it from the rest of the poem and from those portions of the book of which it is a part, with all the sentiments of which, brought up as I was in the monotheistic ideals of my father, I could have no sympathy."

Tagore goes on to point out:

"The privilege of originally setting its first stanza to the tune was mine when the author was still alive and I was the first person to sing it before a gathering of the Calcutta Congress".

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya sums up the rest of the letter from Tagore who

"also recalled the historical associations of the song with the nationalist movement. ... He also recalled how 'at the poignant period of our strenuous struggle for asserting the people's will against the decree of separation', i.e. the partition of Bengal in 1905, Vande mataram 'caught on as a national anthem'. He also remembered how Vande mataram became a national slogan associated with `the stupendous sacrifices of the best of our youths'. Thirdly, Tagore was of the view that although the association of the poem with the novel Anandamath was accidental, in the context of the novel the song was liable to hurt Muslim sentiments, in particular if one takes the song as a whole. A complex sentence, unlike Tagore's usual style, expressed this thought:

`I freely concede that the whole of Bankim's Vande Mataram poem, read together with its context, is liable to be inpterpreted in ways that might wound Moslem susceptibilities, but a national song, though derived from it, which has spontaneously come to consist only of the first two stanzas of the original poem, need not remind us every time of the whole of it, much less of the story with which it was accidentally associated. It has acquired a separate individuality and an inspiring significance of its own in which I see nothing to offend any sect or community.'"

Letter #314, written to Subhas Chandra Bose in the Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore, edited by K. Datta and A. Robinson, Cambridge University Press, provides a more elaborate explanation:

"The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankim does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as Swadesh [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram — proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga.

The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song can not be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating."

That is not all. He even adds a thoughtful postscript which remains relevant even today:

"Bengali Hindus have become agitated over this matter, but it does not concern only Hindus. Since there are strong feelings on both sides, a balanced judgement is essential. In pursuit of our political aims we want peace, unity and good will - we do not want the endless tug of war that comes from supporting the demands of one faction over the other."

So what did the Congress decide to do back then?

It appoited a committee comprising Nehru, Azad, Subhash Bose and Narendra Dev and based on their findings, the Congress Working Committee [CWC] statement of 1937 went to considerable pains to dissociate and decontextualise the song from Anandamatha:

"This song appears in Bankim Chandra Chatterji's novel Anandamatha but it has been pointed out in his biography, that the song was written independently of, and long before, the novel, and was subsequently incorporated in it. The song should thus be considered apart from the book."

That was not all. The Committee also recognised "the validity of the objection raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the song". Having "taken note of such objection insofar as it has intrinsic value, the Committee wish to point out that the modern evolution of the use of the song as part of national life is of infinitely greater importance than its setting in a historical novel before the national movement had taken shape."

The statement goes on then to make a case for using the "first two stanzas" as suggested by Tagore and rationalised as follows:

"the rest of the song was very seldom used and is even now known by few persons. These two stanzas described in tender language the beauty of motherland and the abundance of her gifts. There was absolutely nothing in them to which objection could be from the religious or any other point of view. The song was never sung as challenge to any group or community in India and was never considered as such or as offending the sentiments of any community. Indeed the reference in it to thirty crores of Indians makes it clear that it was meant to apply to all the people of India. At no time, however, was this song, or any other song formally adopted by the Congress as the National Anthem of India. But popular usage gave it a special and national importance."

So was the Congress decision acceptable to all?

Let us go back to Sabyasachi Bhattacharya again to provide a useful summary for the period 1937-47:

"Jinnah wrote to Nehru in March 1938 that the decision was not to his satisfaction but the Congress stuck to it; in any event, there was a proviso that any one who wished not to participate was free to do so. From then on the song was a dividing line between those who doubted the wisdom of this compromise (C. Rajgopalachari) and those, led by Nehru, who were opposed to making the song obligatory. In 1939 some provincial governments — like Bihar and Central Provinces — issued specific instructions to education departments clarifying that the song was not obligatory. A fallout was that the slogan 'Vande Mataram' acquired special connotation to those who valued the Hindu symbolism in the song and by 1946-47 in some parts of India it became in inter-communal conflicts the battle cry of the Hindu community. The earliest instance of Hindu Mahasabha support to the sanctification of the song is perhaps the 'Vande Mataram Day' organised by the party in 1937."

But what about M.K. Gandhi?

As was usual, Gandhi's response to the song changed and evolved with the times:

On 2 December, 1905, in Indian Opinion, he wrote:

"The song, it is said, has proved so popular that it has come to be our National Anthem... Just as we worship our mother, so is this song a passionate prayer to India."

On 27 April, 1915, at a meeting in Madras, which began with the song, he said:

"You have sung that beautiful song, on hearing which all of us sprang to our feet. The poet has lavished all the adjectives we possibly could to describe Mother India ... it is for you and me to make good the claim that the poet has advanced on behalf of his Motherland."

In January 1939, after the continuing criticism of the stance adopted by Congress in its 1937 CWC statement, Gandhi placed before the CWC at its meeting in Wardha, a draft statement which was marked 'Strictly Confidential. Not for publication':

"As for the singing of the long established national song, Vande Mataram, the Congress, anticipating objections, has retained as national song only those stanzas to which no possible objection could be taken on religious or other grounds. But except at purely Congress gatherings it should be left open to individuals whether they will stand up when the stanzas are sung. In the present state of things, in local Board and Assembly meetings which thier members [are] obliged to attend, the singing of Vande Mataram should be discontinued."

On 1 July 1939, in Harijan, he published an essay in which he said that "Vande Mataram was a powerful battle cry" and that he himself "as a lad" was enthralled by it:

"It never occurred to me that it was a Hindu song or meant only for Hindus. Unfortunately, now we have fallen on evil days. All that was pure gold has become bsae metal today. In such times, it is wisdom not to market pure gold and let it be sold as base metal. I would not risk a single quarrel over singing Vande Mataram at a mixed gathering. It will never suffer from disuse. It is enthroned in the hearts of millions."

On 23 August, 1947, at a prayer meeting in Alipore, Calcutta, he said, "That was no religious cry. It was a political cry ... It should never be a chant to insult or offend the Muslims" and asked Muslims to appreciate the historic association of Vande Matram with the freedom movement. But, needless to say, he counselled against any imposition. Every act, he characteristically said, must be purely voluntary.

Something which was obviously not liked by Nathuram Godse who cited Gandhi's objections to ban on cow-slaughter and a mandatory singing of Vande Mataram as one of the reasons for his act:

"It is notorious that some Muslims disliked the celebrated song of Vande Mataram and the Mahatma forthwith stopped its singing or recital wherever he could... It continued to be sung at all Congress and other national gatherings but as soon as one Muslim objected to it, Gandhiji utterly disregarded the national sentiment behind it and persuaded the Congress also not to insist upon the singing as the national song. We are now asked to adopt Rabindranath Tagore's Jana Gana Mana as a substitute of Vande Mataram. Could anything be more demoralising or pitiful...?"

All of this might provide a sighful sense of deja-vu to all those who still come across such sentiments every now and then, as web-campaigns in particular.

So what is the constitutional status of the song?

For this, it is useful to visit the debates in the Constituent Assembly. Well aware of the strong emotions it aroused in all sections, Nehru perhaps figured that a middle path might work best by emphasising on the tune and accordingly he made a statement to the Legislative committee of the Constituent Assembly on August 25, 1948:

"The question of having a national anthem tune, to be played by orchestras and bands became an urgent one for us immediately after 15th August 1947. It was as important as that of having a national flag. The Jana Gana Mana tune, slightly varied, had been adopted as a national anthem by the Indian National Army in South-East Asia, and had subsequently attained a degree of popularity in India also... I wrote to all the provincial Governors and asked their views about our adopting Jana Gana Mana or any other song as the national anthem. I asked them to consult their Premiers before replying... Every one of these Governors, except one (the Governor of the Central Provinces), signified their approval of Jana Gana Mana. Thereupon the Cabinet considered the matter and came to the decision that provisionally Jana Gana Mana should be used as the tune for the national anthem, till such time as the Constituent Assembly came to a final decision. Instructions were issued accordingly to the provincial governments...

''It is unfortunate that some kind of argument has arisen as between Vande Mataram and Jana Gana Mana. Vande Mataram is obviously and indisputably the premier national song of India, with a great historical tradition, and intimately connected with our struggle for freedom. That position it is bound to retain and no other song can displace it. It represents the position and poignancy of that struggle, but perhaps not so much the culmination of it. In regard to the national anthem tune, it was felt that the tune was more important than the words... It seemed therefore that while Vande Mataram should continue to be the national song par excellence in India, the national anthem tune should be that of Jana Gana Mana, the wording of Jana Gana Mana to be suitably altered to fit in with the existing circumstances.

"The question has to be considered by the Constituent Assembly, and it is open to that Assembly to decide as it chooses. It may decide on a completely new song or tune, if such is available."

The final word on this before the Constitution came into the picture is Rajendra Prasad's on Tuesday, the 24th January 1950 in the Constituent Assembly Debates:

"Mr. President: There is one matter which has been pending for discussion, namely the question of the National Anthem. At one time it was thought that the matter might be brought up before the House and a decision taken by the House by way of a resolution. But it has been felt that, instead of taking a formal decision by means of a resolution, it is better if I make a statement with regard to the National Anthem. Accordingly I make this statement.

"The composition consisting of the words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India, subject to such alterations in the words as the Government may authorise as occasion arises; and the song Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honoured equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal status with it. (Applause). I hope this will satisfy the Members."

Significantly, as Sabyasachi Bhattacharya points out, in addition to the above,

"unlike other parts of the Constitution, it was never debated upon in the Constituent Assembly. But the matter continues to be debated until today. This is not unexpected, given the eventful history of this song. Judging by various erroneous statements which are now being made, it is vitally important to bear in mind what happened in the past. That is because the memories of the past, rightly or wrongly, constitute our present."

Indeed. Even more significant is that while the CWC had put its stamp of approval on the first two stanzas, Rajendra Prasad's statement is absolutely silent on the issue of stanzas.

***

But even if we remove the historical baggage accompanying the song, even if there weren't any religious or other ideological imagery associated with it, there is the simple matter of what common sense dictates. The 1998 case in UP is a good example, when even Atal Behari Vajpayee is supposed to have been upset at the wedge issue being raked up. Apart from common-sense, the experience of any forcible imposition has been well-observed in the language controversy -- take, for example, the case of what happened in Pakistan between 1947 and 1971, when Urdu was sought to be imposed on what was then East Pakistan. Closer home, the experience with the imposition of Hindi (in southern India in particular) is another edifying example. The gradual far-reaching (which, by all accounts goes beyond being pan-Indian) influence and effect of the Mumbai film industry has done far more for propagating the "national language" than any state diktat could ever hope to accomplish.

Why do you think it all happened? How should we protest?

The BJP going berserk on its divisive and disruptive agenda is nothing new, but how and why did the HRD minister ignore all the historical controversies surrounding the song? Surely he ought to remember the reinvention of the song by AR Rahman in recent times without any state diktat, if not what Gandhi and Nehru said about it? Or is there a simpler explanation? Perhaps he just wished to provide the students protesting against his reservation policy with a more palatable slogan than the not so nice ones they have been using against him? What would he come up with next? A similar ceremonial diktat for Saare Jahaan Se Achha? (And once again have BJP get all apoplectic, with its collective knickers in a twist about the song written by the 'advocate of Pakistan'?]

The BJP states — and leaders — are as usual in various states of confusion. Some have pointed out that madrasas, being private institutions, are not covered in the purview of the state administration for such diktats to be enforced. What those BJP state governments which have rushed forward breathlessly to exclaim that they would make the singing of it mandatory would do in cases of non-compliance remains to be seen, but the mind boggles at the unmusical possibilities. Would it be the teachers' responsibility or would the poor students be penalised? What would be the punishment? Would there be close-circuit televisions to monitor every citizen? What if the audio were to fail? Even if not, would they hire lip-readers to ascertain that the more mischievous lot were not muttering not-so-nice imprecations? Would it be possible to just download a ringtone instead? More importantly, do all the BJP members know the words of the song? Can they all sing in key? Should there not be compulsory riaz -- sorry, abhyaas -- at Shakhas? And as for the "leaders and saviours" of the Muslims, the less said the better. But it still leaves open the question of those who for whatever reason — and not just for those excellent reasons articulated by Tagore and Gandhi — do not wish to be compelled to sing the song? Is that going to be a litmus test for one's patriotism?

I know what many would be doing if there were no threat of violence. They'd hire the biggest Cacophonix available, make the most off-key recording possible, amplify it at a crazy decibel and make it mandatory for all followers to play it non-stop in front of all BJP offices and all residences of BJP members. It would be purely voluntary for all to do so in front of Shri Arjun Singh's house and office. Same goes for the likes of Shahi Imam, Shri Mulayam Singh and the rest of them. What could be a more fitting tribute to such a revolutionary song than to appropriate it back to protest against the ruling class? But then, after the recent incident in Ujjain, not to mention any of the past horrors, there are real dangers of physical violence and things going out of hand.

There seems to be a clear consensus among the non-BJP sections of society that anybody who willingly wishes to sing the song is more than welcome to sing it joyously, however off-key. Why, even the Shahi Imam seems to indicate as much.

But for those—and it does not apply only to Muslims— who don't wish to be dictated to by people of, to put it mildly, dubious credibility, surely there should be some relief available so that they do not have to put up with such whimsicality that the HRD minister seems to make a fetish of displaying or the nonsense that BJP is going around publishing on the covers of its various mouthpieces? What precisely is the implication of agar hindustan mein rahna hogaa to vande matram kahnaa hoga? Will Shri Rajnath Singh or some other worthy of the party kindly explain? Will the Election Commission or the Supreme Court please step in? 

And yet another simple question: how would we have reacted if Shri MM Joshi had been the HRD minister who had issued such a letter and later "clarified" under pressure from, say, Atal Behari Vajpayee? In the end, it is just about dealing with bullies who seem to hold the country to ransom on the threat of violence.

Having said all of this, now I know what I wish to do: Thankfully, it's just a click away

(But that is because I am not in any school and, besides, most schools I know of, had anyway happily known when to make the children sing it without any official diktat for it to be sung on an arbitrarily chosen day.)


1. All quotes from Sumit Sarkar are from his article "Much Ado About A Song" in the Times of India of August 31, 2006.

2. All quotes from Sabyasachi Bhattacharya are from his book Vande Mataram, the Biography of a Song, which is the primary source of this FAQ, and his article, "Five lives of Vande Mataram" in the Indian Express of August 24, 2006.

3. If you would rather play the Lata/Hemant version from Anandamath, please click here or check out the various versions from the sub-stroy below.


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