There is a delicious irony in the Congress-led UPA government declaring national mourning for Varanasi icon Bismillah Khan on the very day that Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh issued a directive making the recitation of Vande Mataram optional in educational institutions on September 7, the centenary of its adoption.
Consider how the venerable Ustad took the ritual gangasnaan daily with his mentor, Ali Baksh ?Vilayati? Khan, and played the shehnai at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple every morning. Consider that the Ustad shunned the creation of Pakistan and the two-nation theory amidst unprecedented communal upheavals in northern India and performed at the ramparts of Red Fort on the very first Independence Day celebrations.
Ustad Bismillah Khan was one of those rare talents who personified and lived the cultural and civilizational unity and glory of India. It was not just that he took the simple shehnai to a pinnacle on the crowded pantheon of Hindustani classical music, but that his music transcended the limitations of faith. He loved the soil of Varanasi; his favourite raga was Shivranjani; he most cherished the holy waters of the Ganga. Music and the Vishwanath Mandir offered ?divine unity,? he considered himself a devout Muslim though a staunch devotee of Ma Saraswati.
The Divine Mother Kali has been less fortunate in receiving cross-religious affiliations. Ever since Bankim Chandra penned the song that became the rallying cry of all revolutionary freedom fighters, Muslim clergy, possibly inspired by British officials, have expressed reservations about respecting the motherland as a divine entity. Organised opposition from the ulema denied Vande Mataram the status of national anthem, and even the uneasy compromise regarding the ?national song? has not been free of glitches. Though the Muslim community has contributed some of independent India'smost gallant officers and soldiers, and Muslim politicians have no reservations about expressing loyalty to the Constitution and national flag, and community as a whole has not been able to transcend ulema diktat.
The result is that generations of Muslim children are being raised to disrespect Vande Mataram. For, this is what the Congress exemption to the Muslim community from reciting the song in educational institutions on the centenary of its adoption, amounts to. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi'sprotestation that the party is proud of the national song rings hollow, because it has endorsed the scandalous circular issued by the HRD Ministry in this regard.
That is why Firangi Mahal cleric, Maulana Khalid Rasheed, was not challenged when he declared Vande Mataram was un-Islamic and asked the community to shun it. Nor was the Shahi Imam of Delhi'sJama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari. With Congress party eager to woo Muslims for next year'sAssembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, a principled stand on a song that galvanized a generation of freedom fighters to make untold sacrifices was too much to expect.
The BJP has done well to query Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the status of the national song with the UPA government. The party has rightly pointed out that all opposition to the recital of the national song is rooted in the two-nation theory that continues to be overtly and covertly promoted by Muslim fundamentalists. Vande Mataram is about Indian nationalism; rejection of the song has obvious connotations.
Coming as it does so close on the heels of the Mumbai serial bomb blasts which took over 200 lives and wounded over 700 persons, and the discovery of a large network of terrorist sleeper cells in all major cities, the obdurate stance of the Muslim community does not bode well for the country. It shows that a new wave of pan-Islamic fervour is sweeping the orthodox sections of the community, which have the power to turn the masses away from nationalism. Thus, the nation is not merely humiliated by the refusal of Muslims to sing the national song, it may be in danger of another attempt at territorial secession. In this connection, the frustrated anger of BJP leaders Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Vijay Kumar Malhotra, that those opposed to reciting Vande Mataram should migrate to the country of their choice, should be read as a warning bell for the Republic.
It is too much to expect the likes of Begum Teesta Setalvad to come forward and meet Muslim fundamentalists head-on on this issue. No worthwhile Muslim activist will lend his voice to the national song, certainly not any of the big-wigs who strode the national stage bad-mouthing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, for the post-Godhra riots, and stayed safely indoors when Mumbai bled. The Muslim ulemma are clearly giving a political signal in favour of the Muslim terrorism networks ripping civil society apart, and no amount of gloss by the secular media will succeed in erasing the negative image that Muslims have acquired in the popular mind for such acts of omission and commission.
That is why, though his last journey was probably the best attended in Varanasi'srecent history, with shopkeepers and traders voluntarily downing shutters as a mark of respect, it was a lonely Bismillah Khan who travelled from Harha Sarai to the Fatman shamshaan bhumi. Even as the nation mourned the passing of one of her greatest sons, his own community rejected the love, unity and inclusive embrace of his shehnai. The spiritual legacy of the maestro was thus buried with his bones.