Was that controversy over the singing of Vande Mataram in schools?and especially on September 7?necessary? Nobody in his right mind would want to hurt the sentiments of Muslims. And to what purpose would one want to do that? Muslims have objections to this deification of any entity except Allah, which is fair enough. In Vande Mataram in the stanza following the second, there is reference to Durga, dasha-praharanadhaarini. Very well, said the Congress: Sing only the first two stanzas of Vande Mataram.
Writing in The Times of India (August 31) Sumit Sarkar gave the background to the novel Anandmath in which Vande Mataram is incorporated. Anandmath is set in a Bengal ravaged by the famine of 1770 when the East India Company had already become the ruler, reducing the Nawab to a puppet following the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The Nawab was a tyrant and the East India Company was corrupt beyond any imagination. Understandably there were anti-British riots by peasants led both by Hindu and Muslim mendicants, sanyasis and fakirs. But such was the situation of Nawabi tyranny that, as Sarkar puts it, ?the whole story becomes one of aggression, brutality and violence by Muslims?.
These were post-medieval times when tyranny was common. In the course of time the fakir rebels disappeared and the sanyasis and peasant forces mobilised by them called for anti-Muslim vengeance in lurid terms. One example: ?We want to exterminate all the Muslims in this land as they are enemies of God?kill, kill, kill the Muslim wretched?.? That Muslim tyranny existed in beyond question. Those were the times. If the Nawab was a considerate, understanding ruler, there would have been no revolt, no hatred of Muslims. We need to know the social and economic background to Anandmath before condemning Vande Mataram. Having said that, the question is: how come it became a national song for Hindus? The straight answer is that there is no other poem in all of Indian literature that brings out the beauty and glory of India in more lyrical terms.
Muslims must understand that Anandmath is a kind of record of a Nawab'styranny and the Nawab happened to be a Muslim. The revolt was against tyranny, not against a religion. And Vande Mataram talks of the beauty of India. In India, which is predominantly a Hindu country, can'ta Hindu invoke his own gods and does he have constantly to look over his shoulders to find out whether his devotion is acceptable to the Muslims?
Vande Mataram is indicative of India'snational pride. Says Justice K.T.Thomas, former Supreme Court Justice in The Pioneer (August 28): ?I strongly feel that the present arguments against the singing of Vande Mataram are highly objectionable and unwarranted. This is certainly not the way to appease minorities?. Justice Thomas also said that ?giving less importance to Vande Mataram as part of a move to appease minority communities is not in good taste and is against the secular fabric of our country. I still don'tunderstand what is objectionable about Vande Mataram, The Pioneer (August 27) which devoted an entire page to the subject, giving the full text of Vande Mataram needs to be read by every Indian citizen to get and understand the political background to Muslim opposition to the song right from 1937 when the Muslim League passed a resolution condemning it.
It is the best study of the subject presently available. In that same issue Swapan Dasgupta has strongly condemned the UPA government. He writes: ?By declaring a symbol of nationhood to be optional., the Government has opened the floodgates of emotional separatism. September 7, will mark the 101st anniversary of Vande Mataram being anointed the national song. It should be observed this year and all years to come as Vande Mataram Day when the soul of a nation long suppressed found expression. Let Vande Mataram symbolise both our commitment to India and our defiance of those who want to destroy it?. Incidentally, not all Muslims are against the singing of Vande Mataram. But the secular English media has stifled their voices.
But again The Pioneer (August 25) comes to the rescue. It quotes Firoz Bakht Ahmed, grandnephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and an educationist as saying: ?As a Muslim, I would like to convey a message to all my countrymen and especially my own community that some politically motivated people are trying to make an emotive issue out of Vande Mataram, a gem of a song and perhaps that song that in my view should have been the national, anthem in place of Jana Gana Mana…? And this is the grand nephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who himself had no objection to the singing of Vande Mataram and who has few compeers among the mullahs in his knowledge of Islam.
Writing in Hindustan Times, (August 28) Pankaj Vohra says: ?If there are any references in the book (Anandmath) 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.? He even provides an Urdu translation of the song done by a former Union Minister and president of the Aligarh Muslim University, Arif Mohammad Khan that shows that there is nothing objectionable in Vande Mataram which is a mere salutation to the motherland. Indeed, The Pioneer (August 26) again has an article by Arif Mohammad Khan himself in which he asserts that ?the new controversy regarding Vande Mataram is unnecessary and irrelevant?, that the song ?was a great source of inspiration to freedom fighters and became a powerful expression of Indian resolve to free the nation from foreign subjugation? and that leaders like Maulana Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai have wholeheartedly supported Vande Mataram. That is another article that every Indian, especially Muslim, must read for enlightenment.
The Indian Express (August 31) carries a story of a school in Ahmedabad, where 99 per cent of the students are Muslims whose parents have never objected to their children singing Vande Mataram daily. The Free Press Journal (August 25) described the controversy as ?avoidable? and condemned HRD Minister for opening a ?divisive front? and thus further bolstering Arjun Singh'sreputation ?as a trouble-maker in the Manmohan Singh cabinet?. That probably says it all. Vande Mataram is the voice of India. For further information one should read Sabyasachi Bhattacharya'sarticle in The Indian Express (August 24). He is a former Vice Chancellor of the Vishwa Bharati University, Shantiniketan and author of Vande Mataram: The Biography of a Song. A section of the Muslim community wants Hindus to recognise and respect its sentiments. Is it too much to suggest that that section, too, must come to respect and recognise Hindu sentiments?