The Big National Problem Vande Maataram

This is a repost of an old article I'd written on Sulekha.com. I am in the process of restoring select articles from my old site (http://rudra.sulekha.com) to The Medha Journal.
Trust politicians to blow non-issues into issues.

The Problem – Certain sections of the Moslem community refuse to sing Vande Maataram (a National Song) because it deifies the Nation as a deity (Vande Maataram translates as “Mother I Worship thee”) and it goes against the grain of their religion which deems deification of any order to be “haraam” (or taboo).

This is not a new problem; it is as old as the modern Indian Nation. The problem lies in the definition of the term Secularism in the Constitution (which I believe was added as an amendment by the Indira Gandhi government during the 70s). Contrary to how Secularism is defined in the West (viz. Separation of State and Church); in India it was defined to be “Every religion gets equal preference from the Government). This premise is flawed and has as a result caused numerous problems, and will continue to be an extremely painful “thorn in the Nation’s side” through to the unforeseeable future.

I have written other articles about how Indian Secularism is flawed and tried to provide a “Purva-paksha/Uttara-Paksha” narrative to the problems as I perceive them:

Deconstructing Indian Secularism, and Deconstructing Indian Secularism – II

This latest imbroglio (the Vande Maataram fiasco) is also a side-effect of this flawed system. Let us delve a little deeper into this matter…

What is Vande Maataram and what is its value in the Indian Nationalistic context?

Vande Maataram is indeed an extremely emotionally charged, energizing (patriotically) song – and was a big contributor to the Indian Freedom Struggle until it’s cause was realized on 15th August, 1947. Written by Sri Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (anglicized – Chaterjee) as part of his opus “[Ananda Math]” — a story about 19th Century Sanyasi (Sanskrit for Renunciate) revolutionaries who take up arms against the British Government. I will provide the English language translation (by Maharishi Sri Aurobindo Ghosh) in the following paragraphs (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vande_Mataram).

Mother, I bow to thee!
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
bright with orchard gleams,
Cool with thy winds of delight,
Green fields waving Mother of might,
Mother free.

Glory of moonlight dreams,
Over thy branches and lordly streams,
Clad in thy blossoming trees,
Mother, giver of ease
Laughing low and sweet!
Mother I kiss thy feet,
Speaker sweet and low!
Mother, to thee I bow.

Who hath said thou art weak in thy lands
When the sword flesh out in the seventy million hands
And seventy million voices roar
Thy dreadful name from shore to shore?
With many strengths who art mighty and stored,
To thee I call Mother and Lord!
Though who savest, arise and save!
To her I cry who ever her foeman drove
Back from plain and Sea
And shook herself free.

Thou art wisdom, thou art law,
Thou art heart, our soul, our breath
Though art love divine, the awe
In our hearts that conquers death.
Thine the strength that nervs the arm,
Thine the beauty, thine the charm.
Every image made divine
In our temples is but thine.

Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen,
With her hands that strike and her
swords of sheen,
Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned,
And the Muse a hundred-toned,
Pure and perfect without peer,
Mother lend thine ear,
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
Bright with thy orchard gleems,
Dark of hue O candid-fair

In thy soul, with jewelled hair
And thy glorious smile divine,
Loveliest of all earthly lands,
Showering wealth from well-stored hands!
Mother, mother mine!
Mother sweet, I bow to thee,
Mother great and free!

While it is true that there indeed is deification of the Motherland as various forms of the Mother Goddess (Shakti), it is also true that this song (reading even the translation) is bound to set a patriot’s heart on fire! Reading it while writing this article, there was a lump in my throat and breath picked up speed – such is the emotional quality of this master-piece. As a result, it is an excellent candidate for Patriotism-building and Nation-building purposes (besides it gives everyone yet another opportunity to keep that glorious language of Samskrit alive and in our active consciousness).

So what is the problem with singing Vande Maataram?

So, what kicked off this recent controversy? Apparently, Arjun Singh (the HRD Minister of the Present UPA government) had sent out a directive asking that all schools sing the first two stanzas of this song as part of their morning Assembly activities (wait a minnit!! A self-proclaimed “De-Saffronizer” doing something like that?!!? I’ll get to the “why” very shortly). And lo and behold! There had to be people who immediately cried foul, since it would “insult” Moslem sensitivities and would be a violation on their Constitutional Rights (everyone knows who Imam Bukhari and Mulayam Singh Yadav are, right?).

I know that as a result of the “Nature” of Secularism in India, Assembly activities in most Schools involve singing spiritual (from various religious backgrounds) and patriotic songs. I haven’t (at least while growing up there) heard of incidences when members of any particular community refused to sing say a “Christian Hymn” or a “Hindu bhajan” (I’m not aware of any Moslem spiritual songs – or I’m sure one or two would trickle into the dozen strong staple playing list in the Indian School system) because they felt it violated their Constitutional Rights (after all, Secularism in the Indian context is the equality of all religions, right?)!

I guess it is an old issue after all, since Gurudev Rabindranath Thakur (anglicized – Tagore) himself made a note of this in a letter to Netaji Subhash Chandra Basu (anglicized – Bose); asking that this song not be made into the National Anthem since it had faced great opposition from the Moslem Community way back in the 1920s and 30s. Well, accepted that Islam prohibits “Idol worship” and the deification of the Nation as a Goddess can be construed as a type of “Idol Worship”. But what prevents our Moslem brethren (and I’m absolutely convinced that 95% of them don’t really mind singing Vande Maataram – and that infact they too feel the same fervor from it that your friendly neighborhood Hindu, Christian or Sikh would feel) from simply paying it “Lip service” (just thinking – Chalo yaar, aaj in Hinduon ka Dil rakhlete hain )?

Definitely Diabolical(?)

I’ll tell you what. It is the politicians. Coming back to the point about Arjun Singh wanting to implement a deifying, Samskrit language patriotic song in the School System (see above)…it seems absolutely farcical (and it probably is). It is a political tactic that a flailing Congress/UPA Government has used, in order to first garner the Hindu Votes (away from the BJP camp). Don’t Believe me? Read an excellent analysis titled "Aaj ka Arjun" by Rediff blogger Sai Suresh Ramaswamy on this very topic.

To summarize, Arjun has been playing some carefully planned political games –

Phase 1 — “De-Saffronization” – to consolidate UPA support (meaning Communist support) and appease the Moslem vote-bank.

Phase 2 – “Mandal II” – to consolidate Egalitarian objectives (meaning Communist and other Casteist Party support) and appease the OBC vote-bank (read my article titled “The Reservation Complex” for a detailed analysis of this issue).

Phase 3 – “Vande Maataram” – to consolidate Hindu votes (by first starting the problem by introducing the rule to sing the song in the first place) and then to appease Moslem and Communist support (by back-tracking and changing his stance into saying “I didn’t force anyone to sing it”).

Foiling the divisive politics

How can we work around these divisive politicians and the barriers and hurdles they seem to have put in our path to achieving National harmony and ever-lasting peace?

I cannot speak about the hundreds of other issues that are causing problems in India (and for Indians) in one breath, but one major problem can be resolved by implementing Secularism the way it was meant to be (as in the complete Separation of Government and Religion). Like the old saying goes – “Na rahega baans, na bajegi Bansuri” (without the Bamboo, the flute can never be played).

Solutions as a result thereof –

  • No religio-political ideas can be introduced in Schools (at least not by Government edict) – it will have to be done solely on the general consensus of the Citizens.
  • No special/specialized treatment of any section of the Indian religious flora can be done by the Government
  • If any government body actually discriminates against a citizen on the basis of their religious persuasion, they would be in violation of the Constitution (and one of its “Sacred covenants – Secularism”) and would be held accountable in the Indian Justice System.

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