Prior to the 175th birth anniversary of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1894), his song Vande Mataram is back in news for wrong reasons. On May 8, BSP’s Shaifqur Rehman Burq nonchalantly walked out of the Lok Sabha while Vande Mataram was being played. The only comparable incident in the annals of the apex legislative body had taken place on the historic midnight on August 14-15, 1947. As the Assumption of Power ceremony commenced in the Constitution Hall (now Central Hall of Parliament) with Vande Mataram, some members did not arrive. But as soon as the song concluded, they were seen trickling inside. HV Kamath, member from erstwhile Central Province & Berar, found their entry too simultaneous to be natural. They had apparently wanted to skip the Vande Mataram by design. Kamath referred to this incident in the Constituent Assembly on August 26, 1947 when it was his turn to speak. However, neither the identity of members nor their motives are known to us.
But Burq, MP from Sambhal, and Convenor of Babri Masjid Action Committee clearly acknowledges religious reasons. He admits that tenets of Islam prevent him from bowing down his head to (an idolised form of) the motherland. “I can give my life to the motherland and I have been taught heaven lies beneath the feet of mother. But I cannot bow my head to her, which is reserved only for Allah.”
Criticism directed against Burq is purely legalistic. It hinges on the point that Burq has insulted the national song, co-equal of national anthem Jana Gana Mana. His critics trace it to a statement by President Rajendra Prasad in the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1950. “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… I hope this will satisfy all members.” It was not a ruling from the chair but a statement made only to ‘satisfy’ the members. It was like an apology or resignation tendered merely to ‘satisfy’ ruffled public sentiment.
Had Dr Rajendra Prasad or Nehru been sincere about the co-equal status, they would have got it entered into the Constitution adopted on November 26, 1949. Several Constituent Assembly members had favoured recognising Vande Mataram as the national anthem. But why did Dr Rajendra Prasad make a reference on January 26, 1950 — merely two days before the Constitution was about to be enforced? The song actually fell between two stools. Vande Mataram is not protected even Article 51 A of the Constitution — Fundamental Duties or the Prevention of Insults to National Honours Act, 1971.
But what the legalistic interpreters overlook is the psychic chasm between the communities. Vande Mataram merely occasions its exposure. I doubt if Burq’s conduct would have surprised Bankim. Burq’s iconoclastic faith prevents him from bowing down to motherland personified. Bankim had no love lost for Burq’s Arabic imperial faith either. In Anandamath (1882), where the song Vande Mataram appears, he hails the disestablishment of Muslim rule in Bengal. He was convinced that a century of British rule was necessary to reinvigorate the Hindus.
Bankim was not merely the first novelist of India. He is hailed a seer who gave us the mantra of ‘Vande Mataram’. Its Hindu inspiration is obvious. The song was composed on November 7, 1875 on the day of Jagaddharti Puja in Bengal. But that is not the only reason why Muslims were irked by it. Vande Mataram was song common to different branches of freedom movement. From revolutionaries of Bengal and Maharashtra to the moderate Congressmen and Gandhiji– Vande Mataram was hailed by all. But the bulk of Muslim society, under the influence of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan, stayed away from freedom movement. The freedom movement of India was thus a Hindu enterprise. Only the Hindus melted their bones in the dungeon of cellular Jail in Andaman, and went to gallows smilingly for the sake of motherland.
Vande Mataram, like the less poetical Bharat Mata Ki Jai, is a Hindu expression of patriotism. It is the Hindu who idealises India as divine mother. Its roots perhaps lie in the hoary antiquity of Atharva Veda where the Prithvi Sukta says, “Earth is my mother, I am her son”. He sees Mother India as part of Mother Earth. India is the land of sacred geography — but to Hindus alone. To the Central Asian invaders, India has been a real estate. The Muslims have possessed India, the Hindus have belonged to it. Thus Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata Ki Jai come naturally to any Hindu of whatever persuasion. Had Burq’s forefathers not accepted the religion brought over by Turk horsemen, he would not have any hesitation in singing Vande Mataram.
The contrast is quite revealing as Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are adjourned sine die each session. The Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Vice President Hamid Ansari says, ‘now national song’. But Speaker, Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar says ‘Please stand up for Vande Mataram’. Hindus would love Vande Mataram, as they have loved it for a century, regardless of its Constitutional status. It is the love of patriotic Hindus, not the statement of the Chairman, Constituent Assembly that has made Vande Mataram a national song.