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Patriotism is reduced to singing Vande Mataram or not

By Dr Mohammad Sajjad
November 05, 2009 20:15 IST
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Let us build a new India together. One particular song cannot make or mar the future of a nation or its people, says Dr Mohammad Sajjad on the latest Vande Mataram controversy.

The test of patriotism and nationalism has been reduced to singing or not singing Vande Mataram, a poem in the 19th century novel Anand Math by Bankim Chandra Chatterji.

The kind of nationalism (during our anti-colonial struggle) that believed more in excluding certain groups of people, insisted more on singing it -- which also coined a controversial but famous slogan, 'Bharat desh mein rehna hai to Vande Mataram kehna hoga' (One can live in India only when s/he sings Vande Mataram). Whereas a 'small' section of India's Muslims smelled elements of idolatry (repugnant to Islam) in the text of the poem, and therefore, argued that they should not be asked to prove their patriotism only by singing it.

This was one of the most contested issues even during the Congress ministries of 1937-39, and the bi-national religious nationalism of the Muslim League and its politics of territorial separatism derived some food from it.

This time such a proposition came from a kind of organisation which has a formidable history of confronting British colonialism as well as the Muslim League's separatist nationalism, unlike the re-incarnations of those outfits which believed in exclusionary majoritarian nationalism.

One is left wondering, was there any immediate provocation? Was it really required by the Jamiat-Ul-Ulema-e-Hind to issue any fatwa against Vande Mataram? (After all, those political formations which are identified as representing majoritarian nationalism, are already electorally decimated, and afflicted with disarray in its leadership. They haven't provoked them on the issue in the recent past). If not, then one may read some diabolic attempt at polarising society and the polity. Presumably, that is the cause of the furore in response to the fatwa.

Being a student of modern Indian history, I am particularly more surprised at this kind of gesture of the Jamiat. Why? Because one of the Jamiat's founding fathers, Maulana Abul Mohasin Mohammad Sajjad, was also the founder of the Imarat-e-Sharaiah (Patna), and the Muslim Independent Party, which formed its ministry in Bihar (April-July 1937), took some bold and 'radical' agrarian measures, and kept confronting the League's separatism till the very end.

His correspondence with M A Jinnah, testify how this 'Maulana's' reasonable arguments put the London-educated advocate, Jinnah, in great discomfiture. His essays in Naqeeb, the Urdu mouth piece of the Imarat-e-Shariah, raised remarkably convincing questions against dividing the country merely on religious grounds.

In one of his essays, he even talks of pushing back all religious practices, rituals, processions etc in private/domestic domains, rather than in the public sphere. He proposed that such display of religion in public should be strictly banned. He put this proposal precisely to avoid the religious confrontations, one of the greatest banes of modern India. Has the Jamiat forgotten these words of Maulana Sajjad?

Having said this, one should also try to understand another aspect of Vande Matram. Besides its text, the context of the poem is also 'offensive' because of the fact that the whole narrative and the story-line of the novel, Anand Math, is full of hatred against Muslims. Moreover, it is also appreciating and welcoming of British rule in India.

In the story of the novel, there is a group of saints (sadhus) who call themselves santan, the children of Bharat Mata (Mother India). Its leader Satyanand is imprisoned by the (Muslim) ruler. Satyanand's disciple Gyanand vows to set his guru free, and shouts that they should destroy the cities of the Muslims and that these dirty people should be thrown away into the rivers. The sadhus succeed in their effort, set their guru free, and set all Muslim houses in their way on fire.

In short, atrocities against Muslims, is a recurrent theme in the story of the novel. The story is preferred to be concluded in a way, which is worth noticing: The mission of the santans succeeds, they assemble around their guru and ask that even though they had succeeded in overthrowing the Muslim rulers, they failed to replace them by Hindu ruler; rather the British occupied Calcutta.

The guru consoles his disciples by saying that Hinduism is rich in spiritual strength but deficient in material strength, they would overcome this deficiency with the help of the British, they should therefore welcome British rule. (See Sukumar Murlidharan, 'Patriotism without People' in Social Scientist, May-June 1994; and my essay, 'Kyon ham gaayen Bande Matram?', in Tahzibul Akhlaq, Urdu monthly, Aligarh, February 2003).

As against it, Rabindranath Tagore's novel Ghare Baire, has a character, Nikhil, who is uncomfortable with Vande Mataram, its exclusionary notion of nationalism, as it displays hatred against a particular group of people.

India's pluralist character, vibrant democracy, assertive intelligentsia and all attendant principles/institutions are the best assurance to allay the misgivings of the minorities and other weaker sections.

Any attempt at vitiating such an atmosphere won't be allowed to succeed. No group/organisation, outfit should try to create a fear psychosis.

Let us build a new India together. One particular song cannot make or mar the future of a nation or its people.

Dr Mohammad Sajjad is an assistant professor, Centre of Advanced Study in History at the Aligarh Muslim University.

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Dr Mohammad Sajjad