Janata Party's attempt to make 'Vande Mataram', originally a song
expressing Hindu nationalism, into an obligatory national song is
- says A. G.
UTTAR PRADESH Minister for Basic
Education Ravindra Shukla declared on November 17 that "the order to
make the singing of 'Vande Mataram' compulsory stands, and will be
enforced". That the "order" would not cover schools run by the
minority communities does not detract from its unconstitutional
nature. It clearly violates Article 28 (1) and (3) of the
Constitution. "(1) No religious instruction shall be provided in any
educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds" and
"(3) No person attending any educational institution recognised by
the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to
take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such
institution or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted
in such institution or in any premises attached thereto unless such
person or, if such person is a minor, his guardian has given his
consent thereto." (emphasis added throughout). The language could
not have been broader. It hits at the actual practice, regardless of
a formal order and at attendance even if there is no participation
in the worship.
What applies to Vande Mataram applies
also to Saraswati Vandana, a hymn to the Goddess Saraswati. The
Supreme Court's ruling that the singing of the National Anthem
cannot be made obligatory applies both to Vande Mataram and
Saraswati Vandana with yet greater force.
The U.P. Minister, who belongs to the
Bharatiya Janata Party, revealed on November 17 that "the order" did
exist and "will be enforced". But a few days later, on November 21,
Union Home Minister L.K.Advani said that the "factual position"
needed to be ascertained though he was against the singing of that
song being made "mandatory". (Shukla has since been dropped from the
Ministry.) More royalist than the BJP king, the Samata Party said on
November 23: "Vande Mataram has no religious connotation". This is
Else, in 1937 the Congress Working
Committee would not have said: "The Committee recognise the validity
of the objection raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the
song." It declared that "only the first two stanzas should be sung".
A poem which needs surgical operation cannot command universal
The song 'Vande Mataram' occurs in
Bankimchandra Chatterjee's novel Anand Math published in 1882.
In his Autobiography of an Unknown
Indian, Nirad C. Chaudhuri has aptly described the atmosphere of the
times in which the song was written.1 "The historical romances of
Bankim Chatterjee and Ramesh Chandra Dutt glorified Hindu rebellion
against Muslim rule and showed the Muslims in a correspondingly poor
light. Chatterjee was positively and fiercely anti-Muslim. We were
eager readers of these romances and we readily absorbed their
R.C. Majumdar, the historian, has
written an objective account of it.2 "During the long and arduous
struggle for freedom from 1905 to 1947 'Bande Mataram' was the
rallying cry of the patriotic sons of India, and thousands of them
succumbed to the lathi blow of the British police or mounted the
scaffold with 'Bande Mataram' on their lips. The central plot moves
round a band of sanyasis, called santanas or children, who left
their hearth and home and dedicated their lives to the cause of
their motherland. They worshipped their motherland as the Goddess
Kali;... This aspect of the Ananda Math and the imagery of Goddess
Kali leave no doubt that Bankimchandra's nationalism was Hindu
rather than Indian. This is made crystal clear from his other
writings which contain passionate outbursts against the subjugation
of India by the Muslims. From that day set the sun of our glory -
that is the refrain of his essays and novels which not unoften
contain adverse, and sometimes even irreverent, remarks against the
Muslims" (emphasis added). As Majumdar pithily puts it, "Bankimchandra
converted patriotism into religion and religion into patriotism."
The novel was not anti-British,
either. In the last chapter, we find a supernatural figure
persuading the leader of the sanyasis, Satyananda, to stop fighting.
The dialogue that follows is interesting:3
"He: Your task is accomplished. The
Muslim power is destroyed. There is nothing else for you to do. No
good can come of needless slaughter.
"S: The Muslim power has indeed been
destroyed, but the dominion of the Hindu has not yet been
established. The British still hold Calcutta.
"He: Hindu dominion will not be
established now. If you remain at your work, men will be killed to
no purpose. Therefore come.
"S: (greatly pained) My lord, if Hindu
dominion is not going to be established, who will rule? Will the
Muslim kings return?
"He: No. The English will rule."
Satyananda protests, but is persuaded
to lay down the sword.
"He: Your vow is fulfilled. You have
brought fortune to your Mother. You have set up a British
government. Give up your fighting. Let the people take to their
ploughs. Let the earth be rich with harvest and the people rich with
"S: (weeping hot tears) I will make my
Mother rich with harvest in the blood of her foes.
"He: Who is the foe? There are no foes
now. The English are friends as well as rulers. And no one can
defeat them in battle. (emphasis added).
"S: If that is so, I will kill myself
before the image of my Mother.
"He: In ignorance? Come and know.
There is a temple of the Mother in the Himalayas. I will show you
her image there.
"So saying, He took Satyananda by the
Anti-Muslim references are spread all
over the work. Jivananda with sword in hand, at the gate of the
temple, exhorts the children of Kali: "We have often thought to
break up this bird's nest of Muslim rule, to pull down the city of
the renegades and throw it into the river - to turn this pig-sty to
ashes and make Mother earth free from evil again. Friends, that day
The use of the song 'Vande Mataram' in
the novel is not adventitious, and it is not only communal-minded
Muslims who resent it because of its context and content. M.R.A.
Baig's analysis of the novel and the song deserve attention.
"Written as a story set in the period of the dissolution of the
Moghul Empire, the hero of the novel, Bhavananda, is planning an
armed rising against the Muslims of Bengal. While busy recruiting,
he meets Mahendra and sings the song 'Bande Mataram' or 'Hail
Mother'. The latter asks him the meaning of the words and Bhavananda,
making a spirited answer, concludes with: 'Our religion is gone, our
caste is gone, our honour is gone. Can the Hindus preserve their
Hinduism unless these drunken Nereys (a term of contempt for
Muslims) are driven away?'... Mahendra, however, not convinced,
expresses reluctance to join the rebellion. He is, therefore, taken
to the temple of Ananda Math and shown a huge image of four-armed
Vishnu, with two decapitated and bloody heads in front, "Do you know
who she is?" asks the priest in charge, pointing to an image on the
lap of Vishnu, "She is the Mother. We are her children Say 'Bande
Mataram'" He is taken to the image of Kali and then to that of Durga.
On each occasion he is asked to recite 'Bande Mataram'. In another
scene in the novel some people shouted 'kill, kill the Nereys'.
Others shouted 'Bande Mataram' 'Will the day come when we shall
break mosques and build temples on their sites? 4
The song has five stanzas. Of these
only the first two are the "approved ones". Jawaharlal Nehru was
'opposed to the last two stanzas'. The approved stanzas read:
"I bow to thee, Mother, richly
watered, richly fruited,
cool with the winds of the south,
dark with the crops of the harvests,
Her nights rejoicing in the glory of
the moonlight, her hands clothed
beautifully with her trees in
bloom, sweet of laughter, sweet of
speech, the Mother, giver of boons
giver of bliss!
The third stanza refers to 'Thy
dreadful name', evidently, a reference to the Goddess Kali. The
fourth is in the same vein. 'Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with
her hands that strike and her swords of sheen'.
It is essentially a religious homage
to the country conceived as a deity, 'a form of worship' as Majumdar
aptly called it. The motherland is "conceived as the Goddess Kali,
the source of all power and glory."
This, in the song itself. The context
makes it worse. "The land of Bengal, and by extension all of India,
became identified with the female aspect of Hindu deity, and the
result was a concept of divine Motherland".5 How secular is such a
song? The objection was not confined to mere bowing and it was
voiced early in the day.
In his presidential address at the
Second Session of the All-India Muslim League held in Amritsar on
December 30, 1908, Syed Ali Imam said:
"I cannot say what you think, but when
I find the most advanced province of India put forward the sectarian
cry of 'Bande Mataram' as the national cry, and the sectarian
Rakhibandhan as a national observance, my heart is filled with
despair and disappointment; and the suspicion that under the cloak
of nationalism Hindu nationalism is preached in India becomes a
conviction. Has the experiment tried by Akbar and Aurangzeb failed
again? Has 50 years of the peaceful spread of English education
given the country only a revival of denominationalism? Gentlemen, do
not misunderstand me. I believe that the establishment of
conferences, associations and corporate bodies in different
communities on denominational lines is necessary to give expression
to denominational views, so that the builders of a truly national
life in the country may have before them the crystallised need and
aspirations of all sects...
"Regard for the feelings and
sentiments, needs and requirements of all is the key-note to true
Indian nationalism. It is more imperative where the susceptibilities
of the two great communities, Hindus and Musalmans, are involved.
Unreconciled, one will be as great a drag on the wheel of national
progress as the other. I ask the architects of Indian nationalism,
both in Calcutta and Poona, do they expect the Musalmans of India to
accept 'Bande Mataram' and the Sivaji celebration? The Mohammedans
may be weak in anything you please, but they are not weak in
cherishing their traditions of their glorious past. I pray the
Congress leaders to put before the country such a programme of
political advancement as does not demand the sacrifice of the
feelings of the Hindu or the Mohammedan, the Parsee or the
The Congress Working Committee, which
met in Calcutta on October 26, 1937, under the presidentship of
Nehru, adopted a long statement on the subject.6 It asked that the
song should "be considered apart from the book." Recalling its use
in the preceding 30 years, the resolution said:
"The song and the words thus became
symbols of national resistance to British Imperialism in Bengal
especially, and generally in other parts of India. The words 'Bande
Mataram' became a slogan of power which inspired our people and a
greeting which ever remind us of our struggle for national freedom.
"Gradually the use of the first two
stanzas of the song spread to other provinces and a certain national
significance began to attach to them. The rest of the song was very
seldom used, and is even now known by few persons. These two stanzas
described in tender language the beauty of (the) motherland and the
abundance of her gifts. There was absolutely nothing in them to
which objection could be from the religious or any other point of
view... The other stanzas of the song are little known and hardly
ever sung. They contain certain allusions and a religious ideology
which may not be in keeping with the ideology of other religious
groups in India.
"The Committee recognise the validity
of the objection raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the
song. While the Committee have taken note of such objection insofar
as it has intrinsic value, the Committee wish to point out that the
modern evolution of the use of the song as part of National life is
of infinitely greater importance than its setting in a historical
novel before the national movement had taken shape. Taking all
things into consideration, therefore, the Committee recommend that,
wherever Bande Mataram is sung at national gatherings, only the
first two stanzas should be sung, with perfect freedom to the
organisers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character,
in addition to, or in the place of, the Bande Mataram song."
'National' songs do not need political
surgery; the songs which do, do not win national acceptance. Against
this was the fact of history that, however ill-advised, the song had
come to be associated with the struggle for freedom. Gandhi advised
Muslims to appreciate its historic association but counselled
against any imposition. "No doubt, every act... must be purely
voluntary on the part of either partner," he said at Alipore on
August 23, 1947.
THE Government of India acquired this
emotion-charged legacy. Its stand was defined in a statement by
Prime Minister Nehru to the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) on
August 25, 1948:7 Nehru said:
"The question of having a national
anthem tune, to be played by orchestras and bands became an urgent
one for us immediately after 15th August 1947. It was as important
as that of having a national flag. The 'Jana Gana Mana' tune,
slightly varied, had been adopted as a national anthem by the Indian
National Army in South-East Asia, and had subsequently attained a
degree of popularity in India also... I wrote to all the provincial
Governors and asked their views about our adopting 'Jana Gana Mana'
or any other song as the national anthem. I asked them to consult
their Premiers before replying...
Every one of these Governors, except
one (the Governor of the Central Provinces), signified their
approval of 'Jana Gana Mana'. Thereupon the Cabinet considered the
matter and came to the decision that provisionally 'Jana Gana Mana'
should be used as the tune for the national anthem, till such time
as the Constituent Assembly came to a final decision. Instructions
were issued accordingly to the provincial governments...
''It is unfortunate that some kind of
argument has arisen as between 'Vande Mataram' and 'Jana Gana Mana'.
'Vande Mataram' is obviously and indisputably the premier national
song of India, with a great historical tradition, and intimately
connected with our struggle for freedom. That position it is bound
to retain and no other song can displace it. It represents the
position and poignancy of that struggle, but perhaps not so much the
culmination of it. In regard to the national anthem tune, it was
felt that the tune was more important than the words... It seemed
therefore that while 'Vande Mataram' should continue to be the
national song par excellence in India, the national anthem tune
should be that of 'Jana Gana Mana', the wording of 'Jana Gana Mana'
to be suitably altered to fit in with the existing circumstances.
"The question has to be considered by
the Constituent Assembly, and it is open to that Assembly to decide
as it chooses. It may decide on a completely new song or tune, if
such is available."
A MORE definitive statement was made
by the President of the Constituent Assembly, Rajendra Prasad, on
January 24, 1950. He said: "There is one matter which has been
pending for discussion, namely, the question of the national anthem.
At one time it was thought that the matter might be brought up
before the House, and a decision taken by the House by way of a
resolution. But it has been felt that, instead of taking a formal
decision by means of a resolution, it is better if I make a
statement with regard to the national anthem. Accordingly, I make
this statement... The composition consisting of the words and music
known as 'Jana Gana Mana' is the national anthem of India, subject
to such alterations in the words as the Government may authorise as
occasion arises; and 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.
(Applause) I hope that will satisfy the Members."8
Mutual understanding will lead to the
Gandhian formula - respect for the song but no imposition. But even
more than that, if the problem were understood in depth, what would
emerge is a far better appreciation of the reasons why the Muslims
and the Congress drifted away from each other. Those reasons have
many a lesson for us today as we build a secular India. Attempts at
imposition reflect a conscious decision to break with the national
1. Jaico; page 235.
2. British Paramountcy
and Indian Renaissance, Part II: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1965; page
3. Sources of Indian
Tradition compiled by William Theodore de Bary and others; Columbia
University Press; 1958; page 715.
4. Vide his essay "The
Partition of Bengal and its Aftermath; The Indian Journal of
Political Science; Volume XXX, April-June 1969, Number 2, pages
5. D.F.Smith: India as a
Secular State; Princeton University Press; 1963; page 90
6. Indian Annual
Register, 1937, Volume II, p. 327.
7. Official Report on
"Constituent Assembly Debates"; Third session, Part I, Volume VI,
August 9-31, 1948.
8. Constituent Assembly
Debates, Volume XII; January 24, 1950.
Jan. 02 - 15, 1999)