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Save the anthem from disrespect

On 8 May last as the Lok Sabha adjourned sine die, Speaker Meira Kumar in a never before stern tone warned Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) member of parliament Shafiqur Rahman Barq for walking out of the house as national song Vande Mataram was being sung by the members. ‘One honourable member walked out when Vande Mataram was being played. I take very serious view of this. I would want to know why this was done. This should never be done again,’ Kumar said.
 
One is not sure if the Speaker’s office has so far issued any notice to Barq asking for explanation but  the veteran politician from western UP has been giving explanation by dozen why he decided to walk out. ‘I absent myself when
Vande Mataram
is played to avoid any awkward situation but here I was present when it was being played,’ Barq said, indicating that he was not really interested in creating controversies like some of the other rootless leaders of the Muslim community have done in the past. Nonetheless his action and its justification did betray the fact that there still exist a large number of the members from the minority community who have not accepted Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s ode to motherland as the national song.
 
About six years back a huge controversy came to engulf the song when Zafaryab Jilani, the present additional advocate general of Uttar Pradesh and member of the Muslim Personal Law Board, raised objections to the singing of
Vande Mataram
. He had raised a hue and cry over Uttar Pradesh government circular, which had asked for the singing of the national song in all the schools on 7 September 2006 to commemorate the conclusion of the year-long-celebrations to mark the adoption of Vande Mataram as national song by the Indian National Congress. The circular came following a demi-official letter written by then Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh to then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.
 
Thankfully despite the hue and cry raised by the group of Muslims like Jilani, the centenary celebration of the song was held with much enthusiasm across the nation with a large number of students and intellectuals from the Muslim community joining the celebration. The aversion to singing of
Vande Mataram
, which is the song of India’s freedom struggle, betrays the fact that some people still want the idea of two-nation theory to incubate in some minds. They however forget that the song inspired Bengali masses, both Hindus and Muslims, to successfully protest against division of Bengal on the communal lines by the British.  From there on it became the song of the Independence Movement, which brought together an Indian nation so diverse in its language, culture and religion to fight imperialistic forces. To illustrate the point, Lala Hardayal and his friends in Ghadar Party in United States, on hearing the news of the attempt to kill Viceroy Hardinge in Delhi on 23 December 1912, did a bhangra and sang
Vande Mataram
at Berkeley. How sad that we are today being told by some that the song is an outpouring of a Hindu obscurantist and it’s the Sangh Parivar which should have the copyright over it. Hardayal and many others like him was neither Hindu obscurantist nor wedded to Hinduvta ideology.
 
For those desirous to know how the song encapsulated the spirit of the nation’s freedom it’s important to recall the night of 14 August 1947. By 10.45 pm, the Central Hall of the Council Hall, now known as the Parliament House was packed to its capacity. At the appointed hour, the proceedings of the House commenced with the singing of
Vande Mataram
led by Sucheta Kriplani. This was followed by a brief opening address by the Chairman of Constituent Assembly Rajendra Prasad, followed by Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous speech – Tryst with Destiny. Finally, the resolution was moved to take the Oath of Dedication. The solemn moment arrived and every stone of the Parliament House echoed with the lusty shouts of Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai and Vande Mataram.
 
Has time come to delete both Mahatma Gandhi and Vande Mataram from our sacred texts? I may be faulted for using the word sacred, for some may term it having religious connotations. But let me tell you I have used the word sacred for our Constitution with full responsibility and belief. One I am not agnostic and two, I have read the Constitution with more reverence and in detail than any of the Hindu scriptures. My acquaintance with
Vande Mataram
is as our national song and I have seldom cared to find out if it is inspired by a Hindu religious motif. Similarly, I see no reason for not singing Sare Jahan se Acha Hindostan Hamara with equal gusto just because its author was later to become a propagandist and a great advocate of the two-nation theory.
 
With no further justification needed to establish the credentials of Vande Mataram as a secular song wedded to the ideology of nationalism and freedom, its responsibility of the constitutional authorities to ensure that it’s not disrespected that too within the precincts of Lok Sabha, the highest body of our democracy.
 
The duty of Speaker Meira Kumar doesn’t end by just handing over a stern verbal reprimand to the BSP MP, she would need to act further and strengthen laws of business to ensure that such disrespect is not brought to the anthem which inspired millions of nationalist Indians during the freedom struggle.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post.
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