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Vande Mataram


Some two decades into acclaimed and dedicated service to King and country, Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, was finally confronted with his patriot test by Henry the VIIIth.  He was ordered to intervene with the Pope in Rome for his consent to the annulment of the King’s marriage to his elder brother’s widow, Katherine of Arragon.

This was one thing that the good Lord Chancellor could not bring himself to do, since such a course flouted Church doctrine on the issue of marriage.  The result: Wolsey fell into illness and out of favour, till his death in ‘traitorous’ disgrace.

Considering the post-9/11 like hysteria that is assiduously sought to be built by right-wing Hindu forces, led by the RSS, subsequent to the train blasts in Mumbai (whereby ‘patriotic’ Indians are everyday invited to look over their shoulder for the lurking muslim ‘terrorist’), it occurs to me that Wolsey’s moving lament “had I served my God with half the zeal I served my King, he would not have deserted me in my old age” must resonate touchingly among Indian muslims today.

After centuries of incalculable contribution to the shaping of India’s economic, cultural and spiritual life, after exemplary sacrifices made during India’s struggle for freedom, and after proven heroisms in the three or four military confrontations with Pakistan, Indian muslims are yet again under suspicion because they object to singing Vande Mataram.  Among other rabid jingoists of the Sangh Parivar, its two noted muslim mascots are the loudest in demanding that muslims either sing the ‘national song’ or ‘go to Pakistan.’

That muslims are not being asked to go to Saudi Arabia, for example, is a dead giveaway, in the meanwhile.  Clearly, it is not so much the tenets of muslim faith that are sought to be attacked as their alleged role in causing the partition of India in 1947 as a consequence of the ‘two-nation’ theory.

The interesting fact, however, remains that it was no muslim but Savarkar, the head of the Hindu Mahasabha, who was first to propound the ‘two nation’ thesis in that seminal book of communalism, Hindutva (1923), a full sixteen years before Jinnah caught up with the idea.

India’s secular historians have, of course, in recent decades made irrefutable substantiations of this fact.  Since, nonetheless, their scholarship amounts merely to ‘minority appeasement’ in the eyes of the Sangh, let us cite from another modern Indian historian—one close to  the RSS heart—namely R.C. Majumdar:

  â€œone important factor which was responsible to a very large extent for the emergence of the idea of partition of India on communal lines. . . was the Hindu Mahasabha”
                                 (Struggle for Freedom, 1969, p.611)

It is of course another matter that neither for Savarkar, a self-proclaimed atheist, nor for Jinnah, a liquor-drinking, pork-eating, non-namazi western gentleman manqué, was the ‘two-nation’ hypothesis driven by any religious impetus. If in  Savarkar’s case the matter was entirely of ensuring Brahminical hegemony over the post-independence Indian state, Jinnah’s exertions were dictated equally by the material interests of an entrenched muslim landed and bureaucratic elite who feared loss of clout under a  Hindu-dominated independent India. No wonder then that both were far better friends of the British colonizers than of the freedom struggle led by the Congress under Gandhi.

Thus, after the rejection of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reform proposals by the Congress, and the launch of the Non-Cooperation movement (1920)—the first major mass mobilization against foreign rule—“Savarkar’s call to the Hindus was one of ‘no support to the Congress move’; while the Congress leaders were in prison, Savarkar “encouraged Hindu participation” in the formation of Ministries in “Muslim-majority provinces” (Pattabhi Sitaramaya, The History of the Indian National Congress, Vol.II, p.512).

And, again, when Gandhi gave the “quit India” call in 1942, Savarkar was to issue the following edict as President of the Hindu Mahasabha:

   â€œI issue this definite instruction to all Hindu Sabhaites in particular and all Hindu Sangathanists in general. . . holding any post or position of vantage in the Government services should stick to them and continue to perform their regular duties.”

As to the RSS, its good collaborative behaviour throughout received the following commendation from the  Colonial Home Department:

   â€œthe Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August, 1942.”

Another telling vignette, this time from the scion of the then socialist movement in India, N.G.Goray.  He had this to say about the attack on the May Day march in 1938 in Pune:

   â€œWho attacked the May Day procession? Who assaulted men like Senapati Bapat and Kanitkar? Who tore up the National Flag? The Hindu Mahasabhaites and the Hedgewar Boys did all this. . . .They have been taught to hate the Muslims in general as Public Enemy Number1.”(Congress Socialist, May 14, 1938).

Such, then, are the worthies who shamelessly and without let continue to berate Indian muslims with questionable loyalty to the Indian state.

Why, it ought to be asked, do muslims refuse to sing Vande Mataram? And why, equally importantly, do they view with suspicion the right-wing Hindu insistence that they do so?

The answer to the first question is indeed a  very simple one.  The holy Koran explicitly stipulates that believers are “enjoined to serve Allah and to worship none but Him”(The Koran, trans. N.J.Dawood, Penguin Classics, 1956, p.29). In other places the holy book makes it clear that the ‘none’ includes prophet Mohammed as well.  The very title and first line of Bankim’s Vande Mataram, on the other hand, declare “Mother, I bow to thee.” (Aurobindo’s rendering)
Thus, it wouldn’t matter much whether Indian muslims are packed off to Pakistan or some other muslim-majority nation: as per the injunction in the Koran, they could not bow in worship to any of those land masses either.

The answer to the second question posed above, however, involves both the political history and the content of Vande Mataram.  And many Indians who, because of insufficient acquaintance with either, feel rather outraged at muslim refusal of the song, need to be better informed on both counts.

Written sometime in 1875, Bankim incorporated the song into his novel, Anandamath (1882), a novel that glorified Hindu rebellion against ‘tyrannical muslim rule in the 18th century.’ The song depicts India as the Mother Goddess, Kali or Durga, and includes in the body of the text the following:

Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen,
With her hands that strike and her
     sword of sheen,
Thou art Lakshmi, lotus-throned,
And the Muse a hundred-toned,
Pure and perfect without peer,
Mother lend thine ear.              (Aurobindo’s trans.,)

In R.C.Majumdar’s words again, this was an unambiguous project to convert “patriotism into religion and religion into patriotism.” It should be no surprise therefore that in 1937 the Congress Working Committee decided that only the first two stanzas would be sung, since Nehru had always been wary that “What is called Nationalism can be defined as in fact the National communalism of the majority community which has been ruling and still aspires to rule this country.” (  Nehru, Recent Essays and Writings, Kitabkhana, Allahabad, Second Edition, 1937, pp.47-61;   quoted in  Nehru On Communalism, ed. N.L.Gupta, Sampradaykta Virodhi Committee, December,1965, p.9)

Apart, therefore, from the obvious fact that muslims are not permitted by the tenets of their faith to bow to gods or goddesses other than Allah, the history of the Vande Mataram phase of India’s anti-colonial struggle was one in which that struggle was sought to be given an explicity sectarian hue and substance. That this was no incidental, Tilak-like, politically expedient manoeuvre to mobilize the mass of Indians against foreign rule is borne out by the fact that the communal nationalism symbolized by Bankim’s offering was to remain at the centre of Hindu Mahasabha and RSS blue-prints of the future Indian nation-state, to the extent of stipulating the requirements of Indian citizenship.

Nowhere was this more blatantly and perniciously stated than in Golwalker’s 77 page booklet, We, Our Nationhood Defined (1938), a text that Jean A.Curran characterized as the RSS ‘Bible’.  Therein, Golwalker wrote the following:

  â€œThe foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights.”

Is there any wonder then that Indian muslims should view the current,  revivalist insistence as yet another attempt to incorporate them into the kind of existence that Golwalker stipulates above?  This especially  in view of the fact that muslims have unfailingly demonstrated unflinching allegiance to the National Anthem, Jana, Gana, Mana, and to the National Tricolour, both of which were accepted by the RSS only as a quid pro quo to the lifting of the ban on it, following Gandhi’s murder, and which, in fact, remain subordinate in its reckoning to the Bhagwa.

On a normative plain: one recalls that until a decade or so ago, it used to be mandatory for cinema hall owners to play the National Anthem before the commencement of the day’s entertainment.  This direction, however, had to be withdrawn because hardly any cinema-goer was seen to rise as the Anthem was played.  Yet, it has never occurred to either the ‘nationalist’ Hindu-right or the state to question the allegiance and loyalty of those cinema goers, the overwhelming bulk of whom, after all, were bound to have been Hindu.  Recalling that fact helps then to underscore the communal politics that informs the current, renewed insistence that muslim Indians either sing the national song or ‘go to Pakistan.’

That many Indians do not quite see the matter that way has been brought out by a recent poll conducted by one of the premier TV channels.  Some 40% of those polled were of the view that there should be no compulsion to sing Vande Mataram.  Given that muslims constitute only some 13% of the population, it is clear enough that some thirty percent Hindus and other non-muslims do not see the singing of the national song as any test of ‘patriotism.’  That indeed is a happy state of affairs. The question then might be asked: where would the RSS propose to ‘send off’ the 30 some percent Hindus and other non-Muslims who, like Indian muslims, are of that persuasion.  Clearly, ‘Pakistan’ does not seem an option here.

One may also add that for many Left thinking people and atheists like the present writer, the ‘nation’ is not some mystical  sensation but is constituted by the people who live and labour within a defined territory, sharing a common history.  Such a  perspective can have little trek with dubious versions rooted in an emotive iconography that constructs the ‘nation’ into gods and goddesses. Not for no reason did Golwalker severly criticize the idea that after Independence India would be denoted  a ‘territory,’ since ‘territorial nationalism’ contradicted the RSS ‘vision’ of a nationalism constructed on racial principles.

It is crucial, then, both for the state and the secular Indian citizen to recognize the efforts that are afoot to project muslims as ‘terrorists,’ and to create within the country the same sort of paranoia as now obtains in America, U.K. and elsewhere in the West, (a circumstance that is eloquently testified to by the racial and religious targeting of Indian-muslim passengers in a North-West Airliner.)

Every sane impulse, therefore, needs to be exerted to prevent  the terrorization of the muslim community  if we wish to ensure that we do not become the agents of generating the very effects which are ostensibly sought to be forestalled.  Even as instances of unforgiveable violence against innocent citizens are strenuously unraveled and punished, including violence committed lawlessly by state agencies, it is of fatal consequence that muslims per se be both involved, as conscientious citizens, in that endeavour and, through multiple integrationist strategies freed of the fear that they now constitute the suspicious ‘other’ of the self-designated ‘authentic’ nation.

We must remember that already Islam in India is a fascinatingly eclectic phenomenon, involving the acceptance of practices severly forbidden by Wahabi dogma.  Devotional forms of music—naat, mankabat, qawali, kashmiri sufiana kalaam—or the tradition of ziyarat to the resting places of saints and Sufis, these are anathema to Arabic Islam.  There may well come a day when some irresistible post-modernist gale might inundate other   rigidities as well.  That, nonetheless, is best left to time and tide  rather than made the agenda of a fearsome, fascist putsch in pseudo-nationalist garb.  India has need of great tolerance and wisdom in each of its citizens if the deficiencies thereof among organized social forces, not excluding the media, are to be prevented from destroying the pluralist republic.

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