...............Vande Mataram: Born unfree?
It was the year 1875. A poet, tired of city life took a train from Calcutta, the then bustling capital of British Raj India and set off for his village of Kantalapada. En route he was enchanted by the natural beauty of the countryside he encountered. He wrote a poem. Vande Mataram was thus born on November 7, 1875.
As he put pen to paper, I have little doubt in my mind that Bankim Chandra Chatterjee had absolutely no idea that in a quarter of a century his poem would become a revolutionary cry, carrying India over the threshold of freedom. And he most certainly never imagined the controversy it would generate another 100 years later in Free India. From poem, to march song, to clarion call, to an ideology marker- Vande Mataram has travelled a long journey. Far longer than that train ride from Calcutta to Kantalapada.
I was amazed with the Indian history and politics that enveloped the growth, acceptance and criticism of Vande Mataram. Although conceived in 1875, it really splashed into prominence as a literary effort from the years 1880 to 1883 as part of a novel called Anand Math. Two years after Bakim Chandra's death, the full unabridged version of the Vande Mataram was sung at the 1896 Indian National Congress convention. The star performer was none other than Rabindranath Tagore. Thereafter, it became a tradition to commence every session of the Congress convention with Vande Mataram. Renowned vocalist of his time VD Paluskar was normally the one to do the honours.
It was 1905, which was a year of deep political ramifications. Lord Curzon had decided to partition Bengal. Ostensibly, this was for "administrative convenience" but strategically it was to effectuate an almost permanent divide between Hindus and Muslims. Indians had decided otherwise. Mild protests had failed to change the British point of view, and the time had come to spark off a revolution. As a mark of protest, a huge gathering took form. One man shouted Vande Mataram and hundred others echoed. The 1906 defiant Barisal Congress convention saw Indians defying strict Government orders against shouts of Vande Mataram. Several were bludgeoned to death that day under British batons. Each one laying down his life to two words: Vande Mataram. Thus was born India's call to freedom.
One wonders, after all this, why the Muslim objection to the singing of Vande Mataram. One must at the outset understand that the slogan by itself and the song in its entirety stand differently. The objections have largely been to the words of the song and the context of its parent book, Anand Math. The novel is set in the times of Mughal rule. The central character, Bhavananada, is building an army to revolt against the Mughal rulers and is recruiting youth for this. He approaches Mahendra, a potential recruit, asking him to join him, and sings Vande Mataram to him. Mahendra questions him on the meaning of the song, to which Bhavanavada replies and then concludes with the words: "Our religion is gone, our caste is gone, our honour is gone. Can the Hindus preserve their Hinduism unless these drunken Nereys (a derogatory reference to Muslims) are driven away?"
Mahendra not being all-too-convinced is then taken to the Anand Math, where the priest shows him the idols of Kali and Durga, and on each occasion he is asked to say the words "Bande Mataram".
What I found most bewildering is the conversation towards the end of the novel, which another character called Satyananda has with some form of supernatural being. The Being tells him that his fight is now over: "The Muslim power is destroyed ... You have brought fortune to our Mother. You have set up a British Government. Give up our fighting", and then mysteriously goes on to say: "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." These last few lines intrigued me no end. For a book that was set in British Raj, it very strangely seems to be pro-British. And a poem drawn from this book stands as the national song today. If at all, I think this could be the sole ground of objection to Vande Mataram.
Historically, anti-Muslim references in the book have been the backbone of most of the criticism about Vande Mataram. The objection is not new. The first objection I could trace was in the year 1908. This was however a fervent plea and not a hostile protest. In the second session of the All India Muslim League in Amritsar, Syed Ahmed Ali said: "Regard for feelings, sentiments, needs and requirements of all is the key-note to true Indian Nat-ionalism. It is more imperative when the susceptibilities of the two great communities, Hindus and Muslims, are involved. ... I pray the Congress leaders to put before the country such a program-me of political advancement as does not demand the sacrifice of the feelings of the Hindu or the Mohammedan, the Parsee or the Christian."
Probably the most well-documented objection was at the 1923 Kakinada (now in Andhra Pradesh) Congress session where VD Paluskar, as was tradition, rose at the beginning of the session to sing the Vande Mataram. The President of the Congress for that year, Maulana Mohammed Ali, objected on the ground that "music was taboo to his religion". The headfast Paluskar sang the song in its entirety nonetheless.
In 1937, matters came to new high and it was decided to have the Vande Mataram "suitably modified". The Congress Working Committee which met in Calcutta on October 26, 1937, considered the recommendations of a subcommittee-consisting of Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Chandra Bose and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru-formed to study the issue. The Committee resolved that "it recognises the validity of the objections taken by Muslim friends to certain parts of the song ... Taking this into consideration, the committee recommends 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 place of the Bande Mataram." Thus, Vande Mataram now only stood to contain the first two stanzas and all references to Durga in the latter half were eliminated.
Then came Free India and it was time to choose ourselves a national anthem. Vande Mataram only almost became the National Anthem. Jana Gana Mana was considered a more "playable" and less controversial song. In his statement before the August 25, 1948 Constituent Assembly, Prime Minister Nehru said that the choosing of a national anthem was an urgent question and that he had written to all the Provincial Governors asking them for their views on adopting Jana Gana Mana as the national anthem.
Except the Governor of the Central Provinces, all had consented to Jana Gana Mana. While accepting that Vande Mataram was "obviously and indisputable the premier national song of the country", it was Jana Gana Mana which was to be the national anthem. He also thought it would be an easier song for the band to play. Vocalist Master Krishna Rao was to be the most dejected. In his attempt to prove that Vande Mataram was a very "playable band song", he had spent a long time matching his tune to a police march. He had even got a British band master to write a score and sung it before a Parliamentary Committee. He was heartbroken when Parliament rejected the song. Politics had prevailed over poetic finesse.
Rameeza Hakeem (A PAKISTANI BY ACT OF PARTITION, 1947)
http://www.dailypioneer.com/secon3.asp?cat=\edit3&d=EDITS 29th Aug 2002