As if the country did not have enough debates like intolerance and beef ban shedding much heat but little light, yet another slanging match has erupted over the chanting of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’. Anyone with a rudimentary acquaintance with Indian history, particularly the freedom struggle phase, will know how self-defeating such controversies are. Many Indian freedom fighters chanted ‘Bande Mataram’, but there was a broad understanding then that it was but one of the slogans to inspire a land of diverse faiths and tongues. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s hymn to the Motherland contained a devout goddess imagery which may have made some Muslim patriots uncomfortable, so they chanted ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ or ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ instead. All these rallying cries energized an entire people against British colonial rule. The sentiments expressed in ‘Vande Mataram’ may have been more in keeping with the revolutiory spirit of an India awakening to freedom, but the country’s founding founders saw it fit to retain its first two stanzas as the tiol song. Muhammad Iqbal’s equally stirring ode to the country, ‘Sare Jahan se Accha Hindusitan hamara’ too remained a tiol song. The reason why Tagore’s ‘Ja Ga Ma’ was chosen as the tiol anthem was never spelt out, but it is very likely that its lack of religious connotations and strong tiolistic fervor may have worked in its favor. In the immediate aftermath of partition, the constituent assembly in 1947-50 may have been mindful of the perils of wild tiolistic zeal running amok in a fledgling, exceedingly vulnerable country with multiple races, religions and languages.
Can India afford to throw such caution to the winds more than six decades down the road? Judging from the rhetoric some politicians are using over ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, it is obvious how irresponsibly they are playing to their rrow galleries. In the wake of the ‘azadi’ sloganeering in Jawaharlal Nehru University, RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat set off the war of words when he remarked that the time has come to tell the new generation to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. This provoked AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi to retort that he would not chant that slogan even if a knife is held to his throat, and the Constitution does not enjoin anyone to say it. In the Maharashtra assembly, AIMIM MLA Waris Pathan refused to chant the slogan and was suspended from the House amidst much brouhaha. Chief Minister Devendra Fadvis later added fuel to the fire by taunting those unwilling to say ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ as ‘having no right to stay in the country’. Gleeful at the BJP rushing into yet another hole dug by the RSS chief, the Congress and Left parties have lost no time in ratcheting up the issue, asking why minorities are being made to prove their patriotism. Meanwhile, both Omar Abdullah’s tiol Conference and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party have been baiting the BJP leadership, mischievously asking whether Mehbooba Mufti, leader of PDP which is BJP’s J&K alliance partner, will chant ‘Bharat Mata’ when she takes oath as chief minister.
In the midst of all this political posturing, the Darul Uloom Deoband has issued a fatwa against chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, calling it un-Islamic — a stand backed by other bodies like Jamat-e-Islami Hind (JIH). It is not as if the entire Muslim community is taking a monolithic stand on this issue. Rahnuma-e-Deccan, a Hyderabad-based daily, has advised in an editorial that even if Muslims raise this slogan, ‘their faith would certainly not be in danger because Allah sees one’s intention.’ Yoga guru Baba Ramdev has now waded right into this controversy with his remark that had it not been for the country’s Constitution and laws, ‘lakhs of heads would have been cut off for opposing the chanting of Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. From the way things are going, surely the last word has not been heard on this matter. But irresponsible words from leaders and people in high positions are having repercussions on the ground, as shown in a recent incident in a New Delhi park where goons thrashed three Muslim youths for refusing to chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. All this bad feeling being generated over showing love to the country is highly unfortute, an utter waste of time and energy which should be more gainfully used to tackle much more pressing issues. Love for one’s country ought to be felt deeply within, and to each belongs his own way of expressing it and doing something productive about it. The Germans revere their country as Fatherland, though they have experienced the dark side of tiolism gone rabid during Hitler’s Third Reich. Bharat Mata or Hindustan calls upon all Indians to raise it to such a pedestal that such controversies are rendered entirely meaningless.