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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Vande Mataram: Whose Nationalism?

A friend has asked me what are my views on the entire Vande Mataram issue. It is sad.

It is sad that after almost 60 years of being Independent the State does not seem to understand and be sensitive to the sentiments of any religion. The masses of India who hold some form of religion dear to themselves, whether it is a localised version of Hinduism or Islam or Christianity or a more globalised version that is practiced in the urban centres where much of religious discourses take place today (and also where much of the seeds of religious conflicts are sown) do not see their religious sentiments or practices being threatened by either a war or a disaster situation.

It has been seen repeatedly that during any kind of disaster, whether natural or man-made, people step outside the strict dictum of their religious adherences to reach out to others. It is a larger humanness that knows no boundaries of language, religion or jati. Yet, whenever the Nation State tries to priscribe and impose what it thinks is the 'right' thing to do to either be 'known' as a nationalist (the BJP kind) or 'celebrate history' nationalism (of the Vande Mataram Congress kind), people feel their religious sentiments are challenged. I think it is a miserable failure of the State machinery to go on believing that it should say what people celebrate or what they shouldn't.

Just as I write, I have the news in front of me that SGPC has warned that no Sikh educational institution will sing Vande Mataram too. With the Islamic institutions already making their positions clear, this is another beating. These two religions have their largest population in India, same as Jainism and Hinduism among the recognized primary religions in the world (I am not sure about Buddhism). We probably are the only country where so many major religions have the majority of its adherents. It is a sad statement that this fact is not widely recognized or its significant understood. For the Sikhs, India is the Holy land (along with some parts of Pakistan), for the Buddhists and Jains too this is the case, not to talk of the Hindus.

But though the Muslims of India have had a long linkage with the Arab world, they have very little part to play in the global Islamic world. Despite being a large section of the world Islamic population, their say is negligible. It is the constant isolation perhaps felt by the Indian Muslim, through gestures like this Vande Mataram singing that reduces them to a state where, they have to negotiate with their own country respect for their sentiments. How can they ever get to assert or play a larger role in International Islam. I remember reading somewhere that last year or the year before for the first time an Indian Muslim (if my memory is correct, M.J. Akbar) was invited to an international Islamic opinion building conference. Forever our government protests whenever there is a resolution even remotely criticising India that is managed by Pakistan in the OIC forum. Yet, with Indonesia, India is the major Islamic power of the world is least recognised and its strategic importance never understood by our Government.

I think the Congress and BJP have similar opinion on Muslims, I think they both never have faith in the Indian Muslims and if they do have a few representatives it is because of the feeling of 'they have become one of us'. The isolation felt among Indian Muslims would only make them to draw themselves into a shell and fall victims of the global terrorists who are all the time looking for troubled waters to catch new recruits. There is no sense in blaming the increase in terrorist activity (and all the related uncomfortable and unpalatable head counting measures) if the Government cannot sacrifice meaningless celebrations of forgotten values and gestures.

Vande Mataram is a beautiful song, I have enjoyed its original version (as I know it) sung by Lata Mangeshkar and also the more recent interpretation sung by A.R.Rahman (with the brilliant 'Maa Tujhe Salaam' by Javed Akhtar through which he got rid of the Muslim objection that has resurfaced now). I think a government with some imagination would have requested Rahman to sing it for the nation once and for all and get it broadcast across the country through all the channels and get its celebration over with (like it does the Republic Day parade), but, we have to only impose it on the Educational Institutions, why?

Why should the fossiled value of senile minds in Delhi inflict themselves on students who could do with more creative and fresh thinking? Only Arjun Singh and his babus can answer. I believe that nationalism cannot be imposed, people gain it from their neighborhood, from the values they see others practice around them, from the way the leaders behave whenever the national interest is at stake...practice is the best example for influencing students. Such imposed gestures of nationalism would only want to become hypocrite nationalists.

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