Does a Pluralistic Nation Like India Really Need 'Vande Mataram'

three woman performing traditional dance

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The debate around Vande Mataram is an occasion to comment on the literary elements of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's 'Anandamath' as well as his definition of nationalism.

The notion that Vande Mataram should be sung by any person since it is a national song will have little followers among those with racist minds. Citizens of any free country are certainly well within their rights to fail to meet these demands.

There was a time when the tricolor logo would appear on the cinema screen during each film display, and the national anthem would resonate through the theatre. Today, Jana Gana mana has no religious roots, but there was no possibility of a Hindu-Muslim flare-up about it. And then, many viewers would get up to leave knowing well that the gates would not be opened until the seventh and last invocation of Jaya Hey had been made.

The activity was finally discontinued in the cinemas, perhaps the most popular mass communication locations. (Courtesy of an order from the Supreme Court, although slightly revamped, the national anthem has been taken back to the cinemas and again put on viewers.)

While being mindful of the double indignity that the tricolor and the national anthem have been exposed to, if the new dispensation is doing its hardest to force the national song on the people, the explanation is obvious. Parts of the national song are full of Hindu symbols and can be used to taunt Muslims and satisfy Hindus, if not the whole population.

The Hindu Voting Bank draws the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) – which has voting support – and the Congress equally; both parties are engaged in a life-and-death fight over it. The intellectual community, which understands the motive behind the attempt to raise the issue of the national song, has criticized it extensively, especially on the lines that singing or not singing the national song can not be a benchmark of patriotism.

But is 'Vande Mataram' really a 'false' song? What kind of novel is that of Anandamath? Moreover, is extreme nationalism the same thing as liberalism? Often, the heat created by the flare-up of the conflict spreads to a more abundant and fruitful discussion. It would have been helpful if academics had taken this opportunity to comment on the literary elements of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay 's work and his concept of nationalism.

The whole fate is often suffered by novels that are serialized in magazines; otherwise works based on an insular perspective can also be excellent. These examples are numerous in literature. For example, Ezra Pound, an avowed supporter of fascism, is considered a great poet. About Nietzsche, Vijaydevnarayan Sahi once wrote, "From social reality, Spake Zarathustra should be burned, but from a literary point of view, it is one of the great works."

I read Anandamath with an open mind as with 'Vande Mataram,' but it appeared as an impressive work not only from an ideological point of view but also as artwork. Sure, at the time the book was completed, the novel as a genre was not well-formed in our sections, but signs of greatness are manifesting in one direction or another. Unfortunately, those signs are not to be found in Chattopadhyay's most famous works.

The same can not be said regarding the separately written 'Vande Mataram' which should be read as such. Imposing it as the national song doesn't make sense either.

Although, in our country, the ritualistic elements of nationalism are becoming increasingly seen as synonymous with patriotism. The distinction between the two is immense. A citizen must undoubtedly have confidence in his or her country, but trust can not be measured solely in terms of national symbols.

We seem to forget that ultra-nationalism takes on a form of fascism at one level. It is not without justification that the Swayamsevak Sangh in Rashtriya has the same confidence in this philosophy as did Hitler or Mussolini. It is in the background of this theory that the controversy around singing or not singing 'Vande Mataram' continues to emerge.

'Vande Mataram' is not the only issue; there are several more that can lead to similar controversies. The question is-does these symbols really require a pluralistic nation like India? No national symbol can ever be more important than its people. In the first place, it is the people themselves who establish such symbols. So, how can there be only one religious or even non-religious, icon for such a pluralistic country as India?

An analysis of Tagore, our national poet, and master novelist Premchand 's thoughts on this topic will provide beneficial pointers. Tagore believed that humanity's goal was well above that of patriotism; Premchand likened nationalism to a disease (leprosy).

Usually having both a national anthem and a national song would make little sense for a country. That is a unique situation for our country. Thankfully the list of nationalistic symbols did not apply to other types of art. The mind boggles to think of a scenario where it was appropriate to initiate a process of making a national novel, play, paint, film, dance form, and sport.

As Hindi Diwas (September 14) approaches, one can expect the usual slogans to be accompanied by the general debate on the national language. Hindi is a gentle tongue that is pleasing to the ears. Being the most widely spoken, it can quickly become a language of contact. Ironically, although Hindi has been given the status of an official language, it has not even succeeded in becoming a governor's language.

Well, the most important lesson to take from the controversy over 'Vande Mataram' is that these matters should be left available, not corralled, in a free society. This will help not only to preserve our integrity but also to many other aspects of our life, that happen to be legitimate symbols of our national identity. The sooner, the ultra-nationalistic prodigals return from their Western spot to the East, the better.


Written by - Anupam Singh

Edited by - Chhavi Gupta

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