Mainstream, VOL LIV No 22 New Delhi May 21, 2016
Mahatma Gandhi and Bharat Mata ki Jai
Monday 23 May 2016
by S.N. SAHU
Nationalism has always been a driving force in uniting people and mobilising them on diverse issues. In many phases of history humanity has witnessed the use of nationalism as a fierce doctrine to arouse hatred and promote violence against nationalities of other nations and stoke war and violence. Europe and the rest of the world faced devastating consequences of aggression and hostility on account of nationalism which emerged in that continent in an intense form and became a major factor behind belligerence and hostility among nations. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was extremely critical of Europe and Japan’s nationalism and wrote against it. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose described that form of nationalism as “narrow, selfish and arrogant”.1 In India the kind of nationalism, which emerged in the context of our freedom struggle and in response to colonial rule and exploitation, was tolerant, inclusive and all-embracing.
Of late there has been a strident emphasis on nationalism. One specific slogan ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ is being used to uphold the nationalistic spirit and determine the extent of nationalism and patriotism of Indians. There have been widespread resentments against such attempts. The suspension of Waris Khan,2 a distinguished Member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, by the House unanimously by voice vote on the ground that he refused to recite ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ even as he was willing to recite ‘Jai Hind’ raised many questions regarding nationalism centred on one particular slogan. It is in this context that we need to peep into history and comprehend the stand taken by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation, on the issue of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.
Vande Mataram was Composed in the Context of Imposition of British National Anthem on Indians
From the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi it is evident that he equated Vande Mataram with Bharat Mata ki Jai and preferred the former over latter. While he extensively used Vande Mataram in countless letters and articles, he hardly used or recited Bharat Mata ki Jai. It is well known that Vande Mataram forms part of Bankim Chandra’s novel Anandmath which was published in 1882.3 He composed Vande Mataram when the British administration was asking Indians to sing the British national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’.4 The recitation of Vande Mataram captured the imagination of the people and filled them with a high sense of patriotism. Gurudev Rabindra-nath Tagore for the first time recited the whole of Vande Mataram in the session of the Indian National Congress in 1896.5 It was sung across Bengal and in many parts of India during the Swadesi Movement in 1905.6 The first two stanzas of Vande Mataram were adopted by the Indian National Congress as the national song in 1937 and the other stanzas were dropped on the ground that those referred to Goddess Durga. In fact the opposition of Muslims to Vande Mataram arose on the point that it was part of a composition dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Durga and the recitation of it by them would go against their religious faith which proscribed idol worship.
Lala Lajpat Rai established a Urdu news-paper, Vande Mataram, in Lahore. Some Indians started a journal, Bande Mataram, in Switzerland in the first decade of the twentietn century and used it to incite violence and attacked Gopal Krishna Gokhle and Pherozeshah Mehta by describing them as cowardly. Mahatma Gandhi disapproved of such an approach and questioned the method of incitement to violence as a means to achieve independence.7
Gandhi described Vande Mataram as a Passionate Prayer to India
While in South Africa Mahatma Gandhi wrote a small article on Vande Mataram under the title ‘The Heroic Song of Bengal’ in Indian Opinion on December 2, 1905.8 He stated in that article that the song proved so popular that it came to be the national anthem of India. Adding that Bankim Chandra composed Vande Mataram after having realised that many Western nations, such as Britain, Germany and France, had their national anthems, Gandhiji asserted that Vande Mataram was ‘nobler in sentiment and sweeter than the songs of other nations’. He continued further and claimed: ‘While other anthems contain sentiments that are derogatory to others, Vande Mataram is quite free from such faults.’ Describing it as a song of high order to arouse a sense of patriotism, he wrote that it constituted a passionate prayer to India. Gandhiji’s afore-mentioned article on the Vande Mataram song brought out his intense and irresistible love for it in the first half of the first decade of the 20th century.
Vande Mataram and First Satyagraha in South Africa
Vande Mataram had a spell-binding effect as much on Mahatma Gandhi as on many other Indians who participated in the first Satyagraha launched in South Africa by Gandhiji. This was evident from his illuminating article “The Last Satyagraha Campaign: My Experience”,9 written during July 1914. He mentioned in the article that people while participating in a march shouted several slogans such as “Victory to Dwarkanath”, “Victory to Ramchandra” and “Vande Mataram”.10
Vande Mataram as an Ode to
On many occasions during the freedom struggle and after independence he generously showered praise on Vande Mataram and gave it an exalted status. On April 22, 1918 he called it “the grand national song” and wrote: “We do not know in full the greatness of the song, its resonance and its tune.”11
In almost 650 letters written by Mahatma Gandhi since 1911, the concluding words were not “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully” but “Vande Mataram, Mohandas”. In several letters addressed to Muslims he used “Aadab”, “Vande Mataram” or “Blessings” as would be proper and fitting. In one letter addressed to Ferozabehn Talyerakhan, Gandhiji conveyed Vande Mataram to her on behalf of Sardar and Mahadev.12
The magical impact of Vande Mataram was so intense and irresistible that even people from abroad who visited India and met Gandhiji used to end their conversations with him and bid farewell by reciting “Vande Mataram” or “Salam”.13
To comprehend the profound influence of Vande Mataram on him we need to go through some of his insightful writings on it and reflect on them. On August 23, 1947 while speaking at a prayer meeting in Calcutta he described it ‘as an ode to Mother India’14 and went on to say that ‘when the rest of India was almost asleep’ ‘the national song and the national cry of Bengal sustained her’.15 Even prior to 1947 he wrote an article “National Flag” in Harijan on July 1, 193916 and reflected passionately on Vande Mataram in it and stated: ‘No matter what its source was and how and when it was composed, it had become a most powerful battle-cry among Hindus and Mussalmans of Bengal during the partition days.’17 Emphasising that ‘it was an anti-imperialist cry’, he feelingly wrote about its profound impact on him by stating: ‘As a lad, when I knew nothing of Anandmath or even Bankim, its immortal author, Vande Mataram had gripped me, and when I first heard it sung, it had enthralled me.’18 Adding further, he asserted: ‘I associated the purest national spirit with it. It never occurred to me that it was a Hindu song or meant only for Hindus... Unfortunately we have fallen on evil days... It stirs to its death the patriotism of millions in and outside of Bengal. Its chosen stanzas are Bengal’s gift, among many others, to the whole nation.’19 However, he categorically stated that he would not risk a single quarrel over singing Vande Mataram at a mixed gathering.20
Gandhi prescribed these slogans—Allah-ho-Akbar, Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Hindu-Musalman ki Jai
His reverence for Vande Mataram never ever closed his mind and made him narrow-minded. With a remarkable open-minded approach he under-stood its deep significance to promote nationa-lism and safeguard the unity of our people. At the same time he underlined its importance in the context of the plurality of slogans suited to our social and religious diversity. It was evident in 1920 when during the Khilafat agitation people welcomed Gandhiji and Ali brothers by shouting “Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai” and “Mohamed Ali-Shaukat Ali ki Jai”. In such events recitation of Vande Mataram by the Hindus met with recitation of “Allah-ho-Akbar” by Muslims. Seeing such conflicting recitals he wrote an article entitled ‘Three National Cries’ in Young India on September 8, 1920 and urged the people irrespective of faith to recite three slogans— Allah-ho-Akbar, Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata ki Jai and Hindu-Musalman ki Jai.21 He firmly believed that people professing diverse creeds would have no problem in reciting those slogans in the order given. Particularly he felt that nobody would have any objection to recite Allah-ho-Akbar as its meaning is “God is Great”. Very thoughtfully he stated that without Hindu- Musalman ki Jai, Bharat Mata ki Jai would not be complete. It is, therefore, a proven fact that Gandhiji stressed on the plurality of slogans in spite of his exceptional fondness for Vande Mataram and his passionate use of it in several letters he wrote from 1911 to 1948. In fact in response to his exhortations to the people to recite three slogans, several Hindus recited Vande Mataram and Allah-ho-Akbar on many occasions.22
Gandhi inaugurated Bharat Mata Mandir
It is very educative to note that in 1936 Mahatma Gandhi was requested by Shri Shivprasad Gupta to inaugurate the Bharat Mata Mandir in Banaras. The shrine had only one map of India which Shri Gupta had designed in the pattern of a relief map of India which he saw in one Prof Karve’s Home for Widows in Pune.23 Inaugurating the temple on October 25, 1936 before a vast gathering of over 25,000 people which included Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists and Harijans from all parts of the country, Gandhiji said: “The temple contains no image of any God or Goddess. It has only a relief map of India made of marble stone in it. I hope this temple, which will serve as a cosmopolitan platform for people of all religions, castes and creeds including Harijans, will go a great way in promoting religious unity, peace and love in the country.”24 In fact the cosmo-politan outlook of Mahatma Gandhi defined his approach to the issue of nationalism and Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata ki Jai.
Gandhi was against imposition
of any slogan
In the early 1940s he authored the Constructive Programme which contained eight points to achieve independence for India and bring about positive social change through non-violence. In the point concerning students he categorically wrote: “They may not impose Vande Mataram or the National Flag on others.”25
When Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose coined the Jai Hind slogan, it electrified the nation and inculcated the values of patriotism and nationalism in the minds of all sections of society. On February 23, 1946 Gandhiji in a statement issued to the press disapproved of attempts of some people to force others to recite Jai Hind. He stated: “Inasmuch as a single person is compelled to shout ‘Jai Hind’ or any popular slogan, a nail is driven into the coffin of Swaraj...”26
Gandhi wanted Repertoire
of National Songs
On December 23, 1945 during a discussion with political workers when it was asked if Vande Mataram should be replaced by the new song “Qadam, Qadam”, Gandhiji asserted that Vande Mataram, associated with glorious sacrifice, could never be given up.27 However, he suggested that a new song or songs could certainly be added to the repertoire of national songs after due thought and discrimination.28
Gandhiji’s stand was for “repertoire of national songs” and against imposition of any slogan on anybody. In fact he wrote on March 5, 1947: “It would be terrible if people should recite ‘victory to India’ and work for her annihilation.29 When some people in Bihar travelled ticketless in train and shouted Jai Hind he disapproved of the use of such slogans as “a cry for loot and murder”.30 As early as February 18, 1939 he wrote that to call the State as a Hindu State or a Muslim State constituted a libel on nationalism.31 Use of force on anybody to recite a slogan constitutes a libel on nationalism.
Raising of Vande Mataram slogan is Not Enough
At a time when some people consider the recitation of Bharat Mata ki Jai as the only indicator of nationalism, it is important to hark back to one of the instructive speeches of Mahatma Gandhi delivered at Baroda on October 9, 1919. He said: “India is in such a plight today that we cannot afford to waste our time in ....parading ....processions, raising slogans of ‘Vande Mataram’ and shouting ‘Glory to the Motherland!’ Today our India is aflame with a triple fire.”32 He explained the “triple fire” by referring to the prevalence of widespread star-vation, lack of availability of clothes to people and high incidence of disease.33 In the context of starvation he said: “The millionaires and multi-millionaires of Bombay are no true index of the conditions prevailing in India. We cannot adjudge India to be prosperous or otherwise on the basis of their condition. Assuredly, as long as the condition of the weavers and farmers in the seven and a half lakh villages in India is one of utter destitution, we cannot describe the country as prosperous.” He, therefore, prescribed a remedy and stated: “To rescue her from it, what is needed is not processions but physicians, not demonstrations but effective remedies. We need heroic men and heroic mothers.”34
Vande Mataram cannot be recited to Intimidate Others
What is needed in India of the twentyfirst century is “heroic men and heroic mothers” to find remedy to the many challenges facing our nation. It cannot be done by imposition of slogans. While speaking at a prayer meeting on March 3, 1947 in Patna, Mahatma Gandhi had said with pain and anguish that some people professing one faith shouted slogans for the purpose of striking fears in the minds and hearts of people professing different faiths. He said: “I have heard that Hindus here start shouting and threatening when they see Muslims. They raise the slogans of Jai Hind, Vande Mataram. It is all very well to shout slogans; but we must make sure that they do not terrorise, or intimidate or upset other people. We are guilty of a great sin. Do we intend to announce through our slogans that we are proud of these acts? Or that we regard them as right actions? Hindus in Noakhali were also afraid of the slogan Allah-ho-Akbar raised by Muslims. The slogan merely means ‘God is Great’ and no one need be afraid of this slogan. But when slogans are used for a wrong purpose, their meanings too are misunderstood and they become curses instead of boons. Jai Hind does not mean victory to Hindus and defeat for Muslims. But nowadays the Muslims take it in that light because we have put it to wrong use and threatened them with it. When we hear the slogans shouted by another person we think that the other fellow is preparing for a fight, and we also start getting ready for it. If we go on fighting like this and wreak vengeance for one place upon another, rivers of blood will flow all over India and still the spirit of vengeance will not subside. Hindus should behave so affectionately that even if a Muslim child comes into their midst, they should wash and clean him, dress him well and shower him with such love that the child should feel entirely at home. Only when this happens will Muslims realise that Hindus have become their friends.”35
Persecution of a person for not saying Bharat Mata ki Jai even as he is more than willing to recite any other slogan is like persecution of Prahlad in the mythology by his father Hiranya Kashyup for worshipping Lord Hari in defiance of his dictation to worship Lord Shiva. Gandhiji compared Prahlad with Jesus Christ, Imam Hussain and Mirabai as fine examples of Satya-grahis. This lesson from mythology combined with his cosmolitan approach to nationalism is relevant for the present debate on Bharat Mata ki Jai.
7. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 10, pp. 136-137.
8. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 5, p. 35.
9. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 14, pp. 271.
11. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 16, pp. 449-450.
12. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 56, p. 114.
13. Speech at D.J.S. College Hall, Karachi, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 45, p. 13.
14. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 96, pp. 268-269.
15. Ibid, p. 269.
16. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 76, pp. 68-69.
17. Ibid, p. 69.
19. Ibdi, p. 70.
21. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 21, pp. 250-51.
22. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 27, p. 468.
23. “Speech at Bharat Mata Mandir”, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 70, pp. 7-9.
24. Ibid, p. 7.
26. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 89, p. 441.
27. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 89, p. 89.
29. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 94, p. 73.
30. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 92, p. 259.
31. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 75, p. 74.
32. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 19, p. 39.
33. Ibid, pp. 40-41.
34. Ibid, p. 40.
35. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 94, p. 78.
The author was an officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to late K.R. Narayanan when the latter was the President of India. He then served as a Director in the Prime Minister’s Office. He is now serving as a Joint Secretary in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat. The views expressed in the article are personal and having nothing to do with the Rajya Sabha Secretariat.