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Vande Matram is back as a handle to beat Muslims with 

Is desh mein rehna hoga to vande mataram kehna hoga (to remain in this country, you have to recite Vande Mataram). No, this slogan was not raised by the streetside Hindutva brigade, but Opposition members belonging to BJP -Shiv Sena recently on the floor of the Maharashtra legislative assembly. 

Maharashtra legislative assembly recently witnessed uproarious scenes, forcing three adjournments of the lower house as an angry Shiv Sena-BJP Opposition demanded an apology from minister of state for housing Nawab Malik for his reported remarks about the national song Vande Mataram. Malik had said that as per the Constitution, Vande Mataram was not the national anthem but national song. 

The issue was raised by BJP member Eknath Khadse during zero hour when he informed the house that recitation of Vande Mataram at the annual general body meeting of Malegaon municipal corporation was "prevented" by the newly-elected mayor Nihal Ahmed. Malik, however, continued with his defence that Vande Mataram was constitutionally not the national anthem but national song and said he was "aware of Vande Mataram's role during the freedom struggle".

The controversy forced Malegaon municipal corporation (MMC) corporators, who had refused to sing Jana Gana Mana and Vande Mataram on religious grounds, to climb down. The 34 corporators have told municipal commissioner Harshdeep Kamble in writing they have no problems with the national anthem but won't sing the national song.

The controversy began at the first general body meeting of the newly-established MMC on July 12, which was adjourned when corporators of the Shiv Sena, Republican Party of India (RPI) and the BJP demanded that work begin with Vande Mataram and end with the national anthem. 

Muslim corporators from the JD (S) and the Samajwadi Party took offence saying this violated the Islamic code. The issue, which rocked the MMC meeting on July 15 after RPI corporator Bharat Chavan was suspended by Mayor Nihal Ahmed for insisting on singing the national anthem in the house, provoking several organisations in Nashik to demand action against the corporators who refuse to sing the Vande Mataram. 

Time and again Muslims are targeted by raising the issue of Vande Mataram. Everyone knows the Muslim sentiments. But Muslims are repeatedly forced into the controversy.

Vande Mataram, a song by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in his novel Anand Math, has triggered great communal debates since the mid-1930s. As the Congress inched its way towards the corridors of power in 1937, the singing of Vande Mataram was made mandatory in several schools of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Muslim League reacted strongly, though thoughtlessly, inviting anti-Muslim sentiment. In this way the communal cauldron was kept boiling and the stage set for a protracted Hindu-Muslim conflagration. 

Tagore, who set its first stanza to tune and was the first to sing it at an early session of the Calcutta Congress, maintained that Vande Mataram had acquired a separate individuality and an inspiring significance of its own. Yet Tagore conceded that the poem, read together with its context, was liable to offend Muslim susceptibilities. Perhaps he was talking of a Hindu song, reflecting a Hindu ethos in which the country is equated with the mother goddess. 

The novel in which it figures is the work of a deeply anti-Muslim imagination. Its hero, Anand, kills Muslims en masse and burns their houses in order to rid the country of all Muslims. After the Muslims are finished, he asks his guru as to when would they start a war against the British, the guru says, "the British are our friends." He also says the British are invincible. The book carries a rabidly anti-Muslim message.

Today, if some leaders of minority communities express their disquiet, there is no reason why their feelings and sentiments should be brushed aside. At any rate, a secular state has no business to make Muslim, Sikh and Christian students sing any song against their wishes. This is the essence of any secular democracy.

Music composer AR Rahman, who composed award-winning video album Vande Matram opines, ''You can`t force anything. But you let the people feel the song, then they will take it and sing it back to you." 

It was the VHP which a few years ago raised the slogan, "Bharat Varsh main rahna hai to Vande Mataram kehna hoga" (If you want to live in India, you will have to sing Vande Mataram). In 1973, the Bombay municipality passed a similar order. But a strong reaction from Muslims forced the then mayor of the city to withdraw the order for recitation of Vande Mataram in municipal corporation schools.

A few years back the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh government issued an order that all primary school students in the state must start their day by "worshipping a portrait of Bharat Mata," and reciting Vande Mataram. 

This attitude of making Muslims uncomfortable in every situation is reflected in an article by Atal Behari Vajpayee. Titled "The Sangh is My Soul," which was first published by the RSS organ Organiser in its issue of May 7, 1995, Vajpayee said that Muslims in India could be treated in three ways: tiraskar (they can be rejected); puraskar (they can be appeased); and parishkar (they can be changed).

To quote him in full: "The Muslims of this country [India] can be treated in three ways: One is tiraskar which means if they will not themselves change, leave them alone, reject them as our compatriots. Second is puraskar which is appeasement, i.e., bribe them to behave.... The third way is parishkar meaning [to] change them, that is, restore them to the mainstream by providing them samskaras (culture)." We want to change them by offering them the right samskaras (Hindu culture). Though the BJP projects Vajpayee as sobre, moderate and liberal, the article amply demonstrates his utter hatred and intolerance of Muslims. 

He wrote: "The Muslims can follow their own religion. Mecca can continue to be holy for the Muslims, but India should be holier than the holy for them." His advice is, "if you (Muslims) have to choose between Mecca or Islam and India, you must choose India." 

The question is how should Muslims react to these periodic pinpricks? The answer is, ignore them and keep working on educational, economic and social uplift.

MH Lakdawala in Mumbai

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