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The Rediff Special/ Kanchan Gupta

A Fatwa against the Idea of India

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It is ironic that even while Islamic fundamentalists, led by Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, aka Ali Mian, chairman of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board. Syed Shahabuddin, editor of Muslim India, and Tahir Mahmood, chairman of the Minorities Commission, were celebrating the fatwa against Vande Mataram and insisting that for all good Muslims the nation must remain subordinate to Islam, the punky and spunky young generation should have voted A R Rahman as this year's winner of Channel [V]'s Viewers Choice award.

The irony is made sweeter by the fact that Rahman bagged an overwhelming four million votes and, when asked to sing a couple of lines at the Channel [V] award ceremony, did not hesitate to publicly lend his voice to Vande Mataram… Ma tujhe Salaam!

A R Rahman represents those Indians for whom India transcends religious fanaticism of the Islamicist variety, who are proud of their nationality and who delight in celebrating Indian nationhood. On the other hand, the champions of the fatwa against Vande Mataram, Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, Syed Shahabuddin and Tahir Mahmood, represent those who delight in denigrating Indian nationhood and pouring scorn and abuse on the soul of this nation. They celebrate each blow that they strike against that which is held sacred by Indians and cry foul when told that their profanity is tantamount to anti-national activity.

'Cow-slaughter in India is a great Islamic practice,' (said) Mujaddid Alaf Saani II. This was his farsightedness that he described cow-slaughter in India as a great Islamic practice. It may not be so in other places. But it is definitely a great Islamic act in India because 'the cow is worshipped in India.' These words of exhortation are from Ali Mian's stirring address to a congregation of Indian and Pakistani Muslims at Jeddah on April 3, 1986. Ali Mian's logic is simple: Since the cow is sacred to millions to Indians, indeed since the cow is worshipped by the Hindus who form the majority community in India, Muslims must slaughter the cow.

The same logic has been applied by him and his acolytes while issuing the fatwa against Vande Mataram. Since Vande Mataram, as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who 'associated the purest national spirit with it,' described it as an 'ode to the motherland' and held sacred by all those who see India as not merely a geographical entity but as their motherland, it must be denigrated and profaned. Vande Mataram, in a sense, is more than an ode, it is a religion -- of nationalism and patriotism.

'The new nationalism which Vande Mataram reveals,' wrote Bipin Chandra Pal, 'is not a mere civic or economic or political ideal. It is a religion.' It is this religion of nationalism and patriotism, and not merely India's national song, which is today under attack from Ali Mian, Syed Shahabuddin and Tahir Mahmood.

That this attack lacks all legitimacy is underscored by the fact that those who have declared the jehad against Vande Mataram either represent anachronisms in secular India or have positioned themselves on platforms that rest on legally untenable foundations.

Ali Mian heads the so-called All India Muslim Personal Law Board which is a private enterprise and not a statutory body. It hawks Islamic revanchism and preaches bigotry in the guise of protecting Islamic identity.

Syed Shahabuddin edits a monthly magazine called Muslim India -- the very name harks back to the days of brutal Islamic rule to which this nation was subjugated by the sword of Islam. If there is a Muslim India, as Syed Shahabuddin continues to believe, then there is a Hindu India. And much as he may hate it, the truth is that Hindu India comprises 85 per cent of India.

As for Tahir Mahmood, he heads the Minorities Commission which should not have been set up in the first place and is a legacy of the days of shameless and grovelling minorityism by the Congress. If India is a Republic of equals, then the very notion of there being a minority community is abhorrent; it perpetuates stereotypes and vests power in the hands of those whose interests definitely do not coincide with the interests of India -- either as a nation or as a country.

The fatwa against Vande Mataram is not without history and can be traced to Congress capitulation in the face of Islamic opposition. In 1923, the Congress met at Kakinada and Maulana Mohamed Ali was brought to the venue in a procession led by a raucous band. As was the practice, the session was scheduled to begin with a rendition of Vande Mataram by Pandit Vishnu Digamabar Paluskar.

When Pandit Paluskar rose to sing what had by then become the anthem of India's freedom movement, Maulana Mohamed Ali protested, saying that music was taboo to Islam and therefore singing Vande Mataram would hurt his religious sensitiveness.

Pandit Paulskar snubbed the maulana, pointing out that the Congress session was an open gathering and not a religion congregation of any one faith. For good measure, he added that since the Maulana had not found the band that led his procession as taboo to Islam, he could not object to the singing of Vande Mataram.

Maulana Mohammed Ali may have been stumped on that occasion, but by the time India became independent from foreign rule, the Congress had conceded ground to those who today inspire Ali Mian, Syed Shahabuddin and Tahir Mahmood. By 1937, Vande Mataram had become a 'Muslim grievance' and Ali Sardar Jafri convinced fellow-traveller Jawaharlal Nehru that the song which had inspired the freedom movement and sent martyrs like Khudiram Bose to the gallows without any trace of regret, was actually 'idolatorous in spirit'. In fact, Nehru went a step further and described the mantra of Indian nationalism and patriotism as 'out of keeping with modern notions of nationalism and progress.'

The Muslim League was quick to take its cue from Nehru and a month later, on October 17, 1937, passed a resolution at its Lucknow session, condemning the Congress for 'foisting Vande Mataram as the national anthem upon the country in callous disregard of the feelings of Muslims.' When the Congress Working Committee met in Calcutta later that year with Nehru as Congress president, it officially recognised 'the validity of the objections raised by the Muslims to certain parts of the Vande Mataram song' and 'recommended that at national gatherings the first two stanzas only of the song should be sung.'

The cultural content of Vande Mataram was knocked out by the Congress on the altar of Muslim League politics.

But appeasement does not have any limits -- the Muslim League was not reassured neither by Nehru's action nor his promise that Vande Mataram in 'future (will) become less important.' The Pirpur Committee, which was set up by the Muslim League to compile a list of 'atrocities against Muslims', submitted its report on November 15, 1938. Among the 'atrocities against Muslims' was listed Vande Mataram.

Sixty years later to the day, Ali Mian, Syed Shahabuddin and Tahir Mahmood have rediscovered the 'Pirpur Report' and relaunched the assault on Vande Mataram. For them, that is the unfinished task of the Muslim League in undivided India.

It is not surprising that today's Congress should seek to rationalise the jehad against Vande Mataram. In 1937 Nehru had the song truncated; in 1998, the Congress is more than willing to dedicate itself to the task of wiping out the mantra of nationalism from popular consciousness. It was Jawaharlal Nehru then, it is Sonia Gandhi now.

Vande Mataram may have stirred -- indeed, continues to stir -- India's soul, but it failed to touch Nehru's heart. And that which celebrates Indian nationhood cannot be expected to stir Sonia Gandhi's heart.

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