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November 21, 1998


Muslims, UP government in no mood to compromise

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Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

Nearly six years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the compulsory recitation of Vande Mataramand Saraswati Vandana in schools in Uttar Pradesh appears to be sharpening the Hindu-Muslim divide.

This is evident from the statements issued by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government in Lucknow and Muslim religious leaders.

Chief Minister Kalyan Singh -- interestingly, he was also the CM when the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya was demolished by Hindu fanatics -- is being accused of pursuing a 'Hindu agenda'.

Consequently, the state government and the Muslim community have virtually locked horns, with leading Islamic scholars issuing fatwas (edicts) to the faithful to defy the directive.

Things came to a head when Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi aka Ali Mian publicly denounced the directive as un-Islamic. "It is not only against the tenets of Islam, but also against the secular spirit of the Constitution, wherein Article 28 explicitly allows everyone the freedom to practise his religion in his own desired manner," Ali Mian said.

Besides being president of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, Ali Mian is also vice-president of the World Muslim League, and therefore widely respected in the Sunni world. He heads the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulema in Lucknow, a leading centre of Islamic learning which draws students and scholars from around the globe.

The usually reticent cleric has termed the issue "more important to Muslims than even the Babri Masjid". He said, "The question of Babri Masjid was related to only one mosque. This is closely connected with the lives of the entire Muslim community here."

Personal Law Board vice-president Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, a renowned Shia scholar, also condemned the government's decision. Several other Islamic bodies, including the Deeni Talimi Council which controls as many as 22,000 madarsas in Uttar Pradesh, lashed out at the BJP for attempting to "destroy the secular fabric of the nation".

Significantly, the different Islamic schools of thought are unanimous on this subject. "Both Vande Mataram and Saraswati Vandana amount to worshipping the nation and the goddess of education, respectively, and Islam does not permit worship of anything other than Allah," they have pointed out.

Maulana Sadiq made it clear: "We love India, but we cannot worship her."

Ali Mian went a step further: "A Muslim ceases to be a Muslim if he stands with folded hands before a picture of Bharatmata to offer prayers. We don't worship even our pirs (saints) or paigambars (prophets)."

He clarified, "We are not against any other religion, but we are surely very sensitive about our own."

Yesterday, Kalbe Sadiq convened a huge meeting of Shias after the Friday prayers at Lucknow's Imambara mosque "to mobilise public opinion".

While protest notes have already been sent to President K R Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a delegation of prominent Muslims proposes to meet Governor Suraj Bhan on November 27 to seek his intervention. Ali Mian also proposes to write to all Muslim members of Parliament to oppose the move. "They should have opposed Vande Mataram's adoption as a national song in 1957," he said.

Apparently, there is no scope for compromise on either side. While Ali Mian has urged Muslims to withdraw their wards from institutions where Vande Mataram has been made mandatory, Minister of State for Education Ravindra Shukla is in no mood to relent.

"I want to know how Vande Mataram has suddenly been labelled 'un-Islamic' when well-known Muslim freedom-fighters used to recite it to defy the British," he says, citing the example of Ashfaqullah Khan, one of the daredevils in the Kakori Conspiracy case, who "kissed the gallows reciting Vande Mataram."

Similarly, Saraswati Vandana is an accepted prelude to performances by renowned musicians and artistes, including those belonging to the Muslim community. "Would they also be termed un-Islamic?" he asks. "Why are some people always in the habit of giving anything and everything a communal colour?"

Educated Muslims don't oppose Vande Mataram

Fasih Ahmed, a colonel who retired recently, recalls an example from the memories of his father-in-law, the late Muzaffar Hasan, who spent 12 years in jail during the freedom movement and later became a cabinet minister in Uttar Pradesh for 17 years. "Right from his younger days, Vande Mataram remained the key words for displaying defiance to the Crown. He quoted umpteen instances when this recitation took him behind bars," he says.

Colonel Ahmed himself considers Vande Mataram "a salutation to the nation to which I belong" and finds no religious connotation in it. "We in the army are used to reciting battle cries of different regiments and some, like those of the Gurkhas and Sikhs, are even connected to their religions, but I am sure joining the troops in reciting those has not made me less Islamic."

The controversy makes him wonder if "tomorrow someone will object to Jana Gana Mana, as the national anthem too is a salutation to the nation".

He believes it is all a "sinister design in deliberate distortion of facts by certain vested interests that cannot relish things settling down after the demolition of the Babri Masjid".

Shemaila Ahmed, a 20-year-old student of Lucknow's I T College, wonders what is wrong in reciting the Saraswati Vandana before a musical performance or at the commencement of so many functions in most educational institutions. "I have been doing it. I am sure my religion is not so fragile as to get shattered simply by my reciting those few lines," she argues.

Another young Muslim student of Loretto Convent, who prefers to remain unnamed, wonders "why people are trying to make a mountain of a mole hill". "I am sure there is much politics involved in the issue, otherwise why hasn't anyone raised any objection so far to our participation in various church services which are mandatory in Christian missionary schools?" he asks.

Teachers decide not to adopt Saraswati Vandana

Meanwhile, the situation is likely to get more complicated. The representative body of 300,000 teachers of Uttar Pradesh's 100,000 primary schools has decided not to adopt the Saraswati Vandana. Abhimanyu Prasad Singh, the union chief, said, "We will continue with the old prayer that has been practised for decades."

Naresh Agrawal, president of the Loktantrik Congress, an ally of the Kalyan Singh government, also cautioned the chief minister against bringing in any legislation for making the singing of Vande Mataram and Saraswati Vandana in schools compulsory.

He told the media in New Delhi that his party, with six members in the state assembly, would oppose any such move.

He termed the controversy "unwarranted" and called it a creation of a few elements for political advantage.

Additional reporting: UNI

Advani opposes compulsion on Vande Mataram

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