Vande Mataram Is National By Om Prakash Deepak - Published in Mankind, May 1972

Note from editor: Last week we published an article on Bankim Chandra and Vande Mataram. We are pleased to publish the following article by a socialist scholar. We thank Deepak ji for putting the matter in a perspective.

Our national anthem ‘Jan Gana Mana' and our national song 'Vande Mataram’, both have been and still are subjects of serious controversy - often very heated. It has been said, and there is some circumstantial evidence to support the suggestion, that ‘Jana Gana Mana' was written in praise of George V, the British Emperor of India. Though, the poet himself (Rabindranath) said more than two decades later that it was addressed to God, the circumstantial evidence remains. And quite a lot can be said about Rabindranath's feudal background.

The song does not move those who did not participate in the freedom struggle. There is no emotional involvement. The younger generation, however, probably looks at things differently. And any way, what really matters is that the anthem should symbolise to the people our national entity - that's for the future mostly - and also to some extent of the present. `Vande Matram', on the other hand, is part of one of the few bright spots in India's history in the last one thousand years and more. To millions of people, the 'Vande Mataram' was symbolic of their desire to be free, as individuals and as Indians.

Indian Nationalism

It is quite true that the growth of Indian nationalism - a modern, that is, an essentially political idea - was not a simple, straight forward process. I would even concede that the process is still far from complete. Given our past, it could not be otherwise. All sorts of things went into its making.

After all, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the acclaimed Father of Indian Renaissance was a protege of the British East India Company. The British tried also to build up some Muslim counterparts of the Raja. But they failed to acquire a position of leadership among Bengali Muslims.

The British later succeeded when the Hindu School of Calcutta and later of Banaras, found a Muslim counter-part Delhi school.

India's rebellion against the British rule was not a single-minded, cohesive force right from the beginning. It had in it all sorts of diverse, even antagonistic elements - communal and secular, parasitical and universal, fanatic and liberal, reformist and radical and so on.

Nationalism, in order to be nationalism, has to be broad enough and strong enough to include all these and many other elements.

What is in a name?

Let us also not forget that history is all the time being transformed into myth. It is only this way that history survives. Without going very far into the past, one can quite easily see how the war of 1939-45 with its heroes and villains is fast becoming a myth. We too have our Gandhi and Jinnah, Bhagat Singh and Subhash Bose and many others. How many Indians can think of them all as purely men of flesh and blood ?

It is the same with songs that have the power to move people. 'Yankee Doodle Doo' is clownish. But the Americans defeated Cornwallis. To many people ‘Marseilles’ is merely the name of a French port. But it is also the name of a song that moved the people of France in a great revolution.

Sources irrelevant

The same is the case with `Vande Malaram'. Who wrote the song, and the book in which it finds place are not very relevant to an understanding of the song's place and role in history. They are at best facts to be noted in the study of the growth of Indian nationalism.

I will take another instance from history to make my point clear. Looking at the severed heads of his sons and heirs, brought to him by the sadistic Col. Hudson on a Platter, Bahadur Shah Zafar is reported to have remarked: “It is thus that the progeny of Taimur indicate their ancestry.”

Now why should Bahadur Shah Zafar mention Taimur at such a moment?

No, it was not communalism. Delhi was ruled by Feroze Shah Tuglaq when Taimur came and plundered the city. But to the Mughal ruler of Delhi, Taimur represented the highest point of political achievement by their clan. He was a myth, a symbol.

Whenever I think of this incident, I have a slight tinge of regret that he did not think any of his Indian ancestors worthy of such remembrance. Probably, there really was no one so worthy.

However, the incident does not lessen one whit the significance of the 1857 war of independence, and of the role that the last independent king of Delhi played in it. I also feel some pride that in that moment of defeat and annihilation, this ancestor of mine was not without honour and dignity.

Real significance of Vande Mataram

The same is the case ‘Vande Mataram’. To me and to all those Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and others, who were associated in any way with the freedom movement, the song represents the urge of the people of India to be free, the urge that prompted them to suffer jail, injury, and death with the cry of Vande Mataram on their lips.

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