Last November 16, a public interest litigation petition was filed in Delhi High Court by Goutham Morarka, seeking appropriate directions to the Centre to treat the national song, Vande Mataram, on par with the National Anthem. The Court directed the Government to file its response before February 8.
Anyone with a modicum knowledge of the history of freedom struggle knows the great part played Vande Mataram, written in 1876 by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, and included in his serial novel Ananda Math, published in Bengali literary magazine, Bangdarshan, from 1880 to1882.
It was set to tune and sung by Rabindranath Tagore at the annual session of Indian National Congress in 1896 in Kolkata. It was sung frequently in subsequent years too. The song became a powerful slogan in rousing the patriotic fervour in the context of proposals for and the ultimate implementation of partition of Bengal in 1905.
Many suffered for raising the slogan, not only in Bengal but in other parts of India too. Pandit Vishnu Digamber Pasulkar sang it at many annual sessions of Congress. In 1938 students of Osmania University, Hyderabad, then under Nizam’s rule, were expelled from the university for raising this prohibited slogan. P V Narasimha Rao, later the Prime Minister, was one of those expelled.
The Constituent Assembly met at 11 pm on August 14, 1947. (After the stroke of 12, the Indian Dominion was to celebrate its independence granted by the Indian Independence Act 1947, passed by Parliament in London)
Quite promptly the Constituent Assembly President, Rajendra Prasad, announced that the first item on the agenda was the singing of the first stanza of Vande Mataram.
This stanza did not have any reference to Goddess Durga, or any other Hindu Goddess. As a matter of fact, taking note of objections of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and Muslim League, the Indian National Congress chose to sing only the first portion of Vande Mataram, which has references only to Mother earth.
With all members standing, Sucheta Kripalani sang Vande Mataram. At the closure of the session, she also sang the first verse of Jana Gana Mana.
Which was the national anthem, Vande Mataram or Jana Gana Mana? The latter was written by Rabindranath Tagore a day before the Delhi Darbar of December 12, 1911 and sung at the Congress session in Kolkata towards the close of 1911.
The question of the anthem was under serious consideration by the Congress High Command. For its well-known reasons, it favoured Jana Gana Mana. The matter was kept pending but a decision had to be taken by the Constituent Assembly. The matter could come up by way of a resolution, followed by discussion and voting, if necessary. At last, an understanding was arrived at.
A statement on the subject was to be made. The last session of the Constituent Assembly was held on January 24, 1950. At the beginning of the session, members chanted Vande Mataram. President Rajendra Prasad made the following statement:
“The composition, consisting of the words and music known as Jana Gana Mana, is the national anthem of India... and the song, Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honoured equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal status with it”.
Towards the end of the session, after the President signed copies of the Constitution, the members again chanted Vande Mataram.
M.A.Ayyangar: All of us will sing with your permission, sir, Jana Gana Mana
(All standing, Jana Gana Mana was sung)
President: Vande Mataram
(All standing, Vande Mataram was sung)
The House adjourned sine die. Vande Mataram is in tune with the age-old Indian tradition and heritage of respecting the Mother and Motherland. Prithvi Suktha says: Matha Bhumih Puthraham Prithivyah (Land is the Mother and we are all her sons). Land is considered the consort of Vishnu and so the pious, on getting out of bed and placing the feet on land, say, ' Vishnu Pathni Namasthubhyam Padasparsam Kshamasvame' (Please excuse me for touching with the feet).
Many are familiar with the sloka in which Rama tells Lakshmana “Janani Janma Bhumischa Swargadapi Gariyasi' (Mother and Motherland are greater than Swarga). Further, to be born in this country is considered a boon.
Coming to recent history, Bharat finds mention as a mother in a song by (1) Dwijendranath Tagore, eldest brother of Rabindranath Tagore, at the first Hindu Mela in 1867 in Kolkata and (2) by Satyendranath Tagore, elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore, the first Indian to be admitted to the I CS, at the second Hindu Mela in 1868. The song implicitly refers to the unhappy situation in the country. It also spoke of the gloomy face of the mother referring to the unhappy conditions in the country.
On December 23, 1971, the Government of India passed the Prevention of Insults to National Act. It deals with matters relating to the Constitution, national flag and national anthem. The national song -Vande Mataram- which was to be with status equal to the national anthem finds no mention in it.
Fundamental duties were incorporated in the Constitution by an amendment in 1976. Article 51A: "It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag and the national anthem". The national song is not mentioned.
The PIL in Delhi High Court is for amendment of the 1971 Act to include the National Song along with the National Anthem in the Act to give effect to the statement in the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1950.
On 22 November 2016, about a week after the PIL, the Centre informed Rajya Sabha that no rules providing for circumstances in which the national song should be sung have been framed so far. This needs to be done to ensure justice to Vande Mataram.
(Author is retired professor of political science, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, and JP Nayak national fellow Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi)...