Why our leaders made themselves invisible?

Sonia Gandhi wrongly advised!

I terribly felt let down when on the day India celebrated Vande Mataram’s centenary, our leaders chose to hide themselves from public view! What message we sent out?

India needs a robust type of leaders! Yes, when the President of India, the Prime Minister and the Congress President chose not to be seen when the country sang the Vande Mataram, what else one should feel? Except to feel let down. It is a great tragedy that India seems to be going through a phase of a crisis of leadership. We don’t have leaders who really think for themselves. Who really think they should stand solidly with the people, with the common man. Otherwise, I was glad to see school children, more so the Muslim children in many places sang the song.

Certain things, history recognizes! Certain leaders we shout about, history chooses to ignore! In the larger scheme of things!

I have a brief small book before me: “Re-thinking History” by Keith Jenkins. It is a 90-page quick reading text and I would recommend for our leaders. It asks the question: what is history. History is also a ruthless judge! So, we have to ask ourselves how history would judge us.

Now, the centenary of Bankim Chandra Chatterji’s(1838-1894) Vande Mataram song was celebrated all over India. Bankim was born in a small village, Kanthalpada, 38 km away from Calcutta city. He was the first B.A. of the Calcutta University and he served as a district official and he retired and died at a younger age, of diabetes. He had no son, only daughters and the present site at the village is preserved as a national memorial. Though he is remembered for his novels and his prose style, his name is known outside Bengal for long in the earlier generation for his novels in almost all the Indian languages and today his song Vande Mataram is the only one to perpetuate his memory. The song and even the novel, Ananadamath was translated by Sri Aurobindo.

The celebration was marked by controversies, as though the song is an expression of Hindutva. What annoyed me was the first page display photograph of Vajpayee, the BJP leader, arguing for Vande Mataram. The Hindu newspaper which I read regularly also had photographs of the BJP leaders singing the song and all this display of the faces and the new coverage sickened me for a moment. But I also could see that even school children all over the country, even in some Muslim schools, sang so naturally the great song that had a history that goes back longer than the history of the Indian National Congress. As for the BJP, the party, or even its many former avatars, were nowhere in the history or memory of the Indians when the song was composed and when it became the battle cry of the Indian people when Bengal was divided by Lord Curzon.

Just now, I had come back from Kolkatta and my mind is still so fresh from the very smell of the Bengali soil and the peoples’ voices from the bustling Kolkatta city as well as the remote poverty-stricken villagers in the countryside gave me a totally different picture, my own mental picture of the great Bengali renaissance was so different. I said to myself, when I saw Vajpayee uttering something on the song: “No, he shouldn’t be doing this! He has no locus standi…”Yes, I don’t think the BJP should exert itself so hard to catch the attention of the country, or divert the people of the country from great thoughts to some narrow ends.

In all this meaningless controversy I was so hurt to see the absence of Sonia Gandhi in the celebrations. So went the faithful Dr. Manmohan Singh. As the Prime Minister he at least should have put in an appearance as a tokenism! At least Sonia Gandhi should have talked about the great history behind it, what Nehru did or Tagore said or some such excuse to identify herself, as the President of the Congress Party. A Party that has every right to assert its historic, unbreakable link with Vande Mataram.

Sonia Gandhi’s absence, also the absence of the Prime Minister on such a historic occasion is a great pity. Also the BJP’s criticism of Sonia Gandhi’s absence is sheer hypocrisy. The BJP leaders with the absence of Vajpayee were seen singing the anthem, to see Murali Manohar Joshi and L.K.Advani and Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley along with others was a caricature, to say the least. Also, Rajnath’s call “Get ready for snap poll” only showed their total bankruptcy of the politics they are advocating.

The BJP, when in power or out of it, never showed the least interest in Indian history or in the rise of the Bengal renaissance the precursor to the rise of Indian nationalism. Even in the nationalist legacy, BJP had no legitimacy. If the Bengal renaissance showed any historic lesson it is this: the rise of Indian identity was of a modern kind, it arose out of the European Enlightenment, the French Revolution, all of which impacted the minds of men like Raja Rammohan Roy and the Tagores.

The birth of Brahma Samaj, even the rise of Swami Vivekananda and the renewed interest in Hinduism arose out of the rather enlightened interpretation put on the orthodox Hinduism by Vivekananda. Vivekananda was a Kayastha, so the orthodox Brahmins of Bengal in his time boycotted him, in the reception gave to the Swami, the one who was to preside over the function  absented himself  at the last moment as he was a Brahmin.

So, we should see the Hinduism’s history, if at all it can be reconstructed, only through the rise of Brahma Samaj of Rammohan Roy and also through the new modern, secular type interpretation put on by the Swami as he thought fit when he rose to address the World Parliament of Religions. So, you can’t have Hinduism as you wanted, for visualizing a division of the Indian people into Hindu and Muslims or more perniciously for sowing the seeds of a two nation theory.

Yes, all pernicious theories sometimes arise out of unsuspected noble motives. That is how Nazism and Fascism first arose as nationalist forces, so too the Indian case of the rise of Pakistan came out of unsuspected advocacy for readdressing the grievances of a religious group. If only we read once again the history of the rise and consolidation of the nationalist awakening and nationalist unity, we see the so many divisive, narrow, often vulgar selfishness, as in the case of the many native States in the pre-independence days. A reading of the V.P.Menon’s integration of the Indian States would give us an idea of how the silly fellows, the maharajas imagined themselves as statesmen and put forward so many demands. Even the demands by the feudal elements and their cohorts, in the South even tagged themselves to demand a Dravidastan, in the shadow of the demand for Pakistan!

So, the folly of Pakistan gave the BJP an excuse to claim legitimacy in the new scheme of things.

The point is that we have to renew our past history in the light of our past mistakes and learn some new lessons for reshaping the Indian history and if I may say so the Indian destiny in the new century.

We have to evolve an Indian identity in terms of the vast new opportunities for our people to emerge as a civilized nation, with secular credentials in a vastly changed world. Even America can learn lessons from India. Our democracy has grown in stature, if we can say so and had gained much recognition and respectability. Our Constitutional offices and agencies like the Election Commission and the Supreme Court stand vindicated and admired all over the world. Let us not squander our precious gains.

This is the message we have to send out whenever we sing our national anthem. Our national anthem has a long history. Its history certainly goes beyond any narrow mindsets, be it religion or party ideologies. Let the BJP not to fish in troubled waters, making the still waters dirtier!

Bankim’s Vande Mataram, Tagore’s Janagana, Iqbal’s Hindustan Hamara were all not just songs like any other songs.

I have before me also the hefty volume on Bankim Chandra, a 650 page affair published by the Sahitya Academy. It is not an easy volume to read but as I gave a second glance I was so fascinated by the so many small details. As I am also fresh from my visit to Calcutta and Santiniketan and I spent quite a bit of time at Jorasanko, the house of the Tagores, my mind wandered forth and back as I found so many of the events occur within the same precincts of Jorasanko. Bankim and Tagore debated on what constitutes Hinduism and there were so many of the great personages who pass through the volume.

Everyday you don’t compose such lines. Such lines were not composed with any pre-meditated purposes. They just came along when the events of the day gave to innermost urges and aspirations of the people. A poet comes along and he gives expression to such great tumults and shifts and breaks in the beliefs and collective mindset of the people.

Bankim composed Vande Mataram as he was fascinated and even deeply moved by the beauties and the plight of his countrymen at that point of time. He used the poem in his Aaandamath novel and the novel itself was not his best, he had other more big novels, though this novel too went through some five editions in his own time and he corrected several times, changed words and phrases to suit the British masters and to assuage the feelings of Muslims in his own times.

So, it is not as if our BJP or our Muslim brothers found out something new in the song. The song itself was translated twice by Aurobindo and as pointed out by one of the contributors to the volume (Prema Nandakumar) that it was Subramanya Bharati in the South, to come out with a translation in 1906 itself.

But the wonder is that Bankimchandra today is remembered by our countrymen only for the few lines of Vande Mataram, not even for what he did in giving the Bengali prose its first modernity. Bengali language was evolved by Raja Rammohan Roy and Vidyasagar, they used it for social reform, religious debate, philosophy but it was Bankim who gave it the first creative energy. Of course there were others like Michael Madhusudan Dutt.

But all this is now history.

But what won’t go away and what would make Vande Mataram India’s own self-definition as a people, as a distinct national identity is the song. So, these leaders might come and go and when the nation is threatened or when some moment of crisis or challenge comes, it is the song, the Vande Mataram that would re assert itself, as India’s only call for identity.

So, whether a government order says it or not, whether some office holders choose to come out or hide, the country’s innermost collective memory will be held in those few lines only!

Image Source : alamsha.sulekha.com

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