The controversy over singing Vande Matram has kept on raging time and again and I am compelled to travel back in time and revisit an incidence that places the whole thing in a different and much more humane perspective.
It was in 2005, the centenary year of the celebrated song, that the controversy over its universal rendition in the country was on. The union Human Resource Development ministry under Arjun Singh had called for the singing of the song by everyone and the Muslims were yet again in the docks being asked to prove their patriotism and nationalism by publicly singing the song, a thing which a section of the Muslims was not ready for.
As it was I was at that time reporting from the ‘communal cauldron’ of Ahmedabad that was trying to breathe freely after the ghastly Godhra and post Godhra events of 2002. in order to escape media debate, the Narendra Modi led BJP government in the state had come out with an order asking the institutions and the public to sing the song without making it clear whether the entire song was to be sung or just a portion of it.
Having been at the receiving end, a section of the Muslims decided to publicly sing a portion of the song. They decided not to sing that portion to which the clergy was opposed and claimed that singing this portion would amount to idolatry.
Having decided to take the certificate in nationalism and patriotism, this group of Muslims got down to erecting a stage in the area of Juhapura, which has probably emerged as one of the biggest Muslim ghettoes in the entire South Asia. They also invited the media for the event. Reporting for a foreign media organization at that point of time, I decided to cover the event which was both topical and which also conveyed a lot through the nuances.
The biggest problem for the organizers turned out to be gathering volunteers to sing the song. Hence came the incentive in the form of a skull cap. I had never even imagined that to sing Vande Matram, one required a skull cap or any cap for that matter. The next problem was to hand over a printout of the portion of the song to be sung to everyone present since no one, including me, knew the song beyond its first stanza by heart.
Somehow, a group of about 100 Muslims gathered at the venue on the given day at the given time amidst a scramble for possessing the cap. The singing started. The first stanza went off fine. It was at this time point, when the second stanza was to be sung, that a large number of volunteers realized that in the scramble for possessing the incentive of a cap, they had lost the print out of the song. I could not help laughing along with a Muslim friend of mine while looking at a large number of volunteers shouting to each other in order to get a print out of the song.
It was at that point that I realized the state has much to deliver to its masses, particularly the marginalized before such things can be made an issue of. The primary issue before the nation continues to be not whether to publicly sing a song or not but the issues still alive and to de addressed continue to be that of hunger, employment, poverty, education and above all—the inclusive development.