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A tryst with Vande Mataram
By Ram Jethmalani
August 14, 1947 and the following day were great days in the history of
India. The nation had come of age. It emerged from the era of slavery and
was taking over governance in its own hands. On the morning of that day,
the fifth session of the Constituent Assembly of India commenced its
sitting in the Constitution Hall with Dr Rajendra Prasad in the Chair and
almost all members present. The first item on the agenda was the singing
of the first verse of Vande Mataram. Sucheta Kripalani sang it in her
melodious voice and all members without exception stood in reverence and
listened to the song.
Dr Rajendra Prasad delivered a stirring address remembering those who had
got us our freedom, bravely walking to the gallows and facing bullets on
their chests, those who had experienced living death in the cells of the
Andamans and spent long years in the prisons of India. A tribute of love
and reverence was paid to Mahatma Gandhi who had been our beacon light,
our guide and philosopher during the last 30 years of our struggle.
The President did not forget our brothers and sisters who were parting
from us to become the citizens of Pakistan. He sent them a message of
greetings and good wishes for success and the best of luck in the high
endeavour of independent governance of their new nation. He ended his
speech with a message to the minorities. To them he gave the solemn
assurance that they will receive fair and just treatment and that there
will be no discrimination in any form against them. Their religion, their
culture and their language will remain safe and they will enjoy all the
rights and privileges of citizenship. He did not shrink from reminding
them, however, that India expected them in their turn to render loyalty to
the country in which they lived and to its Constitution.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made his famous "tryst with destiny"
speech and moved a resolution that at the midnight hour every member would
take the following oath: "At this solemn moment when the people of India,
through suffering and sacrifice, have secured freedom, I … a member of the
Constituent Assembly of India, do dedicate myself in all humility to the
service of India and her people to the end that this ancient land attain
her rightful place in the world and make her full and willing contribution
to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind."
No Muslim member had objected to Vande Mataram being sung. No one had
expressed the slightest reservation. Chaudhari Khaliquzzaman seconded
Nehru's resolution which was then duly adopted and as the clock struck 12
every member made the prescribed pledge. There was competition for the
selection of the national anthem between Rabindranath Tagore's Jana Gana
Mana and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's Vande Mataram. The competition was
decided on the basis of superior musical qualities.
Though the former scored on that ground, yet the equal status of both was
formally recognised by the statement of the President on January 24, 1950,
two days before our Republic was born. This is the text: "The composition
consisting of the words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the national
anthem of India, subject to such alterations in the words as the
government may authorise as occasion arises; 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
There was resounding applause in the House when this announcement was
made. No one thought one's religion was being assailed or infringed upon.
For a long time, nobody even remotely made such a silly suggestion. The
statement of the President has the sanctity of any other part or Article
of the Constitution. India is entitled to expect from every Muslim citizen
of India respect for the national anthem and an equal respect for the song
that provided the inspiration for the freedom movement of which every
Muslim is a beneficiary.
The proceedings of August 14, 1947 and January 24, 1950 constitute a
compact between the nation and its minorities. The Constitution will be
respected and Vande Mataram will be sung with an emotion of reverence and
a feeling of joy. This is a requirement for national solidarity and
integration. True, everybody in this country is free to profess, practise
and propagate his own religion. But "religion" means the true kernel of
faith. Claims based upon false and concocted interpretations of the great
religion of Islam are not entitled to any protection merely because
misguided clerics and self-appointed interpreters insist on reading into
Islam prohibitions which the Prophet neither thought of nor would be
pleased to hear about. I am convinced he must be shocked at the
controversies cooked up from the noble text of the Holy Book.
One would do well to recall that even some basic religious dogmas in
secular India may have to be abandoned because they are inconsistent with
public order, morality or health. Muslim seminaries and other
organisations with pretences to superior understanding of Islam must first
acquaint themselves with Article 25 of the Constitution. The Holy Quran
tells us: "And the earth we have spread (like a carpet); set thereon
mountains firm and immovable; And produced therein all kinds of things in
"And we have provided therein means of subsistence, for you, and for those
for whose sustenance ye are not responsible." Sura 15.A 19 and 20. It is
the sacred soil of India which makes human life possible and worthwhile.
It is a veritable mother for every inhabitant of the country. If a Muslim
worships his biological mother, I do not believe that the Prophet of Islam
would frown upon him. If God has to be worshipped there is nothing wrong
in worshipping his fantastic creations. But the song does not even compel
or enjoin any kind of worship.
The objectionable word in the song only means saluting out of reverence, a
What I have said here comes from one who is next to none in fighting for
the liberty, human rights and dignity of the Muslims of India. My public
record is evidence enough, but I do not buy Muslim applause by accepting
irrational and anti-national interpretations of the great religion of the
Prophet. I know a large number of Muslim intellectuals, philosophers,
journalists, teachers, simple folk who do not accept this vicious
interpretation. I know I am in great company.
Must we however, make the singing of this song mandatory? I am too much a
lover of human liberty and freedom of conscience to approve of any
compulsion in this matter. Those who refuse to sing this song, however,
must be prepared to show the necessary courage of conviction. He who
declares that his conscience tells him that the singing of the song is
inconsistent with his religion must be exempted from the obligation to
sing it. Such declarations must be respected. The declarants must,
however, know that they too have to respect the right of the rest of
society to register an appropriate response to such a declaration. The
response might well be that society with its own collective sense of right
and wrong and for the sake of national strength and unity would adjudge
them as simple Constitution-breakers not to be trusted with any public
honour office or employment. Stripping them of citizenship may be
perfectly in order.
If as a senior lawyer I had to choose from two bright Muslim young men an
apprentice, a junior or even a partner in my professional chamber, I would
unhesitatingly, other things being equal, reject the one who refuses to
sing the song. In my own freedom of judgment, I am entitled to conclude
that something is very wrong with his intelligence or loyalty to the
nation. I concede that Muslim parents have the right to tell their
children not to sing the song, but equally, the schools must have the
right to adjudge them as unfit pupils of the institution. This could well
be the beginning of the isolation of Muslim society leading to denial of
all the benefits of a civilised pluralistic democracy.
Muslim parents will advance both Indian secularism and the religion of
Islam by introducing their children to Kabir's great poem, which is one of
the finest examples of Kabir's doctrine of universal brotherhood:
If Khuda lives only in masjid
who looks after the rest of the world?
If Ram is lodged in the temple idol
who takes care of the universe?
Is East the abode of Hari,
and West that of Allah?
Search in your heart for both of them,
there live both Karim and Ram.
They are one and the same,
Creator of the universe
men and women are His image
and Kabir is son of both Ram and Karim,
his preceptors are guru and pir alike.