New Delhi, Aug 28: It once galvanised Indians to gang up against the colonisers' pernicious plan the first partition of Bengal. Braving Britishers' brutality, singing the soul-stirring song, nationalists banished the firangs. But Vande Mataram, India's premier national song, never threw one thing off its back: controversy.
A central government directive wanted all schools to recite the first two stanzas of the song at 11 am on September 7 to mark the completion of the centenary celebrations commemorating adoption of the national song.
However, it has snowballed into a controversy after some Muslim clerics in Uttar Pradesh opposed the order as, according to them, Vande Mataram's singing amounted to worshipping the motherland and Muslims cannot worship any other than Allah.
Soon HRD minister Arjun Singh retracted, making the song's recitation voluntary. Significantly, Singh's volte face came at a function in a madrassa in Uttar Pradesh, a state scheduled to go for polls in a few months.
Predictably, the BJP, desperate to polarise UP's voters along communal lines, raised its old, tired slogan: "Is desh mein rahna hai to Vande Mataram kehna hoga (If you want to live in this country, you will have to sing Vande Mataram)."
The media went to Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari whose kingdom doesn't stretch beyond the walls of Delhi's Jama Masjid. Bukhari, as is his wont, didn't disappoint the sensation-seeking newswallahs and called Vande Mataram "anti-Islamic".
A few years ago, on a television programme, Bukhari had shown sympathy with the Talibans and opposed American invasion of Afghanistan. To which Shabana Azmi had said that Bukhari should be airdropped to Kandhar if he so loved Osama bin Laden.
Tragically, Vande Mataram is being victimised mostly because of the controversy that surrounded it during the communally charged 1930s and 1940s.
It suited the Muslim League's propaganda that Muslims would get further subjugated in Hindu India because they would be forced to sing a song that alluded to Hindu religion. Idol worship is anathema to Islam.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee would not have imagined that his simple paean to rural Bengal, composed in 1876, would be a national debate over a century later.
Vande Mataram painted a beautiful portrait of an exotic rural landscape, with the sun shining on lush green fields, the moonlight glistening on gently rippling rivers and flowers dancing on trees.
Subsequently, Chatterjee included this patriotic paean in his 1882 controversial novel Anandamath. Some critics dismissed it as anti-Muslim as Anandamath glorified "the annihilation of Muslims and not the British rule in India."