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Remembering Bankim Chandra & Vande Mataram

Just two words—Vande Mataram—by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, who has his 179th birth anniversary (June 26, 1838) this Monday, tells a lot about we the Indians.

Vande Mataram epitomized India’s freedom struggle against the monstrous British Rule and ”every patriot,” as Acharya Kriplani was to write later: “from Khudiram Bose to Bhagat Singh to Rajguru died with Vande Mataram on their lips.”

Madan Lal Dhingra, inspired by Vande Mataram, shot dead Curzon Wyllie and embraced gallows. Veer Savarkar’s Vande Mataram vow led to him being arrested in England, brought to India, and sentenced to two life-imprisonments before being packed to Andamans.

Sister Nivedita and Bhikaji Cama differed in their own flags about India but didkeep Vande Mataram firmly in its centre.

All across the globe, from Lala Har Dayal’s Gadar Party whose many members greeted each other with the words; to mass of Indians in South Africa who welcomed G.K.Gokhale with this fervent cry, Vande Mataram galvanized millions of Indians at home and abroad for the liberation of the motherland.

It moved Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to say: “Bande Mataram literally means `I salute the motherland’. It is the nearest approach to India’s national anthem.”

Yet, Vande Matram was not destined to be India’s national anthem. All it got was to be the national song of the country, and that too just the first two paragraphs, as the honour went to Janaganamana of Rabindranath Tagore.

It might make no sense to the uninitiated readers as to why Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru thought Vande Mataram couldn’t lend itself to orchestral music or why even before an official decision was taken by the Constituent Assembly of India, Janaganamana was played as a national anthem in the UN General Assembly. Or why India’s first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad announced Janaganamana as national anthem on January 24, 1950 even before the Constituent Assembly could pass a resolution to this effect.

It might make more sense to readers if they relate the opposition to Vande Mataram by a section of Muslim leaders in today’s India,–on the grounds that it’s an idolatrous prayer–with the one of Muslim League in blood-soaked years of pre-independent India.

Vande Mataram, a part of Bankim Chandra’s celebrated novel Ananda Math, about the Sanyasi Revolt of the 18th century (1763-1800)–against the British East India Company who had just taken a foothold in India with the conquest of Bengal after the Battle of Plassey (1757)–was the battle-cry Congress had championed from the very early days of its inception in 1885..

The Vande Mataram song, which was written at least seven years before Ananda Math was penned in 1882, came into national consciousness due to events in the Barisal province of Bengal. On April 14, 1906, Indian National Congress was to meet at the venue and pledge against the partition of Bengal. A mammoth gathering burnt an effigy of Lord Curzon and rendered the air with the shrieks of Vande Mataram. The District Magistrate promptly put a ban on its singing but unmindful, a procession which had the likes of Surendranath Bannerjee, Sir Bipin Chandra Pal and Sri Aurobindo in the front, took to the streets. Police rained lathis and kicks on the peaceful and unarmed demonstrators.

The poem spread like a wildfire. Secret societies, like the one of Ananda Math, began springing all over the country. Lala Lajpat Rai started a journal called Vande Mataram. Subramaniam Bharati brought out the Tamil verse translation of the song. Vande Mataram even soaked the army in its spirit. Twenty-four young men of the Fourth Madras Coastal Defence Battery were sent to gallows and died singing Vande Mataram.

However, Muslim League opposed Vande Mataram from the very beginning. In its 1908 session, it was deemed sectarian. In 1923, Maulana Mohammed Ali, as the president of Congress, opposed it.

Congress, in conformity with its Muslim-appeasement stance, introduced Mohammad Iqbal’s Hindustan Hamaara. The Muslim leaders wanted Iqbal’s song to replace Vande Mataram. The All-India Muslim League passed resolutions condemning Vande Mataram. The Congress Working Committee in 1937 maimed the song Vande Mataram to just two paras. The Muslim League wasn’t satisfied still. Jinnah asked Nehru in 1938 to completely abandon Vande Mataram. To placate the Muslim League, the Congress decided to allow the singing of a song by Basheer Ahmad, Quran recital as well as a prayer in English in the assembly.

As for Janaaganamana, famous Indologist Dr. Koenraad Elst has this to say:

Janaganamana itself is controversial because Tagore had allegedly written it in honour of the King of England, George V, the janaganamana adhinayak, master of the people’s minds, and the bharata bhagya vidhata, shaper of India’s destiny, mentioned in the opening line. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence for this, and there is no convincing alternative explanation for the said opening line. In his 1911, Delhi Durbar, George V had annulled the partition of Bengal, conceding a nationalist demand, and that could give this glorification of the king a nationalist twist.”

When a nation is founded on secular lines, implying that religion wouldn’t play a role in its governance, it’s a debatable if national interests or sentiments are decided on the whims of a community. France has put a ban on burqa (veil) in public places. Same is now the stance in Australia. Germany’s Chancellor Angelo Merkel has a similar view and parties in Britain have long called for ban on veils.

However in India, appeasement only ended up vivescating one-third of the undivided India.

Meanwhile, it has kept Bankim Chandra, arguably Bengal’s greatest literary figure, alive to this day. One of the first graduates of Calcutta University, Bankim Chandra  became a deputy collector in due course, like his father, Yadav Chandra Chattopadhyaya. He eventually became a deputy magistrate before his retirement in 1891. Three years later, he was dead.

Bankim Chandra was best summed up by Sri Aurobindo in these words: “And when posterity comes to crown with her praises the Makers of India, she will place her most splendid laurel not on the sweating temples of a place-hunting politician, nor on the narrow forehead of a noisy social reformer but on the serene brow of that gracious Bengali who never clamoured for place or power, but did his work in silence for love of his work, even as nature does, and, just because he had no aim but to give out the best that was in him, was able to create a language, a literature and a nation.”

Guha and the Gandhi he hides

This is a reprint from NewsBred.

Ramachandra Guha today hogged the Indian Express edit page with his column: “Does Gandhi have a caste?”.

Guha, already a book old on Gandhi–“Gandhi before India”– will have his second one on the man next year. Apparently, the cottage industry on Gandhi is a useful tool for self advancement and setting up the political agenda in this country.

Guha’s peg is the recent reference of Amit Shah where the BJP president had called Gandhi the “Chatur Baniya.” This has Guha in an outrage even though he himself reminded readers of “residue of Bania upbringing” in Gandhi in his book.

Guha’s entire premise is built on the assertion that Gandhi didn’t differentiate between castes and he repeatedly asked Hindus to “disregard matters of caste in where they lived…”

Gandhi is larger than life to most Indians. That doesn’t mean he is above examination. A Hindu mind isn’t shy of evaluating his own Gods. There is no reason a Mahatma be exempt from such a scrutiny. Gandhi himself would’ve approved of such “experiments with truth.”

So let’s examine if Gandhi didn’t differentiate between castes. In his over two decades of stay in South Africa, Gandhi didn’t think Black Africans were worth his time. In 1893, he wrote to the Natal parliament saying that Indians were better “than savages of the Natives of Africa.” He supported more taxes on impoverished African people and turned a blind eye to the brutality of the Empire on Africans. He termed them “kaffirs” an extremely offensive racist slur.

No less than Gandhi’s grandson and his biographer, Rajmohan Gandhi, has acknowledged that Gandhi was “prejudiced about South African blacks.” Historian Patrick French wrote in 2013 that “Gandhi’s blanking of Africans is the black hole at the heart of his saintly mythology.” Today a large number of Africans view Gandhi as a racist vis-a-vis Black Africans. A revision in his stature is already underway.  Last year his statue was banished from Ghana University in Accra after massive protests by professors over his racist stance.

Guha of course would hide such facts from our view. Closer home, one would be interested to find out Guha’s opinion on Gandhi’s role in the Khilafat Movement (1919-1924). Most of us don’t know about it as a sanitized history is propagated by Left-Liberal combine in whose company Guha clearly is comfortable.

At the end of the World War I in 1919, Ottoman Turkey lay beaten by the Allied forces. Their pretensions of being Caliphs of the Islamic world was in ruins. It got the hackles up of Muslim leaders in India. They formed a committee to force the British government to restore the Sultan. This in brief is known as the Khilafat Movement.

Gandhi and the Congress launched the non-cooperation movement in support of the Khilafat demand. It clearly was a quid pro quo move. Gandhi, in return, got the Muslim support. It helped him become the biggest political actor of the Indian stage. (Bal Gangadhar Tilak had died on August 1, 1920). Gandhi justified his move thus:

“I would gladly ask for the postponement of the Swaraj activity if we could advance the interest of the Khilafat.” So Swaraj, which meant self-rule, became a subordinate action compared to restoration of Caliphate in a faraway land!!! It never occurred to Mahatma how the natives would make sense of such a sympathy for the Muslim cause which had nothing to do with India’s reality.

Mohammad Ali, a prominent leader of the Khilafat movement, went further: “If the Afghans invaded India to wage holy war, the Indian Muhammadans are not only bound to join them but also to fight the Hindus if they refuse to cooperate with them.”

This clearly was not respect-all-castes approach. And what was Gandhi’s reaction to this all? He supported Mohammad Ali for being true to his religion! So much for caste-free politics and the spirit of nationalism.  Over to Gandhi:

 “I claim that with us both the Khilafat is the central fact, with the Maulana Mohammad Ali because it is his religion, with me because, in laying down my life for the Khilafat, I ensure the safety of the cow, that is my religion, from the knife of the Mussalman.”

Let’s leave cow for the moment as it is a more sensitive subject than Mahatma these days. It must be mentioned though that Gandhi diverted a substantial sum of money from the Tilak Swaraj Fund to the Khilafat movement.

Gandhi’s support for Khilafat led to Mopla Rebellion of 1921. (Moplas are a Muslim sect of Malabar in Kerala). Murder and rapine followed the failure of Khilafat. It soon became a full-scale rebellion. Civil authorities caved in and army had to be summoned. Khilafat flags were hoisted on police stations and government offices. It took seven months to put it down completely.

Guha’s subtle message is that all religions are the same.  Hindus must not make any distinctions vis-à-vis Islam, Christianity and other religions. And by inference, Ahimsa, the cornerstone of Gandhi’s philosophy, must be internalized.

But religious distinctions are there for all to see. Hindus don’t follow one book like Koran or Bible. They don’t have one God like Islam and Christianity. There is no prophet or messenger who stands between the God and humanity. There is no central religious authority like Pope to them.

Every time you open a newspaper, you read a piece by Guha, Sagarika Ghose and their ilks who appeal to the pacifist image of Hindus. Their method to neutralize the majority is simple: beat them with the creeds of Mahatma and shame them on the untouchability ills of Hindu society. Hemmed in by such imagery, India hasn’t responded to million cuts which aggressive neighbours inflict on it regularly. Bleed India to death is this creed. The Break-India plot must be thwarted with rigour and alertness for the forces have shifted gears.