Lok Sabha member Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM has triggered a debate on saying aloud “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (glory to Mother India). He said the Constitution did not compel anyone to utter those words and he would not chant them. But none of us look for Constitutional compulsions in every single thing we consider right, good or necessary to do. For instance, if we need to say, the Constitution does not command us to breathe, vote or contest an election. Let us then look at a few other things.
We all know. There is no god in Hindu religion with the name 'Bharat Mata'. So it is nothing about a god projected by a religion and recommended to people of other religions. Bharat Mata is just a mental personification of an India held dear in our hearts. The people, as well as the Constitution, of the country recognise ‘Bharat’ as denoting India. So we get the term Bharat Mata, as a manner of speaking. It is a fine evocative expression too. Only dull heads with no idea of the beauty or effect of imagery will ask, "How can a country be a mother?"
‘Bharat Mata' is not the only expression people use to cherish their nation, its leaders or its values. Another term heard all over the world is 'father of the nation'. No one in India objects to Mahatma Gandhi being hailed as the father of our nation. A political leader who plays a pivotal role in the founding of a nation or in liberating it may be affectionately called by its people as the father of their nation. By tradition, a father protects, nurtures and leads his children to adulthood who then look up to him with respect and gratitude - both of which happened more in earlier times. Likewise, a leader who devotes his energy and acumen in the evolution of a nation is acclaimed as a father of the nation. In Indian culture a mother is specially loved and respected by her children - yes, more in earlier times - for all her physical sacrifices in giving birth to them and caring for them during their infancy and growing years, with many sleepless nights, and for the lasting emotional bond that she, more than the father, builds with them. So if you wish to portray a grateful reverence to your nation that is Bharat, no wonder you would call her Bharat Mata.
English people too have associated ‘mother’ with one's country. So they have the word 'motherland'. For Indians, hailing their nation Bharat Mata is like other nationalities calling their nation motherland. Uttering or hearing the words ‘Bharat Mata’ should evoke in Indians a bonding with the land of their birth, which does not happen with the mere name of India or Bharat or Hindustan, certainly not as deeply. Don't you see the difference between a resounding chant of "Bharat Mata ki Jai" and a lifeless shout of "Hindustan Zindabad"?
Some leaders contend that the slogans "Bharat Mata ki Jai" and "Hindustan Zindabad" mean the same thing and so it is all right if they refuse to utter the former and just say the other. This is a poor robotic argument. What would you say to someone who asserts that gulping a spoonful of plain sugar and relishing a piece of halwa are just the same thing? Tasteless.
Not just a leader, but a country's cherished value too is personified. A shining example of this is New York's Statue of Liberty. It is not a statue for Liberty. It is the Statue of Liberty. US citizens do not protest the idea of depicting inanimate liberty in the form of a lady.
Well-publicised news reports quote a noted Indian historian, also a Marxist, as saying, “Bharat Mata has nothing to do with India’s ancient or medieval past. It is a European import. Notions of motherland and fatherland were talked about in Europe.” Here is an unstated suggestion that if Indians give up the chanting of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ they would be in tune with their hoary past and would be rid of a present-day controversy. Even if the historian is right on facts, it is surprising he is so mechanical about the issue and unmindful of positive popular sentiments. For that matter, Constitutional government has also nothing to do with India’s ancient or medieval past and is a European import, but that is not to be mentioned today disapprovingly in any context. And then, Marxism propagated in India is also of foreign import, but that cannot be a reason to disagree with that philosophy. If a practice or activity is legally permissible in our public life and is preferred by many but opposed by some, the right question to ask first is if that works to the public good. Ordinary Indians are emotionally driven, and so a good slogan for the nation with a unifying emotional content is welcome.
It is not that Indian Muslims as a whole object to the chanting of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, which is what Owaisi wants us to believe. But he is an Indian leader and ordinary people have to fear him, unlike in mature democracies where leaders fear misreading people's minds. Poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar won the hearts of many Indians when he spoke recently in the Rajya Sabha, denouncing Owaisi’s statement and himself chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. This is not to say that Javed Akhtar has given in. He has recognized the value of that chant for all Indians, and so has gone with it for the good of his nation. But he is not in active politics, and Owaisi is. Imagine the shot in the arm for Hindu-Muslim brotherhood if Owaisi could say, “For Hindus and Muslims in India, standing together for the glory of India and saying ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ is a strong message to ourselves and to the world. It helps us all to march forward and grow”.
Owaisi is not alone in the art of political maneuvering. Many other politicians too play it best from their positions. He is one among several short-sighted leaders from most Indian political parties who have abysmally failed a great nation. Bharat Mata has a hard journey ahead though many may cheer her.
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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2016