Vande Mataram : Why the row now?

Vande Mataram : Why the row now?

The budget session of Parliament ended two days ahead of schedule amid disruptions by the BJP on its demand for the resignation of the Prime Minister...

The budget session of Parliament ended two days ahead of schedule amid disruptions by the BJP on its demand for the resignation of the Prime Minister and his two ministers, but the session made news on another count as well. This resulted from a rather avoidable and unfortunate case involving BSP member of the Lok Sabha, Shafi-ur-Rahman Barq who was found walking away as 'Vande Mataram' was being sung at the closing ceremony, evoking serious notice of Speaker Meira Kumar.

The member drew a sharp rebuke from the Chair. Yet, the breach on the part of the concerned member was in essence a matter best left to be dealt with by the Speaker, but it was picked up by at least two national news channels for debate and interviewing Barq to explain the reason that prompted him to act as he did. On his part, Barq contended that he did not intend any disrespect to the House and that he was merely guided by the religious injunctions that prohibit bowing before anyone except God.

But the fact that he did so in the fifth and last year of the five-year term of the Lok Sabha was bound to raise questions. A For, as a rule each and every session has been starting with the singing of the National Anthem Jana Gana Mana, and closing with the national song. A Yet the matter needs to be seen in perspective. Even as parliamentary norms call for strict observance, the song has been a subject of debate at different times at least in public debates.

Thus the Constitution-makers, while selecting the song to be sung in Parliament, took care to make it acceptable to all. The song, as penned by Bankim Chandra Chatterji, was an invocation to Mother Goddess and, as such, it aptly had religious overtones recited in full.

Not only Muslim groups but Sikh and Christian groups had also been expressing reservations about it from time to time in public debates. Thus, the national song, as sung in Parliament, is an edited version of the song and comprises only its two verses.

In the present case, however, the closing ceremony would have passed in the normal course but for Barq's walk-out. Barq is indeed within his rights to have his religious views and nobody can really challenge him on that score; indeed, nobody did so.

At the same time, he went on to clarify that he was fully at home with the national anthem while having his reservations about the national song. Even so, Barq gave no clear-cut answer as to what made him make his feelings known this way in the House this time alone.

Moreover, faith is after all a personal matter, and in a country of cultural diversities and multiple religions everybody has the right to observe what they think right. Yet, what complicates the matter in this case is that Barq is a Member of Parliament and, as such, his conduct in the House had to be in conformity with the norms expected of him as an MP.

However, there is hardly any justification for the news channels playing up the episode out of proportions. This is unfortunately so because of the tendency to sensationalize issues and wallow in controversy.

One of the channels debating Barq's action clearly adopted a condemnatory stance. The anchor, behaving as the presiding deity, throughout mispronounced Barq's name, leaving it to former chairman of the National Minorities Commission, along with a senior journalist, to infuse sense in the discussion.

Another channel was indeed more sober and watchable though the Samajwadi Party spokesman was at pains to draw a line between the national anthem and the national song instead of sticking to the crux of the matter.

Indeed, political compulsions were allowed to override reason. Both the BSP and the SP have political stakes in keeping their vote banks in humor with the crucial Lok Sabha elections looming large. They are the two major contenders in the fray and the Congress still remains an unknown quantity in the State. However, Barq would have just as well steered clear of the controversy if only he had not made a show of it.

As such, the tenor of the debate opened out a much broader question concerning the minorities. What Barq did or did not do on a particular occasion does not merit to be linked with Muslims as a community which has many other pressing problems to deal with.

However, there are people who would not let go any opportunity to infuse communal overtones on the slightest pretext without caring that, however important a person may be, his actions cannot be equated with those of the community as a whole.

The time for making innuendos or snide attacks has passed, and no questions need be raised about anyone's patriotic commitment: that is rather too late in the day.

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