Bigger, better Vande Mataram rendition in Madhya Pradesh after Congress-BJP face off: What led up to this tornado in a teacup

In Madhya Pradesh, a political storm has been in the making, apropos nothing. The newly formed Congress government was rattled at the start of new year over matters of patriotism, nothing less. The controversy that started over the recital of Vande Mataram saw the Opposition BJP taking a moral high-ground, Congress twisting itself in a knot clarifying its intentions, eventually forcing chief minister Kamal Nath to eat his words and take a u-turn.

On 1 January, a 13-year-old tradition set by previous BJP government was broken as Vande Mataram was not sung on the the first working day of the month at Madhya Pradesh secretariat. In doing so, the Congress gifted an emotive issue to the BJP which milked the opportunity to the fullest.

Initially, the Congress tried to play it down with party spokesperson Bhupendra Gupta claiming that the rendition of Vande Mataram couldn't take place as SR Mohanty took charge as Chief Secretary Tuesday, implying that officials remained busy.

File image of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath. PTI

File image of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath. PTI

"Why is the BJP creating fuss over it? If it (Vande Matram) was not sung today, its rendition will take place tomorrow or later. Nothing much should be read into this," the Congress leader said.

However, soon enough the matter had blown into a full-fledged controversy with BJP asking whether Nath intended to ban the chants of Bharat Mata ki Jai. 

State unit BJP spokesman Rajneesh Agrawal tweeted that the rendition of Vande Mataram is organised by the state general administration department (GAD), a portfolio held by Nath. "Has it been on his direction? He (Nath) has recently said that he does not care for criticism. Is there going to be a ban on 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' chant (sic)," he tweeted.

Further shoring up attack, former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan declared that Nath may have done away with the patriotic traditions but he and all other BJP MLAs will sing "Vande Mataram" on the first day of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly session, nonetheless.  "If the Congress doesn't know the lyrics of  Vande Mataram or if they feel ashamed singing it, then let me know. I along with people will sing it on the first day of every month at the Vallabh Bhawan premises," he said in a tweet.

A few overzealous BJP workers even gathered outside the state secretariat and sang Vande Mataram to register their protest over the matter.

To BJP's national general secretary Kailash Vijaywargiya and party national president Amit Shah it was yet another manifestation of Congress' 'appeasement politics.'

"I suspect the chief minister has come under pressure of those who always say that their religious sentiments get hurt by singing this song," Vijaywargiya told reporters in Indore. Shah wrote a Facebook post slamming Congress for making Madhya Pradesh, the "heart of Hindustan", a centre of its "appeasement" policy.  "I want to ask Congress national president Rahul Gandhi whether the insult of Vande Mataram is his decision. Rahul Gandhi should clear his stand before the people of country on the unfortunate decision by the Congress government," Shah said.  "And its insult just to please a particular community is very sad, shameful and disrespect of the country's freedom," Shah added.

The Congress spokespersons and ministers, meanwhile, were at a loss, undecided whether to term it an oversight or a deliberate decision to end BJP-era tradition. According to The Indian Express, Madhya Pradesh ministers including PC Sharma and Jitu Patwari of the opinion that it was an oversight.

However, Nath at the time struck a different note, saying, "The decision has not been taken as part of any agenda. We are not against singing Vande Mataram…It’s a wrong to link patriotism and nationalism with day’s singing of Vande Mataram. Are those people who don't sing Vande Mataram not patriots?"

Asserting that it was no longer compulsory to sing Vande Mataram, Nath went on to say that the Congress does not need a certificate of nationalism from BJP because it fought for the country’s freedom.

However, Nath had to do an uncomfortable turnaround after Shah and Chouhan's comment. On Thursaday, he announced that the practice of singing Vande Mataram was discontinued only for the "time being" and that his government has decided to implement it in a new form ('naya swaroop').

"We have not taken this decision under any agenda nor are we opposed to singing 'Vande Mataram'. It is deeply rooted in our hearts and we have sung it from time-to-time. We will start it again but in a different form," Nath said in a statement.

Nath's bigger, better version of the event will now feature a police band, more patriotic songs and the full 52 second rendition of the National Anthem to top it up, perhaps to make up for the momentary loss of visible patriotism that the party suffered.

"Under the new programme, the police band will start a march from Shaurya Smarak (memorial for martyred soldiers) at 10.45 AM (on first working day of every month) playing tunes of patriotic songs to reach Ballabh Bhawan (secretariat) along with local citizens and a minister," an official release said. "Upon reaching the mantralaya after covering a distance of nearly half a kilometer along with the people, the band will play both the national anthem (Jana Gana Mana) and the national song (Vande Mataram)," it said.

While the omission could have been more oversight than by design, Nath's about-turn on the issue fuels the belief that the Congress government, which had earlier asserted that singing the song was not a barometer to gauge one's patriotism, indeed developed a cold feet.

What we are left with is a booming BJP claiming moral victory, and several hours of the first working day of each month sacrificed to the ceremony in addition to the long list of public holidays observed in the state.

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Updated Date: Jan 04, 2019 13:08:23 IST

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