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 By Rakesh Dixit

The opening of cowsheds and singing of Vande matram are not the only issue on which the Congress government led by Kamalnath has betrayed its streak of soft -Hindutva

On March 1, the monthly ritual of chanting Vande Matram was solemnly performed at the state secretariat in Bhopal with chief minister Kamal Nath joining the chorus of the state government staff.

Just 40 km away from Bhopal, Congress MLA Arif Masood stayed away from chanting of the national song in a function in Sehore district. He argued that his patriotism cannot be tested on singing of Vande Matram. His refusal has revived the controversy which had begun on January 1when the Vande Matram singing was discontinued for the first time in 13 years. It was resumed next month.      

Barring January 1, 2019, national song has been sung on the first working day of every month in front of the state secretariat since 2006. Its singing was supposed to infuse patriotic fervour among the state government staff. However, the fact is that the monthly ritual had become an insipid affair within months of its commencement under the rule of then chief minister Babulal Gaur. His successor Shivraj Singh Chouhan maintained the ritual, though the chief minister himself rarely joined the singing.

Nevertheless, the BJP’s insistence to test a citizen’s patriotism on recitation of Vande Matram remains a contentious issue. Now the Congress MLA Arif Masood has refused to undergo the patriotism test.     

Masood refused to recite Vande Mataram at a public gathering of the India Mev Mahasabha at Shyampur in the state’s Sehore district.  

“Why should I sing (Vande Mataram)? I follow Shariat, which does not permit this. I am ready to lay my life for the country, ready to go to the border. But, they insist on singing Vande Mataram. Our Army fights at the border, not leaders,” the Congress MLA said while talking to media.

One of the two Muslim MLAs in Madhya Pradesh, Masood, 48,  regrets that “we have to prove our commitment to the nation by raising Vande Mataram slogans.”

He is known as a hardcore Muslim leader in Bhopal. He is an important office bearer in the All India Muslim Law Board.

Masood came into media limelight first time in 2001 when he stormed with supporters into a cinema hall which was screening the controversial film Gadar-Ek Prem Katha. The protestors ransacked the cinema hall. They had objection to ‘wrong’ portrayal of the Muslim community in the film on partition of India in 1947.  

Masood was a youth Congress leader and owed allegiance to senior Congress leader Suresh Pachouri.  The then chief minister Digvijay Singh was furious over the vandalism at the cinema hall. However, under pressure from certain leaders within the Congress, the then government did not book the hooligans led by Arif Masood.

Over the years, Masood emerged as a leader of the Muslim community in Bhopal which comprises 30% of the state capital’s population. The other big leader of the community is Arif Aqeel who is a minister in the Kamal Nath cabinet. Aqeel has been representing Bhopal (north) assembly segment which is predominantly Muslim. Both the leaders fiercely compete to lay claim on the community’s leadership.

Compared to Arif Masood, the other leader is considered catholic in religious matters and sober.

A section of the Congress was dead set against fielding Arif Masood in view of his shady past. He is known to provide political protection to criminals of his community. His detractors contended that the BJP would exploit Masood’s candidature to polarise the voters along communal lines. However, Masood proved his detractors wrong. His campaign was remarkably devoid of communal overtone. He was conscious of the BJP’s intension to polarise the voters. He won with handsome margin from the Bhopal central seat where Muslims comprise less than 20% of the population.

Masood’s victory came as a big surprise. BJP national secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya recently remarked that he was pained and surprised to see that a Muslim, who eats beef, was elected to the state assembly.

The Congress has dissociated itself from its lawmaker’s refusal to chant the national song while the BJP has urged the state assembly speaker to reprimand Arif Masood.

 “Whatever Masood has said is his personal opinion based on Shariat. The Congress has utmost respect for Vande Mataram, which the party would continue to recite,” Narendra Saluja, coordinator of state Congress media cell, said.

State BJP spokesperson Rahul Kothari said Masood’s refusal to chant Vande Matram is violation of the oath by the lawmakers to protect the country’s sovereignty and integrity.

Although Masood’s defiance does not amount to violation of the Congress’s supposed secular ideology, the party is sounding rather diffident over the development. The diffidence stems from the fear that the BJP might raise question on the Congress’s patriotism in the run up to the Lok Sabha election, citing the MLAs’ stand on Vande Matram.

This fear was quite evident when the Kamal Nath government took a U-turn under BJP pressure on singing of the national song.

Livid over discontinuation of Vande Matram on January 1, the BJP next day organised a supporters rally. Party leaders including former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan sang the song. It was a big spectacle which attracted wide media coverage.

However, the rally also occasioned some embarrassing moments for the BJP as most of the supporters failed to chant Vande Matram beyond a line in front of the TV cameras. Undeterred by the embarrassment, the BJP announced state wide stir to press the demand for resumption of the practice of Vande  Matram singing.

The chief minister succumbed to pressure.  The Vande Mataram was back with a police band and national anthem within 48 hours of its singing being suspended at the state secretariat in Bhopal.

The government said ahead of Vande Mataram singing at the secretariat on the first working day of every month, a police band will march from army memorial (Shourya Smarak)  to the secretariat building at 10.45 am and common people too could take part in it.

The BJP was quick to take the credit for the Kamal Nath government’s volte face.

State BJP vice-president Vijesh Lunawat said: “The state government’s decision to resume singing of Vande Mataram came due to BJP raising the issue and exerting pressure on the government.”

Vande matram singing is not the lone issue on which the Congress government has betrayed its streak of soft -Hindutva It is evident in the way the government is vigorously pursuing the agenda of opening cowsheds in all village panchyats. Also, the slapping of NSA on three Muslim youths who were caught on the charge of cow-slaughter was another proof of the Congress having veered away from secularism to soft-Hindutva.

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