NEW DELHI: India’s right-wing Hindu parties and Muslim groups are heading for a confrontation over a controversial move to get all Indians to sing the national song on the centenary of its adoption next month.

The row was sparked this month after the government asked all schools, including madressahs, to get students to sing the song, which is separate from the national anthem, on Sept 7.

Within days, it backed down and made singing voluntary after Muslim leaders objected.

Muslim groups say the Sanskrit language song, ‘Vande Mataram’, penned by Bengali language poet Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, has strong connotations of Hindu deity worship because it reveres India as a holy goddess, which is against Islam’s basic tenets.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has pounced on the government’s climbdown, saying it smacked of discrimination and encouraged a lack of patriotism.

The party said on Monday that the five states it rules would make the singing of ‘Vande Mataram’ mandatory on Sept 7 and would act against those disobeying the order. “There are some things which are symbols of national pride and ‘Vande Mataram’ is one of them. It can’t be made optional,” said Vijay Kumar Malhotra, a top BJP leader.

“We will enforce it, whichever school it is will have to sing it. We will see what action can be taken against those who do not.”

“Vande Mataram”, which translates as ‘I bow to thee Mother’, was the national slogan during India’s independence movement against British rule. Sept 7 is the culmination of year-long celebrations to mark the centenary of its 1905 adoption as the national song.

PATRIOTISM VS RELIGION: Although ‘Vande Mataram’ was the frontrunner to become the national anthem after independence in 1947, it was rejected as Muslims felt offended over the depiction of the country as a Hindu goddess.

Instead, ‘Jana Gana Mana’ (The Minds of All People), penned by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, was chosen.

Muslim leaders said the BJP was once again trying to provoke the Hindus for political gain by stoking anti-Islamic sentiments.

Hindus account for more than 80 per cent of India’s 1.1 billion population. Muslims make up about 13 per cent — the third largest Islamic community after Indonesia and Pakistan.

Nationalism should not conflict with religion in an officially secular country, said Kamal Farooqui, secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

“My problem is Islam does not allow me to worship an image of my prophet (PBUH), who is the most sacred person to me, or even my mother,” Mr Farooqui said.

“So when they represent India with an image of a Hindu goddess and ask us to sing her praise to prove we are Indians, is it fair?” he asked.

The BJP and its sister Hindu organisations have in the past raked up similar, communally sensitive issues such as banning cow slaughter, and opposed special marriage laws for Muslims.

The party, which rose to prominence on the back of a Hindu revivalist movement in the late 1980s, was struggling for direction after it was thrown out of power in 2004 and has been trying to experiment with communal issues, analysts say. —Reuters

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