For the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, controversy is always a slogan away, whether it is Mandir wahin banayenge (we will build a temple at Ayodhya) or Jai Shri Ram. Even as the dust is settling on the JNU controversy, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has opted to open another can of worms.
In his latest controversial statement, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat laid down a new guideline to test the patriotism of Indian citizens. He said that, the new generation needs to be taught to chant slogans hailing
‘Mother India’. “Now the time has come to tell the new generation to chant Bharat Mata ki jai (hail Mother India). It should be real, spontaneous and part of all-round development of the youth,” he thundered.
Predictably, the statement was followed by a national debate on the necessity of shouting such slogans to declare your patriotism. A slogan which used to be chanted spontaneously by those fired with patriotic zeal is now minutely dissected by analysts and the political establishment to distinguish who is not patriotic enough. Many leaders joined the chorus, giving supporting statements asserting one has to chant the slogan Bharat Mata ki jai to express love for India.
For many Muslims, the ‘test’ of patriotism is a needless and irrelevant exercise. Irrespective of that, it has already assumed political proportions in this season of controversies.
Objecting strongly to Bhagwat’s statement, the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen
(aimim) and Lok Sabha member from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi said, “Even if somebody puts a knife to my neck, I will not say Bharat Mata ki jai.”
A day later, member of the Owaisi party and an mla in Maharashtra, Waris Pathan was cornered inside
the assembly when he refused to chant Bharat Mata ki jai. It was a sort of a ‘test’ of patriotism for Pathan, one which he ‘failed’ miserably. He said that it is a matter of choice and not binding as per the Indian Constitution. He clarified that he has no problem in chanting another patriotic slogan Jai Hind!.
“The Constitution does not say it (to chant Bharat Mata ki jai). We will say Jai Hind. We won’t chant Bharat mata ki jai,” Pathan said inside the Assembly. Amid the din and chaos over Pathan’s refusal, the assembly was adjourned and he was put on suspension. The episode saw a rare unity of all the political parties in Maharashtra- the BJP, the Congress, the Nationalist Congress and the Shiv Sena which at other times act as bête noire of each other.
Meanwhile, the AIMIM leader’s refusal to chant the slogan was criticised by some Muslims, including noted poet and fellow MP Javed Akhtar. In his farewell speech to Parliament, Akhtar took a jibe
at Owaisi, terming him the leader of a small locality in Hyderabad. Taking on Owaisi for saying that the Constitution does not require him to say Bharat Mata ki jai, Akhtar sarcastically said, “The Constitution even does not ask him to wear sherwani and a cap.”
Some Islamic scholars too condemned Pathan and Owaisi for refusing to chant the slogan.
But as the controversy raged on, it created divisions within the Muslim community, with some favouring the slogan, while many others terming it ‘un-Islamic’. Amid these polarising debates, a top Islamic seminary Jamia Nizamia issued a fatwa against the chanting of the slogan, reasoning that it gives
notion of worshipping Mother India. As per belief, worshipping anyone except Allah is forbidden in Islam and is considered Sherik (polytheism).
For Prof Akhtarul Wasay, who teaches Islamic studies at the prestigious Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi, the choice of how to praise and revere a country should be left to the individual, not dictated
by someone else.
“India is not only motherland to me, but it is also a fatherland to me and every Muslim of this country,” is
how Prof. Wasay describes it while speaking to Tehelka. He says, “As per Muslim faith, it is believed that
Adam (Aadam) had come down to India.” In Islam, Adam’s role as the father of the human race is
revered by Muslims. Adam (Aadam) is believed to have been the first human being and the first Prophet
For Zafar-Ul-Islam Khan, editor-in- chief of the widely circulated Milli Gazette, it is unacceptable to pressurise someone to chant the slogan. “I can’t say whether it is Islamic or not but it’s unconstitutional to force someone to chant Bharat Mata ki jai,” he told Tehelka.
Freedom of practising religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by Articles 15 and 25 of the Indian Constitution which gives freedom to anyone to practise or not to practise the religion as per his or
her own will. Muslims feel that the ideology of Hindutva is being imposed on them and they are being divided for political reasons on the grounds of patriotism.
Prof Wasay believes that the question of raising the slogan or not is a non-issue. “These are non-issues into which people are unreasonably being dragged.”
The slogan controversy and the surrounding debate on patriotism are not new. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as an institution landed in a major controversy in February this year when its students allegedly chanted anti-national slogans an event organised on the death anniversary of the 2001 Parliament attack convict, Afzal Guru. This famously led to the arrest of students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar and two other students on charges of sedition. Some in India perceive that the country
has become intolerant of opposing political views since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power
in a landslide election victory in 2014. Last year, many Left-leaning authors and intellectuals returned
their awards to register their protest against the alleged rising intolerance.
Experts believe that the Bharat Mata ki jai slogan has a tone catering to one particular community and
therefore not everyone can be coerced to chant the slogan. “There is nothing wrong in shouting this
slogan voluntarily. However, if someone is forced to say it, it is clearly a violation of one’s right
to freedom of expression and individual liberty,” Bhavana Rao, a lawyer told Tehelka.
Prof Wasay points out that he was born in India and has chosen to live in this country. “I have the option to migrate, but I won’t. I am born in this country and would love to be buried here,” adding that he, like any other patriot, has great reverence for India. “All Muslims should unite and avoid these nonissues
on which they are being pitted against each other,” he added.