The “dead issue” is brought back to life yet again by some Muslim clerics who issued a fatwa against the recital of Vande Mataram by Muslims. In response, Hindu hard-liners retorted that those who refuse to sing the national song should go to Pakistan.
Two connected but fundamentally different claims are made here: (1) that Vande Mataram is un-Islamic, and (2) that refusal to sing Vande Mataram is unpatriotic. While the former is induced by religion, the latter has national chauvinism written all over it.
We certainly can’t deny the communal and political motives behind such claims, but the falsity of the second claim deems the first one almost irrelevant. In a just and liberal society no one should be forced to sing a song, be it national song or national anthem. If I, for example, find Vande Mataram offensive for religious, personal, ethical or any other reason, I should have freedom to deny its recital.
As Amit Varma has argued in a compelling blog post (link), there are two types of patriotism: one is primarily driven by love, and the other from pride and self-esteem. The first type of patriot doesn’t impose his own love and reverence (for the country) on others. While the second type of patriot demands everyone else to share his fervor and passion. A love-driven patriot may feel bad if others don’t share his feeling, but unlike a pride-driven patriot he wouldn’t get offended by that. Symbolism (like national anthem, flag etc.) and display are very important to the pride-driven patriotism. But they don’t mean much to the love-driven patriot, who adores the real things (like food, culture and music) as opposed to symbols that represent them.
The other concern that this event raises is about the vices of an unbridled democracy. There is a detailed discussion in Fareed Zakaria’s illuminating book The Future of Freedom about this. The first source of abuse in a democratic society comes from the government, and the second source comes from the people themselves. The will of majority can easily transform into tyranny of majority. The will of majority is important, even crucial to a democratic system, but so is the protection of minority’s rights. Democracy is surely a good system, but too much of a good thing can be bad sometimes.
[See my earlier related post: Talibanization of India]
Clarification: It might appear from my post above that I am implicitly approving the fatwa declared by the cleric. I am not. What I am defending is: liberty. If one doesn’t want to sing Vande Mataram, he should not be forced to sing. And same way, if a muslim wants to sing Vande Mataram then he should be allowed to do so as well.
For the interested reader, here’s good summary of issues and controversies surrounding Vande Mataram.