‘Jai Maharashtra’ preferred over ‘Vande Mataram’

Banatwalla of IUML extended his support to Thackeray for the standing committee chairpersonship and bargained for a committee membership. Vande Mataram was put on the back burner

Cartoon by Clyde Crasto
Cartoon by Clyde Crasto

Sujata Anandan

Bureaucrats in Maharashtra are a relieved lot after the state’s minister of culture backtracked from his earlier instruction that they greet people on phone with ‘Vande Mataram’. After a backlash the unnerved minister sheepishly declared that he had meant it merely as an optional greeting. Officials are clearly happy to go back to the traditional ‘hello’ or ‘Namaskar’.

Ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election in the 1970s, Bal Thackeray’s Marathi manoos issue had played itself out and Thackeray was floundering for something to electrify the masses with. So, when the Indian Union Muslim League opposed singing of Vande Mataram in municipal schools, Thackeray made it a poll issue to polarise voters.

But when culture minister Sudhir Mungantiwar insisted that government officials greet each other over the telephone by saying ‘Vande Mataram’, Shiv Sena leaders owing allegiance to Uddhav Thackeray made it plain that they preferred the traditional greetings ‘Jai Maharashtra’ and ‘Namaskar’.

The lyrics of Vande Mataram were penned by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in the backdrop of the Sannyasi rebellion in Bengal in his novel ‘Anandamath’ published in 1882; but it was first put to music and sung by Rabindranath Tagore. The Tagores were poets, writers and painters and had fiercely resisted the partition of Bengal in 1905. The image of India as Bharat Mata was first conceptualised and painted by Abanindranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s nephew, to represent Mother India.

The cry ‘Bharat maata ki jai’ that BJP wants Muslims to chant is about Devi Durga and not Lord Ram. BJP leaders also do not seem to be aware of the circumstances under which Bal Thackeray had owned up ‘Vande Mataram’ that one time.

The Shiv Sena and IUML both secured seats in the municipal corporation, the former by promoting ‘Vande Mataram’ and the latter by opposing it. That it was just political posturing became obvious when they joined hands after the polls – the IUML had won three seats while the Shiv Sena had conveniently fallen short of the majority by the same number. Banatwalla of IUML extended his support to Thackeray for the standing committee chairpersonship and bargained for a membership in the committee. Vande Mataram was conveniently put on the back burner.

Soon ‘Jai Maharashtra’ became Thackeray’s signature greeting and not just on the telephone either. His more militant cries were ‘Jai Bhavani and Jai Shivaji and not Bharat Mata Ki Jai. He never lost sight of Jai Hind though, giving Subhas Chandra Bose’s freedom cry precedence every time he ended his public speeches.

Government officials navigating between two Shiv Sena chief ministers (Manohar Joshi in 1995 and Uddhav Thackeray in 2019) have fallen into the habit of greeting each other with ‘Jai Maharashtra’.

Tushar Jagtap, Ambedkarite social activist, believes introducing ‘Vande Mataram’ was a classic BJP attempt to impose a monolithic culture on all. “If we allowed this, there would be no end to the impositions by the BJP. Also, in a democracy as varied and with as many languages, greetings can take different forms. Dr BR Ambedkar in a debate with author Mulk Raj Anand had argued that our formal greeting should not be ‘Namaskar’, which means ‘I bow to you’ but ‘Om mani padme hum’, which means ‘I bow to knowledge’, a call by Lord Buddha that he found most appropriate.”

Political analyst Hemant Desai provides another perspective when he says Mungantiwar was being merely more loyal than the king after having been cut down to size by Devendra Fadnavis from his previous position as finance minister in his earlier cabinet.

Mungantiwar is known to be a supporter of Nitin Gadkari and hails from Vidarbha, home turf of Fadnavis. In addition, Mungantiwar also harbours chief ministerial ambitions. “Stuck with a relatively insignificant ministry he wanted to make his presence felt in Maharashtra,” he believes.

“What is more, neither the Shiv Sena nor the BJP in Maharashtra was overtly bothered about Hindutva between 2014 and 2022 until Fadnavis and Eknath Shinde made that an issue for bringing down Uddhav Thackeray,” says Desai.

Uddhav in his past avatar did once say that whoever didn’t wish to chant Vande Mataram should go to Pakistan. But since then, he has redefined his party’s Hindutva to make it more acceptable to all communities. Now with Mumbai and Maharashtra at stake, Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena would rather not let go of Jai Maharashtra. Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena and the BJP have little option but to fall in line.

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