CAA marker: What our republic must safeguard in its seventies? ‘Samvedna’
At 70, the Republic of India is definitely not the ‘heaven of freedom’ into which Rabindranath Tagore—who wrote our national anthem—had prayed for his country to awake!
It’s a strange paradox of the partition of Indian subcontinent. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, addressing the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 during his first presidential speech, had proclaimed, “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
His words had a deep impact on many Hindus as well. So they decided to make Pakistan their home instead of India. Prof Jagannath Azad, a Lahore-based Hindu poet and Urdu scholar, was asked to write the national anthem of Pakistan.
Ae Sarzameen-e-Pak Zarrey Terey Hein Aaj Sitaron Sey Tabnak
Roshan Ye Kehkashan Sey Kahin Aaj Teri Khak!
(Oh the land of Pakistan, each particle of yours is star-lit.
Even your dust seems brightened like a rainbow)
Azad’s family members in Jammu recall, “He wrote it on a very short notice -- just two days before Pakistan’s Independence Day on August 14. And it was approved by Qaid-e-Azam within a few hours.” Even though Azad shifted to Delhi next month and then settled in Jammu, his song remained Pakistan’s national anthem for a year and a half. After Jinnah’s death on September 11, 1948, a song written by Hafeez Jalandhari became the new national anthem of Pakistan.
Jogendra Nath Mandal, a Dalit leader and an ally of the Muslim League, also had chosen to settle in Pakistan. He became the first Labour and Law Minister of the country. But he too moved back to India in 1950, lamenting persecution of Hindu citizens in Pakistan.
Pandering to the popular prejudices prevailing in the country at that time, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru could have easily branded them “anti-nationals” and slammed the door on their faces. Or even put them in detention camps. But the author of books like Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History, Nehru went on to warmly welcome even Pakistani Muslims, who sought Indian citizenship during his tenure.
Qurratulain Hyder, the grand dame of Urdu literature, had initially migrated to Pakistan in 1947. But she returned to India a few years later after her magnum opus ‘Aag Ka Darya’ was published. The iconic vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan also embraced Indian citizenship in 1957. Celebrated Urdu poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi had settled in Lahore in 1943. So he chose to continue living in Pakistan after the partition. But due to his political beliefs, Sahir too had to flee the country in 1949 to evade arrest warrants.
Allah Tero Naam Ishwar Tero Naam
Sabko Sanmati De Bhagwan
(Allah is your name, Ishwar is your name
Bless everyone with wisdom, O God)
Eminent Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi left India in 1956 and went to Pakistan against the wishes of prime minister Nehru. He bitterly regretted his decision for the rest of his life just like Saadat Hasan Manto. Farrukh Jamal Malihabadi — his grandson, recounts an anecdote in ‘Josh: Mere Baba — Shaqs Aur Shaaer’ that provides an interesting insight: “Once General Ayub Khan, while trying to flatter Josh Sahib, said to him that he was a great alam. To this the poet immediately replied that the right word is alim (scholar), not alam. This made Ayub cringe and he gave orders that the cement agency that Josh Sahib ran be shut down. And it happened.”
Days before his departure for Pakistan, he had written ‘Adieu Malihabad’, a heart-wrenching poem in which he laid bare the pain of getting separated from his beloved motherland. It remains a masterpiece in Urdu literature.
Self-admittedly, the late Prime Minister and BJP icon Atal Bihari Vajpayee held Nehru in high esteem. We know how, after taking charge as the external affairs minister in the Janata Party government, Vajpayee had pointed to a newly blank spot on the wall of his office, where he had once seen “Panditji’s picture”, to officials on the first day. The portrait was restored the next day.
The musical album ‘Samvedna’ (empathy), based on Vajpayee’s poetry, composed and sung by Jagjit Singh, was released in 2002 when he was the Prime Minister. In his commentary that punctuates the songs, he offered an apology to Mahatma Gandhi for having failed to honour the oath that was taken at Raj Ghat under the stewardship of Jaiprakash Narayan soon after the Emergency era ended. He reiterated his commitment, ‘Kadam Mila Kar Chalna Hoga’ (we have to march together).
Remarkably, his first poem in the album talked about the “never-ending” story of life on “millions year old earth”. It described human life as “a camp of nomads” in a humble and self-effacing manner. Vajpayee—who didn’t hesitate to hold talks with the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf even after Kargil war—had signed off ‘Samvedna’ with a poem, comparing the height of success in a person’s life with snow covered mountains where no sign of life grows and even water turns into stone:
Mujhe Inti Unchaai Kabhi Mat Dena,
Gairon Ko Gale Na Laga Sakoon,
Itni Rukhaai Kabhi Mat Dena!
(O lord, never bless me with such a height
From where I fail to embrace others
Never make me so desiccated)
Sadly, this kind of ‘Samvedna’ and magnanimity have become a rarity in his own party these days. BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav reminded us recently, “Hitler and Mussolini were products of democracy.” No wonder why critics question the Modi government for inviting Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro to (dis)grace the Republic Day parade this year.
Of course, singer Adnan Sami—who had acquired Indian citizenship a few years ago and has been conferred with Padma Shri this year –is a silver lining amid the dark clouds.
Nearly four years after the Kargil war, in March 2004, Jagjit Singh had held a concert in Karachi, Pakistan, to raise funds for the treatment of Ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan. Lata Mangeshkar had once complimented Hassan, saying “My Bhagwan (God) speaks through his throat.” In India today, can an artist do or say similar things on behalf of their counterparts across the border without risking character assassination and death threats?
Those who find themselves on the wrong side of the government of the day’s narrative on any issue invariably get branded as an “enemy” and “Pakistani”. Contrary to the Supreme Court’s current stand on non-stop Shaheen Bagh protest in Delhi, the government and its loyal media outlets have systematically been vilifying people agitating for constitutional morality.
The great Urdu poet Raghupati Sahay Firaq Gorakhpuri had said in one of his famous ghazals:
Sar Zamin-e-Hind Par Aqwam-e-Aalam Ke,
Firaq, Kafile Aate Rahe Aur Hindustan Banta Gaya
(On the soil of Hind, Caravans of various communities from all over the world, O Firaq, kept coming, and so was Hindustan made)
Decades later, noted poet Rahat Indori only paraphrased Firaq’s idea of India. His verse has become a battle cry for anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters across the country:
Sabhi Ka Khoon Hai Shamil Yahan Ki Mitti Mein,
Kisi Ke Baap Ka Hindustan Thodi Hai !
(Everyone has shed their blood on this soil,
Nobody can exclusively claim India as their patrimony)
The protesters using Indori’s couplet as their slogan, is not misplaced. After seven decades, the Republic of India definitely isn’t the “heaven of freedom” into which Rabindranath Tagore—who wrote our national anthem—had prayed for his country to awake! The battle to reclaim the Republic and the ‘Samvidhan’ (constitution), in this perspective, is a struggle to save the stream of ‘Samvedna’ that is disappearing in the desert of Indian politics.