Bharat Mata ki…Ruckus

The orig­i­nal sym­bol of Mother In­dia is a far cry from to­day’s po­lar­is­ing de­ity

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Ab­heek Bar­man

Ear­lier this week, the founder of In­dia’s fastest-grow­ing FMCG com­pany told me­dia, “If I were not tied down by law, I’d be­head those hun­dreds of thou­sands who refuse to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.”

The com­pany is Patanjali, maker of hair oil and noo­dles, feted by in­vest­ment banks. Its be­header-in-chief is Baba Ramdev. In a decade, he has shot up from teleyogi to ty­coon.

Two days ear­lier, the 150-year-old Darul Uloom sem­i­nary in Deoband, Ut­tar Pradesh, is­sued a fatwa against Mus­lims chant­ing ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. Is­lam, it said, has one god and no idols.

Mata ka Sa­hara

On April 6, the BJP or­gan­ised marches and demon­stra­tions in Gu­jarat to hail this de­ity. Sud­denly, Bharat Mata is an im­age to di­vide Hindu and non-Hindu in this vast na­tion. But when did you first see Bharat Mata?

My first glimpse of her was 11 years ago, in Lucknow, when I had the du­bi­ous priv­i­lege to in­ter­view Sa­hara Group boss, Subrata Roy.

His lair on the fringes of Lucknow was called Sa­hara City. To im­press vis­it­ing hacks, a des­o­late sta­dium was flood­lit with mil­lions of watts. He wanted to say he didn’t have Aids. His gates were guarded by Bharat Mata. She re­sem­bled Durga, but with four arms in­stead of Durga’s10, saf­fron pallu whip­ping in her wake, on a char­iot pulled by four lions. She held a saf­fron flag.

From the mid-1930s, as In­dia inched to­wards free­dom, Hindu-Mus­lim politics got ugly. Af­ter Par­ti­tion, the RSS and its af­fil­i­ates started look­ing for icons to il­lus­trate the dream of Ak­hand Bharat: a hal­lu­ci­nated na­tion from Afghanistan in the west to Myan­mar in the east, swamp­ing Sri Lanka south­ward.

Ac­tu­ally, this Mata was born in Ben­gal in1905, to pro­mote amity among all faiths, defy British rule and bring colonised peo­ple to­gether. She was the op­po­site of the toxic Sangh Mata. Here is her tale.

On Oc­to­ber16,1905, Ge­orge Nathaniel Curzon signed off on a plan to par­ti­tion Ben­gal. He ar­gued that the prov­ince that in­cluded Bi­har, Orissa, As­sam and un­di­vided Ben­gal was too un­wieldy: so chop off Mus­lim-dom­i­nated east Ben­gal and parts of As­sam. Lo­cals per­ceived this, cor­rectly, as a plan to drive a wedge be­tween Hin­dus and Mus­lims to ‘di­vide and rule’. So, a vast clan lined up to de­stroy Curzon’s par­ti­tion plan. This was the Tagore fam­ily, pro­lific re­form­ers, rad­i­cals, in­tel­lec­tu­als — and breed­ers.

Thus, Tagore, émi­nence grise at 44, led the Swadeshi Move­ment of 1905. The Tagores knew Curzon wanted to cre­ate a re­li­gious rift, dis­guised as ad­min­is­tra­tive re­form. Curzon didn’t know what hit him.

In his mem­oirs, Ghoroa (Homely), Abanin­dranath Tagore, nephew of Rabindranath, de­scribes Oc­to­ber 1905, “Rabi-kaka said we’ll all march on foot, no car­riages… what a sur­prise… all around women threw khoi (puffed rice), blew conch shells, it was like a vic­tory pa­rade.”

Na­tion­al­is­tic songs and rakhi-ty­ing was ev­ery­where.

Sud­denly, around Pathuriaghat, Rabindranath, all 6 ft-plus of him, dashed off and tied rakhis on the sowars (horse-min­ders), who were all Mus­lims. Abanin­dranath feared for the worst: blood­shed. In­stead, there were fra­ter­nal hugs all around.


“Then Rabi-kaka said, ‘We’ll all march to the Chit­pore mosque, tie rakhis there.’” There, the young Abanin­dranath’s nerves failed at the thought of blood­shed when Rabi-kaka would try to tie rakhis on maulavis. He fled. Later, when the gang came back un­scathed, he asked what had hap­pened, “What else? We tied the rakhis and every­one smiled and hugged us.”

Abanin­dranath was a great writer and gifted painter. Driven by Asian anti-colo­nial move­ments of his time, he re­jected Euro­pean art forms and em­braced dif­fer­ent styles. Su­mit Sarkar, in his mag­is­te­rial The Swadeshi Move­ment in Ben­gal, writes about how Ja­panese painters like Okakura Kakuzo, Yokoyama Taikan and Hishida Shunso, Mughal and Ra­jput art, and the mu­rals of Ajanta in­flu­enced Abanin­dranath.

When Rabindranath was dash­ing into mosques to tie rakhis to fend off com­mu­nal­ism, Abanin­dranath painted a pic­ture of Banga Mata, Mother Ben­gal. She was dressed in a sim­ple saree, what vil­lage women wore in those days, not the ‘Vaish­navaite nun’ garb that mod­ern art his­to­ri­ans say. She held a piece of white cloth, a palimpsest (puthi, in Bangla), a sheaf of paddy and a rudraksh gar­land in her four hands. Each is sym­bolic.

Food and shel­ter, wis­dom and piety were the mo­tifs of the orig­i­nal avatar of Bharat Mata. Banga Mata was wise, kind and all-em­brac­ing. No lions ac­com­pa­nied her. No flames flared in her wake. She spanned no map of Ak­hand Bharat.

By1911, Charles Hardinge, the new viceroy, was beaten by the Swadeshi Move­ment and the over­whelm­ing ap­peal of the com­pas­sion­ate Banga Mata among all com­mu­ni­ties. The par­ti­tion of Ben­gal was re­voked.

The orig­i­nal Banga Mata and the Swadeshis won be­cause all com­mu­ni­ties came to­gether in an em­brace. What a dif­fer­ence from to­day’s po­lar­is­ing, vicious de­ity sold by teleyo­gis and their po­lit­i­cal masters.

Ma­ter­nity wards: Abanin­dranath Tagore’s Bharat Mata (1905); Subrata Roy in front Bharat Mata, Lucknow, 2005

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