The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have been locked in a battle of words and ideologies yet again after the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh announced on January 1 that it was not compulsory to sing 'Vande Mataram' in the Secretariat on the first day of every month, as has been the practice.
Reacting to the decision, former MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said "the BJP government had decided to start weekly cabinet meetings with it and it will be sung on the 1st day of every month". Chouhan told news agency ANI that the song "is a mantra that instills a sense of patriotism".
"I demand Congress to reintroduce this and if they don’t do it, I’ll sing Vande Mataram with patriots at Vallabh Bhavan on the premises on January 6," Chouhan said.
This is not the first time that the Congress and BJP have clashed over the national song. In June last year, BJP National President Amit Shah had said during a lecture that the Congress had communalised Vande Mataram.
Shah had said the song symbolises "geo-cultural nationalism of our country" and that it should not be "treated as a song related to any religion or against someone".
"The Congress had made the same mistake by labelling it with a religious colour," Shah said, adding that the Congress had made the song the national song but only the first two stanzas were sung to appease a particular community.
In 2017, the two parties had again clashed over the song in Uttarakhand when the state Congress had declared that it would not be singing the song at the party's official programmes for one month. The decision was taken after a minister in Uttarakhand's BJP government had said that those who want to reside in the state will have to sing the national song.
Vande Mataram has also featured in a number of TV debates, sometimes causing embarrassment to the BJP. For instance, BJP spokesperson Navin Singh had, in 2017, sung the song wrongly on national television while challenging an opponent to sing it during a debate.
During another debate, Minister of State for Minority Welfare, Baldev Singh Aulakh, too, had refused to sing the song on national television while insisting that the song be made mandatory in all schools across the country.
Much like the national song, a slogan hailing the 'Bharat Mata'— 'Bharat Mata ki Jai'— has also been a topic of contention for both the parties.
The slogan was dragged into controversy during the recent Assembly elections in five states, when Rahul Gandhi had said that instead of 'Bharat Mata ki jai', Narendra Modi should say 'Anil Ambani ki Jai', referring to the alleged Rafale scam. (Disclaimer: Reliance Defence has denied any wrongdoing in the Rafale deal)
Calling it a 'fatwa' against him, Modi had responded by saying he will raise the slogan 10 times in front of lakhs of people.
The slogan became a topic of heated discussion three years ago during the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) episode when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat had said that the new generation needs to be taught to chant slogans hailing mother India.
In the same year, Waris Pathan, an AIMIM legislator in Maharashtra, was suspended by a unanimous party vote for not chanting the slogan. The slogan had dominated headlines throughout 2016, with JNU student leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid being asked to chant the slogan on stage to 'prove' their patriotism. The slogan was also debated on social media recently when a journalist called it 'communal'.