On March 16, the Maharashtra Assembly unanimously suspended Waris Pathan, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) MLA from Mumbai. He was accused of disrespecting the country by refusing to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ even at the cost of his own life.
Earlier last week, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s said that, “the time has come when we have to tell the new generation to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Two days ago, AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi challenged this statement by saying that he would not shout the slogan even if someone held a knife to his throat.
During the Assembly meeting, Governor C. V. Rao cited the government’s initiatives to build memorials for Chhatrapati Shivaji, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Bal Thackeray, Gopinath Munde and others, speaking regarding a resolution on the same. AIMIM MLA Imtiyaz Jaleel, while discussing the resolution, opposed the idea of building memorials for late leaders, and demanding hospitals be built instead.
“Is this how the government uses taxpayers’ money? Instead, it can build hospitals,” said Mr. Jaleel. His statement angered several leaders including BJP MLA Ram Kadam who went on to ask the MLAs to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. Pathan refused to oblige Kadam, leading to huge protest inside the Assembly. Leaders surrounded the two MLAs and shouted slogans such as ‘Vande Mataram’, ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Iss desh mein agar rehna hoga, Vande Mataram kehna hoga’ (If you want to live in India, you have to say Vande Mataram). Senior members of the Congress and the BJP tried to control the situation in vain.
Watch the video of the Assembly here.
Minister of State for Home Ranjit Patil went on to present a resolution to suspend Mr. Pathan for the rest of the budget session, accusing him of, “taking advantage of freedom of expression and disrespecting the country”. It was passed unanimously. “His actions have defamed the country and he must be punished,” said Bhaskar Jadhav of the NCP. Reacting to his suspension, Mr. Pathan later said, “I love my country. I was born here and I will die here. I can never dream of insulting my country. Don’t judge anyone’s love for the country by just one slogan. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat, Jai Maharashtra,” making it clear that he would gladly chant ‘Hindustan Zindabaad’ and ‘Jai Hind’, but not ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.
The Maharashtra Assembly explained this decision by calling it a matter of national pride. Gulabrao Patil of the Shiv Sena called it a, “black day in the history of the Assembly”, adding, “Why do you live here if you are ashamed of shouting the slogan. How do you dare to oppose memorials for Shivaji, Thackeray and Munde?” Some Shiv Sena MLAs went as far as demanding that the Speaker derecognise AIMIM as a political party for spreading ‘communal hatred’. The outrage was not expressed by BJP-Shiv Sena leaders only. Several Congress leaders such as Abdul Sattar and Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil supported the demand for suspension. “These elements utter such remarks, and the entire minority community has to pay the price. Such tendencies must be punished,” Mr. Sattar said.
Pathan was exercising his right to freedom of expression, and as he stated, the Constitution doesn’t mandate the chanting of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, so there were no actual grounds for his suspension. Still, instead of berating the decision to suspend him, we can question the amount of time an entire state’s Assembly session spent on this issue rather than more pressing ones.