Controversies marred the centenary celebrations of Vande Mataram on Thursday with the Bharatiya Janata Party raking up the absence of Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a Congress-organised group singing while Muslim institutions in BJP-ruled states by and large defied the government directive for reciting the national song.
The BJP, which earlier made a big issue of HRD Minister Arjun Singh's decision to make the singing optional, on Thursday accused Sonia of playing "vote bank and appeasement" politics by "consciously and deliberately" staying away from the function at the Seva Dal office adjoining the Congress headquarters.
Addressing the start of his party's national executive in Dehradun, BJP president Rajnath Singh dismissed health reasons given for Sonia's absence.
However, Congress general secretary Ahmed Patel rejected the BJP's criticism, dismissing it as an issue of no consequence.
Defending Sonia, he said, "It is not a big issue if somebody does not attend the function due to being unwell or for some other reasons."
According to reports from BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, Vande Mataram was sung in educational institutions and specially organised programmes at 11 am as per an order of the Union Human Resources Development Ministry.
The order of the ministry, which made it clear that singing of Vande Mataram in schools and colleges would not be
mandatory, had sparked a controversy with some Muslim leaders saying the song went against Islamic teachings about not worshipping any person or object.
At a function in Delhi, HRD Minister Arjun Singh joined a large number of students in the singing of the national song, while reports of isolated protests by some Muslim bodies came in from Madhya Pradesh.
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit along with her Cabinet colleagues and top government officials also participated in the centenary celebrations. MLAs from BJP and Congress, besides senior officials and entire Secretariat staff assembled at Delhi Secretariat at 11 am recited the national song.
The national song was also sung in the Delhi government schools to mark the occasion.
Students of madrasas in Muslim-dominated areas of Rajasthan defied the BJP government's order to observe Vande Mataram Day by not singing the song while in other schools celebrations were held.
In NDA-ruled Jharkhand, Chief Minister Arjun Munda led scores of BJP leaders and thousands of party workers to sing the national song shortly after 9 am.
In Gujarat, the collective singing of Vande Mataram was organised at the State Secretariat in Gandhinagar and across the state even as heavy rains prompted the authorities to shut several schools.
The government had also sent special audio cassettes containing the recording of the song to all government institutions to help them sing the song.
Talking to PTI, secretary of Jamiat-Ulma-e-Hind (Gujarat), Maulvi Ajinuddin said that students of madrassas in the city and across the state would not be singing the song.
"We have not passed any instructions to madrassas to prevent students from singing Vande Mataram. It is the national song but it is not the most important feature for a Muslim. We are patriots even if we do not sing Vande Mataram," the Maulvi said.
The national song was also sung indoors because of the continuous rains at the Ahmedabad Collectorate. "The rains had forced us to organise the singing of the song inside the main conference room of the collectorate," said D Thara, the district collector. "About 200 officials of the collectorate had participated in the singing of the national song," she added.
In Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra, where the singing of the song was optional, Chief Minister Vilasrao
Deshmukh and MPCC chief Prabha Rau joined senior party leaders to celebrate the occassion at the party headquarters.
Shiv Sena and its affiliate organisations, including its labour wing Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, organised several
programmes to mark the occasion.
Over 50 lakh students of Chhattisgarh, including those of Muslim institutions, participated in the mass singing of Vande
Schools and colleges across Tamil Nadu participated in the singing of Vande Mataram. In Chennai, collective singing of the song was organised in almost all educational institutions.
In the midst of the controversy, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had, on Wednesday, rejected a petition seeking mandatory singing of Vande Mataram in all government, semi-government and educational institutions in Uttar Pradesh.
Reports from Punjab and Haryana said students of various schools participated in the singing of the national song. The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, which had initially asked the Sikhs not to sing the song, later changed its mind and said it had no problem if the song was recited by the community, 'as it only helps in binding the nation together'.
Reports from Amritsar said that the song was sung even in the SGPC-run institutions.
As the BJP's top brass huddled up to discuss internal issues at its national executive in Dehradun, senior party leader Vinay Katyar condemned 'fatwas' over singing of Vande Mataram and advocated action against defiance over the national song.
His comments followed group singing of Vande Mataram, including portions opposed by the Muslim League seven decades ago, by senior party leader L K Advani, Rajnath Singh and Murli Manohar Joshi to mark the occassion.