Mumbai, Oct 2 (IANS): The Maharashtra government resolution (GR) directing all employees of the state to greet with 'Vande Mataram' instead of the internationally familiar 'Hello!' kicked off a political fracas, here on Sunday.
The decision, first mooted in mid-August, was implemented on the occasion of the 153rd birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.
The GR was issued by the General Administration Department, headed by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde -- and applies to employees across government, semi-government, local civic bodies, aided schools, colleges and other institutions.
It mandated all employees to henceforth answer phone calls with 'Vande Mataram' and also while addressing staff, speaking to citizens or making public announcements, instead of the traditional globally recognised 'Hello'.
The drive for it was formally launched in Wardha by Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Cultural Affairs Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.
To queries by the media, Mungantiwar said: "It's a campaign launched on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. In fact 'Jana Gana Mana' penned by Rabindranath Tagore is the national anthem and 'Vande Mataram' written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is national song."
"The slogan 'Vande Mataram' played an important role in our Freedom struggle.... Martyr Bhagat Singh's last words were 'Vande Mataram'. We must bring it back in our daily routine again... from today onwards, we start the 'Vande Mataram' movement," said Fadnavis.
However, the issue snowballed into a major row with political parties expressing reservations, suggesting other greetings, and even sections of people opposing it.
Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi too had their take on the issue.
Maharashtra Samajwadi Party's President Abu Asim Azmi firmly said that the move was not acceptable.
"We would like to greet 'Saare Jahan Se Accha' and not 'Vande Mataram'. Besides, Muslims cannot utter 'Vande Mataram' as it is against their faith," he said.
Azmi also demanded to know whether Shinde had discarded 'Jai Maharashtra' and taken up 'Vande Mataram' under the pressure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"I had met Balasaheb Thackeray a few times... He would always say 'Jai Maharashtra' and Shiv Sainiks would respond with that," Azmi pointed out.
Congress state president Nana Patole said he was not against the 'Vande Mataram' greeting, but said keeping in mind the farmers construction, the Congress would prefer 'Jai Kisan' or 'Ram Ram'.
Shiv Sena national spokesperson and farmers leader Kishore Tiwari, who is from the ex-CM Uddhav Thackeray group, said: "Saying 'Vande Mataram' is a welcome development. However, to respect farmers, there should be a campaign to say 'Jai Kisan' and to have a corruption-free government 'Jai Seva'."
NCP national spokesperson Clyde Crasto feels that 'Vande Mataram' invokes "a sense of pride and a feeling of patriotism among Indians".
"But forcing the people to say so is not right. This is an infringement of their Right to Freedom of speech and also imposition of a particular mindset on the people, Let them say Vande Mataram with pride, don't force them to say so," urged Crasto.
Mumbai Congress Working President Charan Singh Sapra said: "It is yet another a ploy to divert attention from major issues of concern... inflation, unemployment, fall of Rupee.
"This is also an attempt towards polarisation! Completely goes contrary to the ideals of Bapu on Gandhi Jayanti," said Sapra.