A song that belongs to all Indians

It isn’t a song. It’s a grateful nation’s elegy to its brave soldiers that no one political party can or should try appropriating. ‘Aiy merey watan ke logon’ belongs to all Indians. So does Lata Mangeshkar.

But when Lata agreed to be felicitated by Narendra Modi at a function commemorating the song’s golden jubilee, there were fears of it being appropriated by the saffron brigade. What better lines could there be for the BJP’s military nationalism directed at the vast constituency of servicemen and ex-servicemen.

Nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP-led NDA regime, Lata’s political predilections are well known. But she rose above partisan play at the function, tenderly recalling Nehru’s tears and his remark “beti tumne aaj mujhe rula diya.” The year: 1963. The occasion: the film industry’s January 27 concert at Delhi’s National Stadium to raise funds for the jawans who fought the 1962 India-China war.

Modi has little use for Nehruvian thought. But he sat listening as the legendary singer recalled her visit the next day to Panditji’s Teen Murti residence. She was introduced there to Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi by their mother Indira who said they were her admirers like their grandpa.

Lata has endorsed Modi’s bid for the PM’s office. But the line she drew between political choices and her appeal that transcends all divides was reminiscent of another Bollywood icon, Dilip Kumar’s introductory speech at her 1974 concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He likened Lata’s voice with the innocence of a child that knows no religion; a cool breeze that knows no borders.

It’s for this reason that I had, in 1992, mustered courage to taunt another singing sensation, Noorjehan, when she refused to visit India till the Kashmir issue was resolved: “I’d thought you belong to the sub-continent. But aap tou sirf Pakistan ki nikli begum sahiba…”

Kavi Pradip’s is a timeless tribute to martyred soldiers. But its historicity is as much about Nehru as about Lata’s rendition that moved him to tears. Or else Mohammad Rafi’s Ab tumharey hawaley watan sathion is no less evocative.

Rafi did to Kaifi Azmi’s lines what Lata did to Pradip’s. The magic they created is universal — across conundrums of castes, communities and religions.

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