MUMBAI, India – Christian leaders in India have lamented the dropping of the hymn “Abide With Me” from the annual celebrations marking Republic Day.
The song is traditionally played during the Beating Retreat that takes place on Jan. 29, three days after Republic Day, which is observed Jan. 26.
The Beating Retreat is a special performance by military bands common in former British colonies belonging to the Commonwealth of Nations.
“Abide With Me” – written by Scottish composer Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 – was the favorite Christian hymn of Mahatma Gandhi and has been a fixture in the Beating Retreat ceremony since 1950. It is famous for being played at Elizabeth II’s wedding to Prince Philip in 1947 and is said to have been played by the band on the Titanic as the ship sunk in 1912.
The Christian hymn was dropped by Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi in favor of Kavi Pradeep’s “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon,” a patriotic song written after the 1962 India-China war.
Government officials have said there was no reason to play a British hymn 75 years after independence, despite its connecting to Gandhi.
Archbishop Emeritus of Guwahti, Thomas Menamparampil, told Crux that an average Indian would “be severely hurt at any effort to downgrade the image of Mahatma Gandhi,” who popularized “Abide With Me” in India.
“And yet there is fringe element in Indian society today that is dead set on doing precisely this. We rejoice when Subhash Chandra Bose is being honored as a national hero,” the archbishop said.
[Bose was an Indian nationalist leader who raised an Axis power backed anti-British Indian unit during World War II.]
“But that should not be made to imply that Gandhi’s peaceful struggle for freedom was an outmoded political approach when the entire world looks to it with admiration. The path of persuasion stood for the power of intelligence and sturdiness in determination in a society,” he said.
“The glory of Mahatma does not consist, merely in having avoided aggressiveness in his fight for freedom; it consists in having brought ethical values and human sensitivity to a confrontational political situation and into a wider world of violence. Even to have thought along the lines of respect for the opponent and gentle ways of persuasion in the inter-War period when the world heard only words of exclusion and hatred is amazing. These are values that must return to the present-day political scenario even in our country,” continued Menamparampil.
“In this context, people have drawn our attention to the dropping of the hymn Abide With Me from the list of tunes to be played by the Army at the Beating of the Retreat ceremony on January 29 is very telling. It is a hymn that greatly appealed to Mahatmaji, not only because of its deep religious meaning, but also because it reminded the singer of the ‘helpless’ – Help of the helpless, abide with me – whose deplorable conditions were much in his heart,” he added.
As for its alleged ‘foreignness,’ it stood for the human sensitivity of the Father of the Nation that would touch people anywhere in the world. India is not going to be impoverished even a wee bit for cherishing Gandhiji’s universal outlook. Never fear! Fear, on the contrary, those who marginalize him and the values he stood for,” said Menamparampil.