Controversies in and around “Jana Gana Mana”
On the 15th day of August 2021, India celebrated its diamond jubilee of Independence. After 200 years of colonial rule, India got Independence. The real ‘Independence of the Nation’ always accompanies with responsibilities of the citizens towards the other and also to evoke and eulogizes the history, tradition, and struggle of its people; the freedom fighters.
National Anthem is not only a poem but a feeling of patriotism, freedom, and sovereignty. People get Goosebumps during Jana Gana Mana. Certain etiquettes shall involve in the playing of a country’s anthem- military honors, standing, removing headwear, etc.
Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Jana Gana Mana” was originally written in Bengali and first sung in 1911 at INC’s Calcutta session. The Constituent Assembly adopted the Hindi version of “Jana Gana Mana” as “National Anthem” on 24th January 1950. The music was given by Margaret Cousins and translation was done by Amartya Sen.
Whether “Jana Gana Mana” originated as a praise to God or the British King George V?
“Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka Jay Hai Bharata Bhagya Vidhata” our national anthem begs many controversial questions. Many eminent personalities have questioned the present wordings of Rabindranath Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana. There is no proper clarity whether this poem was written only for India or about King George V, who visited India in 1911 and withdrew from the Bengal Partition. Thus, to thanks him, two songs were sung at INC’s Calcutta session- one by Ramanuj Chaudhary while the other was Rabindranath Tagore’s, Jana Gana Mana. Media reported that these two songs were sung in praise of King George V at the durbar in Delhi where he was proclaimed Emperor of India; though which was neither accurate nor authentic. But, Vernacular Press published that Tagore devoted the song to human destiny. After the brutal Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Tagore returned the Knighthood title. In 1937, facing high criticisms, Tagore wrote-
“That great charioteer of man’s destiny in age after age could not by any means be George V or George VI or any George. Even my ‘loyal’ friend realized this, because, however powerful his loyalty to the king, he was not wanting in intelligence.”
The work of historian Sabyasachi Bhattachary claims that Tagore wrote Jana Gana Mana, neither for George V nor for Congress. He stated that “It was a hymn to his Maker, the guardian of the country’s destiny”.
In 2020, Subramanian Swami once again brought up the issue in the controversy by writing a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming that some of the words in the national anthem put unnecessary doubts that about whom the poem was addressed. Also, after Independence Sindh province was separated from India, so it is inappropriate to give reference to Sindh, “Punjab Sindhu Gujarat Maratha”, in our national anthem. He urges that though it’s too late, the time has come to modify our National Anthem. He requested to replace “Jana Gana Mana” with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s words, which were sung for Indian National Army in 1943, as the National anthem. He further added that we have full freedom to amend our national anthem by giving reference to the concluding remarks of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the then President of the Constituent Assembly. Dr. Prasad said that “Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India, subject to such alterations in the words as the Government may authorize as occasion arises”.
It is significant to remember that this is not the first time when the demand for the amendment in the words of the national anthem has been raised. In 2015, Kalyan Singh, the then Rajasthan Governor and former CM of Uttar Prasad, has brought up the issue while delivering a speech at a function in Rajasthan University. He urges that though he respects Rabindranath Tagore, the word “Adhi Nayak” in the national anthem addresses the British power, so it must be amended by “Jana Gana Mangal Gaye”.
The eminent former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Markandey Katju, had also questioned Jana Gana Mana. He had also given the evidence that the song is addressing British power, specifically King George V.
In 2019, Congress MP Ripun Bora had introduced a bill to amend the word “Sindh” from the national anthem and insert North East. As a result of the constant demand of removing the word “Sindh”, the Sindhi community had expressed their displeasure.
Statutes for the Protection of National Anthem
To protect and prevent the national anthem from insult, there are certain provisions in the statutes, so that no one can abuse or cause offense to the national honor. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 (as amended in 2005) prohibits a person from desecrating of the country’s national symbols, including the Flag, Constitution, map, and Anthem. Rejecting to which shall be punished with a jail term up to 1 year.
The 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1976, inserted Fundamental Duties, Article 51-A, as a part of the Constitution which embedded that every citizen shall respect Constitution, Flag, and Anthem of India.
In 2002, the Flag Code of India was enacted to regulate the size, display, and decorum of hoisting the national flag in public. Thus, not only laws but even also the Constitution of India protects the national symbols; the Flag, Constitution, map, and Anthem.
In Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala, three students were suspended for refusing to sing the national anthem which was forbidden in their sect. Supreme Court of India overturned the suspension by observing that the “Right to freedom of speech and expression included the right to remain silent under Article 19(1) (a) and freedom of conscience under Article 25”. Since standing up and not disturbing others from singing the anthem did not violate the fundamental duty, Article 51-A (a), of respecting the national flag and anthem.
In Shyam Narayan Chouksey v. Union of India, 2016, Shyam Chouksey filed a PIL in the apex court which sought the anthem to be played at cinema halls across the country before the screening of movies and also the issue of protocol for the playing or singing of national anthem at functions where Constitutional dignitaries are in attendance. The Court ordered that the cinema owners shall play the anthem before screening the movie and made it mandatory for the audience to stand up which would not apply to the disabled. The Cinema hall’s entry and exit doors must be closed did not amount to bolting the latches and the screen must show the national flag while playing the national anthem. Although the decision of the Supreme Court was highly criticized concerning Bijoe Emmanuel’s judgment and also by adding a logical connection to the national anthem and movies.
- Author is the student of law at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)
 1986 SCR (3) 518.
 (2018 ) 2 SCC 574.