Madras High Court order on Vande Mataram: Judiciary has contradicted itself on the patriotism debate

An order has come from the Madras High Court that makes it compulsory for Vande Mataram to be played and sung in all schools, colleges and universities in the state at least once a week, preferably on Monday or Friday and offices once in a month.

Madras High Court order on Vande Mataram: Judiciary has contradicted itself on the patriotism debate

madras High Court. Image courtesy Wikpedia Commons

The court was hearing a petition from a person who lost a competitive exam because he answered Vande Mataram was written in Bengali; examiners differed. The court ruled that his answer was correct and asked the state government to consider the petitioner’s candidature.

But, beyond settling this issue, the high court went on a step further to impose the national song on the general public in the southern state. No one should have any problem with courts taking a view on an issue based on what it deems correct. If the courts think imposing the national song on the citizens would help build a patriotic population, one cannot do much about it.

And, we aren’t seeing this the first time. In November, 2016, the Supreme Court had made it mandatory for cinema halls across the country to play the national anthem before a movie and show the national flag on the screen when the anthem is played. This triggered debates across multiple walks of the society.

The larger question remains unanswered -- whether patriotism can be inculcated on a citizen, by way of imposing it? It raises a few more logical questions. Should the feeling of patriotism happen for fear of being prosecuted for violation of law or spontaneously? Also, how different is the display of patriotism from the true feeling of patriotism one might have for his country?

The courts, at least, seem to believe that enforcing national symbols — such as the national anthem and the national song — on a citizen is an ideal way to grow a patriotic society.

Let that debate continue but the irony here is that courts seem to be contradicting on the issue of the national song. In February this year, the Supreme Court had declined to entertain a plea to direct the Centre to frame a national policy to promote Vande Mataram saying that there is no concept of a national song.

Noting that the Article 51A (fundamental duties) of the Constitution, which requires to promote and propagate the national anthem and the national flag, does not refer to the national song, a Supreme Court bench had said, “It only refers to the national flag and national anthem. Therefore, we do not intend to enter into any debate as far as the national song is concerned.”

The question here is that given the Supreme Court’s observation, wasn't the Madras High Court acting in a hurry? Why would the high court impose singing of the national song on the people of a state when the apex court has observed that national song isn’t a concept in the Constitution?

With this lack of clarity, the Madras High Court order opens room for further disputes. Secondly, the Madras High Court has said everyone should follow the order and those with genuine excuses can be exempted. Now, what constitutes these ‘genuine’ excuses is upto the judgment of the supervising authority of that particular institution.

The bottomline here is this: whether the mandatory singing of national anthem makes one patriotic enough to be a law-abiding citizen or not, it can surely lead to confusions in the present context. It is only fair to ask the judiciary to make up its mind first before passing orders that will apply to masses.

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Updated Date: Jul 25, 2017 20:04:35 IST

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