National Anthem: Forcing citizens to honour nation is greatest insult to India’s honour

What does it mean to love one's country? Tagore clearly loved his country. He loved it so much that he wrote a song called Bhārat Bhāgya Vidhātā in the year 1911 about an eternal charioteer guiding his country through the ages and dispensing it's destiny. On 24 January, 1950, the President of the Constituent Assembly of India, Rajendra Prasad made a statement in the house declaring that Jana Gana Mana was to be the National Anthem of our new republic and it has stood us well over the years.

The National Anthem of India does not find reference in the constitution save a reference made in Article 51A wherein citizens are called upon to respect it. The Constitution of India does not entrench the National Anthem and neither does it entrench the National Flag. These being highly emotive issues are not formalised either by virtue of legislation but are based on a broad consensus that is recognised by the executive. To quote the President of the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1950:

"There is one matter which has been pending for discussion, namely the question of the National Anthem. At one time it was thought that the matter might be brought up before the House and a decision taken by the House by way of a resolution. But it has been felt that, instead of taking a formal decision by means of a resolution, it is better if I make a statement with regard to the National Anthem. Accordingly I make this statement. The composition consisting of the words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India, subject to such alterations in the words as the Government may authorise as occasion arises; and the song Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honoured equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal status with it. (Applause). I hope this will satisfy the Members." 

Since then the Government of India has regulated the the National Anthem and how it is supposed to be sung by orders issued by the Ministry of Home affairs and this begs the question. Why is that something, that is of most manifest constitutional importance, is not entrenched in the Constitution? The Constitution of India is the longest Constitution of any country in the world and yet no where, not in any article or schedule has the national anthem been defined. The only thing we have is a statement of the President of the Constituent Assembly and the orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

There are legislations that protect the National Anthem, such as the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 which provide protection to the National Anthem, thereby recognising its importance, but never entrenching it into law.

There has perhaps been no other fifty-two second piece of music that is more recognisable across the country and our national anthem has served its purpose as a symbol of national unity. But here's what makes our national anthem different from God Save the Queen, or the Star Spangled Banner or La Marseillaise. Jana Gana Mana is not the assertion of India's sovereignty. Jana Gana Mana is an assertion of thanks. When we sing Jana Gana Mana we give thanks to the Bhārat Bhāgya Vidhātā for guiding us through the last five thousand odd years of our civilisation and we ask for guidance in the future by praying for a victorious destiny. In some ways, it is a song of prayer.

The reason Jana Gana Mana is not entrenched in our Constitution or law as our national anthem is that Constitutions do not make nations, nations make constitutions and it is these nations that have anthems and symbols. The Constitution of India is a document of our Republic and our Republic is the product of our nation. India, that is Bharat, a nation of a diverse people, who each have their own unique way of giving thanks, their own unique way of singing Jana Gana Mana. For the song sings praise to Bhārat Bhāgya Vidhātā, who rules the minds of the people of India, the spirit of destiny existed well before our Constitution and will continue to exist long after it. When thousands of years have passed, and the buildings of the court houses in Delhi lie in dust, there will still remain a spirit that guides the destiny of the people who remain in this land and the spirit will still evoke the praise of her people. That’s the true meaning of Jana Gana Mana.

Jana Gana Mana is our anthem because India was a nation before the Constitution and will be a nation after it as well, India is a creature in the imagination of history and history does not need a piece of paper to gain validity. Neither the Flag of India nor the National Anthem of India have constitutional status nor do they have constitutional sanctity. They are merely symbols and we can by national consensus change them at any time.

To breathe the air of a free India where citizens can disregard them when they please because law recognises that sovereignty flows from the citizenry not the law, is a much greater symbol of our nationhood and no symbol, no matter how mighty or how revered can triumph that. The freedom of an Indian citizen must always take precedence over the reverence to a symbol. Which is why it being quite abhorrent, that India's free citizens will now be required to stand and listen to it while watching a visual of a moving flag. For this means, that this wonderful and prayerful song, has become another washing powder Nirma ad. Something that will cue us to a mechanical response as it blares from the speakers. For no more will citizens of India be freely able to love their country when they sing this song without it being clouded the fear of the sanction of the law.

For love is free, including love for one's country. Love by it's very nature, is free. To make it mandatory that citizens of India honour their nation, is the greatest insult to India’s honour.

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Updated Date: Dec 02, 2016 14:46:28 IST

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