The Supreme Court's recent order making compulsory on cinema halls in the country to play the national anthem before the feature film starts and making obligatory on all present in the hall to stand to show respect to the anthem may have raised controversy in the realm of legal, religious or constitutional but the essence and intention of the order is laudable and timely. It should be seen in the light of the 1st clause (a) of article 51A of the Constitution which imposes on a citizen duty to respect the National Flag and the National Anthem. In fact it should be seen as a reminder that an individual should not overlook his duties to the community nor should he show any disrespect to the symbols of our national honour and heritage such as the National Flag and the National Anthem.
So far as the National Flag is concerned, the Constituent Assembly after a lively and emotional debate accepted it on a Resolution moved by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on July 22, 1947. The Resolution was adopted by the whole Assembly standing. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan described the Flag as telling us: "Be ever alert, be ever on the move, go forward, work for a free, flexible, compassionate, decent, democratic society in which Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists will all find a safe shelter."
But so far as the issue of the National Anthem is concerned, it was not discussed in the Assembly. The midnight ceremony on August 14-15, 1947, when India became Indepdendent, concluded with the singing of the first verses of Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak Jay He. In the Constituent Assembly (Legislative), the question of a National Anthem for India as a free country arose. After discussion, it was felt that the matter might be left to the President to take a decision thereon and in the meantime Jana Gana Mana should be accorded that status. Accordingly, on the final day of the Constituent Assembly (January 24, 2950) President Dr. Rajendra Prasad made the following announcement:–
"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 the President made the following 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." And the final sitting of the Constituent Assembly concluded with the singing both of Jana Gana Mana and Vande Mataram.
While this is recent history of the National Anthem, a peep in the past will be interesting and instructive to know the genesis of the song itself. The song was penned by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1911. And incidentally December 27, 2016 marked the 105th year of that song having been recited in public for the first time at the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress held that year. Originally a suggestion was made to Tagore to compose a song to be sung in honour of King George V. But perturbed as he was at such a request, he wrote a poem overnight and passed it on to a person present saying. "Here is a poem which I have written. It it addressed to God but give it to Congress people. It will please them." In other words he wanted to eulogize the Bhagya Vidhata (God of Destiny) who guides people in their paths of peril and pilgrimage. Later in 1919 Tagore translated it in English, which was also the year when he renounced his Knighthood in protest against the massacre at Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar. As observed by the Supreme Court in a case in 2005,
"A National Anthem is a hymn or song expressing patriotic sentiment or feelings. It is not a chronicle which defines the territory of the nation which has adopted the anthem. A few things such as a National Flag, a National Song, a National Emblem are symbolic of our national honour and heritage. …. The National Anthem is our patriotic salutation to our motherland, nestling between the Himalayas and the oceans and the seas surrounding her. …. It is a message of unity in diversity. It is a patriotic song. It has since the decades inspired many by arousing their patriotic sentiments when sung in rhythm. It is the representative of the ethos of the country."
The Supreme Court's latest directive should therefore be viewed as instilling a spirit of duty envisaged in article 51(a) and strengthening feeling of fraternity, amongst the people, as contemplated in the Preamble of the Constitution.
– B.G. Gujar