India, that is, Bharat is a land of contradictions which always provide space for building and framing controversies and blame games. But having had such a rich and vivid historical past, it is fortunate that the alleged controversy makers are exposed when they are offered the litmus test of historical facts. The recent one being Kalyan Singh, presently Hon Governor of Rajasthan and the veteran BJP politician who was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh also. Mr Singh sparked a fresh set of controversy when he claimed that the word ‘adhinayak’ in our National Anthem written by Rabindranath Tagore is praise for the British monarch. According to Indian Express, Kalyan Singh was quoted as saying, “Jana gana mana adhinayak jai ho, kiske liye hai? It is to praise the ‘angrezi shashak’… the British.” He also added that, “words like ‘mahamahim’ or his or her Excellency should not be used any longer because no one is ‘mahan’. These were used during the British rule.” This was perhaps a concern for Mr Kalyan Singh in a bid to look more post colonial and patriotic. However, no one reminded Mr Singh that Hon President Pranab Mukherjee has already done away with ‘His/ Her Excellency’ address in 2012 only. Nonetheless, our purpose here is different. It is concerned with Mr Singh’s initial remarks about addressing the British monarch in colonial India as the ‘maker of the Indian destiny’, and his proposal to replace ‘adhinayak’ (hail the leader) to ‘mangal dayak’ (welfare giver).
Fair enough, because as a citizen of free India, which is the largest democracy of the globe, one has the right to present their view as they want. The problem arises when such views are attempted to have an endorsement through history. This then needs an intervention, and now we will examine the issue. The issue at hand is that whether ‘adhinayak’ really was addressed to the British monarch, or someone else? Is there really a need to propose any modifications in the National Anthem? What are the ideologies, if any, working behind and beside such remarks? Let us examine in the light of historical facts and sources.
‘Jana Gana Mana’, the national anthem of India was written by Rabindranath Tagore in highly Tatsama Bengali, and is the first stanza of a long Brahamo hymn. It was officially adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the national anthem on 24 January 1950. This was a little unusual for some of the members of the Constituent Assembly who wanted ‘Vande Matram’ as the national anthem remembering it for its popularity and legacy in the struggle against colonialism. However, ‘Vande Matram’ was respected as the national song. Time and again, there has been a continuous advocacy from Hindutava groups about the supremacy of ‘Vande Matram’ because it is a prayer offered to the motherland. Historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya who wrote “Bande Matram: Biography of a Song” had offered this concern of misappropriation of the song by the communal forces to arise the feelings along the religious and sectarian lines. However, the nation and her people, along with all the patriotic sentiment carried on singing the anthem composed by Tagore with pride.
The major allegation, which Mr Kalyan Singh and many others have framed as a concern is this. It has been alleged that the song was written and composed to be sung for British monarch George V and Queen Mary during the Delhi Durbar in December, 1911. The song was sung first at the Indian National Congress Session of 1911 held at Calcutta on 27th December by Tagore himself. King George V was scheduled to arrive in the city on 30th December. Some of the Anglo-Indian newspapers, such as The Statesman saw the song as an appreciative submission to the monarch. This sparked a controversy, which continues till date in one way or another. However, the claim has no substance in it. Rabindranath Tagore in a letter written to his editor Pulin Behari Sen in November 1937 presented his side. The poet clearly stated that, “neither the Fifth not the Sixth nor any George could be the maker of human destiny through the ages.” He further added that, “I had hailed in the song Jana Gana Mana that Dispenser of India’s destiny who guides, through all rise and fall, the wayfarers. He who shows the people the way…” Now, what more one wants to clear the air? Even this stand and temperament of the Nobel laureate poet can be corroborated through his other famous pieces. One such piece, “Where the Mind is Without Fear” (Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo) collected in Gitanjali, the poet again prays ‘the Father’ to let his country awake in such a heaven of freedom which he envisages.
Many other experts and scholars have the similar view that the word ‘adhinayak’ meant the ‘dispenser of the human destiny’. Prabodhchandra Sen, author and Tagore scholar airs similar views. He asserts that the broader vision of the song was to glorify the motherland and praise the lord of the universe. Another author and scholar, Rabindra Kumar Dasgupta, who authored ‘Our National Anthem’ (1993) backs the same theory. Historians such as Sabyasachi Bhattacharya and Barun De have also submitted in similar views. Bhattacharya emphatically states that this “myth about the song needs to be refuted and laid to rest.” Barun De also states that, “While Tagore was averse towards rigid patriotism; Jana Gana Mana represents nationalism’s broadest idea. There is nothing chauvinistic about it.”
Many contemporaries of Rabindranath Tagore were very appreciative about the song. Mahatma Gandhi called it to have ‘found a place in our national life.’ Even when Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose formed the first ever Provisional Government of Free India in Singapore (1943), he chose the song as the anthem. He led Colonel Abid Hassan of the Indian National Army (INA) to rewrite Tagore’s song into Hindustani ‘Subh Sukh Chain’ to adopt it as the national anthem of the provisional government. However, there were some significant changes into the structure of the song, which were not only translational but also emotive.
The ideological quotient of always pushing a controversy against the national anthem is not that significant. Some of the Hindutava groups have tried to boast the supremacy of ‘Vande Matram’ over the Tagore’s song. It is because Tagore, unlike others was never a rigid patriot. His ideas on nationalism were very broad, and aligned itself towards a cosmopolitan view of overall human welfare. The sorrows and horrors of the World War led Tagore believe that narrow nationalistic interests lead people to hate others. On the other hand, ‘Vande Matram’ as a prayer and humble offering to the motherland is closer to the grand nationalist agenda of having a cultural homogeneity. One cannot forget that some Muslim groups claimed that they cannot sing Vande Matram, because it goes against Islam to offer prayers to anyone except Allah. And the whole nation roared with group singing of the song at public places to retaliate the religious fundamentalists. However, the air seems fresh and clear over the Jana Gana Mana row now. It is expected that people who claim to have planted a dagger in the heart of history to crack its fault lines, first learn its basics. The excerpts of the Tagore letter to his editor which were also published later in his biography are self explanatory. Those who claim otherwise should also corroborate the claim and conduct of Tagore with other sources as well. Tagore’s idea of nationalism is not a rigid one like many, but he being a colonial goose who glorified the British monarch is not acceptable at all. Hope advertising the fallacies will stop for good. Be a proud Indian, who respects the national anthem in a patriotic spirit.
By Shaan Kashyap