Whose praises do we sing?

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Guru

Jana gana mana adhinayak jaya he Bharat bhagya vidhata’ — the first line of our national anthem — is enthusiastically sung by children in schools and by millions of Indians every day. This translates to “Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people, dispenser of India’s destiny.” Hence, adhinayak means ‘ruler’. But the question that has been agitating the minds of some citizens over the last 12 months is: If adhinayak
is the ruler, then who exactly is that ruler?

A gentleman who was determined to find the answer to this question sought a reply from the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Tehelka possesses a copy of the RTI reply, wherein the government seems to be fumbling for answers. The ministry replied, “It was a poem, first composed in 1912 by Guru Rabindranath Tagore. But later, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting got this poem published in a book called ‘Our National Songs’.” And on 24 January 1950, the Indian Constitution accepted it as the National Anthem of India.”

This really does not answer the question: Who does the word adhinayak signify in our national anthem? The ministry says it does not have the information regarding this.”

When Tehelka asked people in general to offer some explanation, it got only one plausible explanation: “In our national anthem, the term adhinayak refers to destiny, which rules the minds of all people and holds the ‘the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved.”

Now that the question has been raised, why is the government running away from answering it? Millions of Indians blithely sing this anthem. The gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous wants to know who is this entity. More importantly, why do we keep appreciating this entity?

At least one organisation has decided to tackle the issue head-on. The Haryana-based Indian Federation
of Trade Union (IFTUS) has filed an RTI demanding purging of the mysterious entity. While talking to Tehelka, IFTU says, “Every day, we along with millions of Indian used to sing this national
anthem without knowing who is this adhinayak and why we pay obeisance to it. Who is that ruler? If
the ruler is not Indian, why hasn’t the government done something about it? Why doesn’t the government change the national anthem?”

An IFTU spokesman further railed, “If the government itself is so clueless, unaware about the adhinayak, what right does the government have to impose the anthem on us forcefully? Why does the government want us to respect such a national anthem?” Could the entity we are glorifying be god?  The poem does not indicate that.” “It is time now to understand the original purpose and the implication of this, rather than singing it blindly as has been going since past 60 years. We appeal for jettisoning of the national anthem. Otherwise, we will file a PIL (public interest litigation) in the Supreme Court of India.”

Actually, this controversy was kicked off on 8 July, 2015 by Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh (formerly the BJP’s chief minister of Uttar Pradesh) while addressing the 26th convocation ceremony of Rajasthan University. He said, “Rabindranath Tagore, while writing the national anthem, had praised the Angrezi shaasak (English ruler) by writing Adhinayak jai ho. It is about time this be amended.” Singh had raised the issue at a function to felicitate donors in the field of education and reiterated his demand on Tuesday
before a massive gathering at the convocation ceremony. He suggested that instead of praising the adhinayak the word should be replaced by mangal.

“I do have full faith in Rabindranath Tagore and respect him but still feel the national anthem should drop the word adhinayak,” Singh added.

Condemning the Rajasthan governor’s statement, Khurshid said, “Governors demand all kinds of things. I am not sure that the governor understands his role because it’s not his job to raise questions on the national anthem. Only historians and scholars can debate, discuss and redefine it.”

When told about Khurshid’s statement, BJP MP Mahesh Giri was less complacent. “If it was written to honour the king of England, then its credibility is strained. We should stop using it because the pride of
our country is at stake. Otherwise, it depicts strongly that colonial hangover persists in our minds.”

PP Kapoor, an activist from Haryana says, “I have always wondered who is the adhinayak and Bharat Bhagya Vidhata whom we are praising while singing. I have always thought it might be Motherland India or people of India. But I was totally wrong. Jana Gana Mana was written by Rabindranath Tagore in honour of King George V and the Queen of England when they visited India in 1911.”

“To honour their visit, Pandit Motilal Nehru had five stanzas included that are in praise of the King and Queen — while most of us think it is in praise of our great motherland.” Moreover, in the original Bengali verses, only those provinces that were under British rule, i.e., Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat and Maharatha were mentioned. None of the princely states which are integral parts of India now, such as Kashmir, Rajasthan, Andhra, Mysore and Kerala were recognised.”

Interestingly, he says, neither the Indian Ocean nor the Arabian Sea were included because they were
directly under Portuguese rule at that time.” “Jana gana mana implies that King George V is lord of the
masses and Bharata bhagya vidhata or the bestower of good fortune. We should not use this national anthem as our national song.”

Pardeep Dahiya, RSS worker from Delhi has an interesting perspective. “In November 2015, a Mumbai Muslim family was asked to leave a cinema hall because they did not stand during the national anthem. Why would they? What is our national anthem? Nobody knows the fact behind it. It was not written in the honour of any Indian leader, then why are we expected to sing and stand? We appeal to the government to change it.”

In defence of tradition 

Congress leader Salman Khurshid is not in favour of a relook at the lyrics. “The point is, this remarkable piece of patriotic poetry has already been accepted by the nation, which is a matter of pride. There was a lot of controversy on this and many scholars raised the question, but how can one ask the government to give an answer?”

Khurshid feels the issue has been settled by the apex court. “It is already there in the Supreme Court judgment by Justice Chinappa Reddy. Adhinayak, in the national anthem, means ruler, destiny or life. It doesn’t mean a person. It can be the constitution , it can be the system. It is rich poetry, you cannot have a narrow meaning from it.”

“People say this was written in honour of George V, but that is other matter. We should look at it like this: What does it express? It expresses our innermost feeling about nationhood. I would say there
is nothing higher and richer than our Constitution in our country. It is nationhood we celebrate, nationhood we salute: That is the adhinayak for me.”

Khurshid further adds: “When it was adopted as a national anthem it was adopted as expressing the
feeling of independence. It doesn’t matter when it was written in which context. The meaning of
great poetry cannot be deduced after time has elapsed. We should know. One recognises us through
our national anthem and flag.”