Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh’s view that India’s national anthem, written by Rabindranath Tagore, should be amended is of a piece with the opinion of some that Indian history ought to be rewritten.
The circumstances in which the song, Jana Gana Mana, was written are no secret and have been fairly well documented. The occasion was King George V’s visit to India to attend the Delhi Durbar when the capital was transferred from Calcutta to Delhi. Tagore had dedicated the song, written in Sanskritised Bengali, to the king, and it was sung at the annual session of the Indian National Congress.
Freedom from British rule was nowhere on the Congress’ agenda and the party was still talking of local self-government. A bit of gratitude may have guided the poet’s mind because the partition of Bengal had been annulled.
Mr Singh’s point in this case has been that the word ‘adhinayaka’, supposedly referring to the king, in the poem should be changed to ‘mangala’ because by doing that a legacy of the colonial times can be ‘undone’.
Unfortunately, Mr Singh is looking at one aspect of the problem, if at all it is one. Just by removing the word ‘adhinayaka’ not much can be achieved because the phrase ‘Bharata bhagya bidhata’ (the shaper of India’s destiny) is there in the next line.
If Mr Singh’s logic is to be extended a little further, that should also be changed and so should the line that seeks the ‘adhinayaka’s blessings’. In other words, the national anthem has to be rewritten.
The controversy is needless when one looks at the fact that there is no specific reference to any foreign ruler in the song. As in many other poems or songs, in which it is difficult to pinpoint whether Tagore is referring to god or an individual, some lines in the national anthem could be re-interpreted to suit our independent status.
If Mr Singh’s logic is right, then ‘Vande Mataram’ too deserves rejection because the song occurs in a novel in which Bankim Chandra Chatterjee — at the end — is welcoming British rule.
The history of India has been a history of absorption, something Tagore had captured in another poem. The point is to read things in a historical context and not have a narrow view of such issues.