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DECEMBER 5, 2016

There is an avalanche of criticism of the interim directions given by the Supreme Court on November 30, 2016 for playing the national anthem in cinema halls across the country before the screening of any film, and requiring the audience to stand up. Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee was the first to voice his disapproval on the basis of Binoe Emannual’s Case holding that students cannot be expelled from school for refusal to sing the national anthem. Pratap Bhanu Mehta decried the judiciary’s attempt for forced playing of national anthem. Surjeet Bhalla and Tavleen Singh also mocked the court’s order. Prof. Anuj Bhuwania found in this move, an echo of Emergency. India’s elite seems to be uncomfortable with the prospect of standing for 56 seconds – duration of playing the first stanza of Tagore’s song Jana Gana Mana in raga Alhiya Bilawal - some what martial tune which is India’s national anthem.Constitution of India is a package deal - no citizen can say that he will enjoy only rights but will not bear any burden of duties. If in compliance with Article 51-A [a] we cannot stand for 56 seconds, how will we withstand privations and hardships involved in the duty cast by clause [d] to defend the country and render national service in the face of calamities and disasters? Argument of “non-justiciability” of Article 51-A is misplaced. For courts of India every provision of the Constitution is justiciable. Unlike Article 37 which makes provisions of Part IV non enforceable, there is nothing in Part IV-A to make it so. Further, in spite of Article 37, Justice O. Chinappa Reddy held in U.P. State Electricity Board vs. Hari Shankar Jain that Part IV as addressed to the courts, requires them to evolve, affirm and enforce rules of interpretation which are in consonance with Part IV and eschew rules which are contrary to it. Mr. Sorabjee’s reliance on the 1986 decision in Bijoe Emanuel case is not apt.In that case the appellants always respectfully stood up when national anthem was sung but they refused to sing it on ground that their religion [Christian sect called Jehovah’s Witnesses] forbids such singing. After that case, there was a spate of writ petitions in the Supreme Court, including one by the Attorney General seeking directions for compulsory singing of national anthem in the schools - in effect, reviewing and reversing the verdict in Bijoe Emanual’s Case. But after the defeat of Rajiv Gandhi the then Prime Minister in the election, the successive Governments’ enthusiasm to pursue that case waned. The controversy surrounding the national anthem is a little unbecoming. The national flag, emblem and anthem are trappings of a sovereign nation. For India they are also symbols of centuries of long and glorious struggle for freedom in which millions participated, suffered, sacrificed and lakhs of them died. Each one of the symbols – flag, emblem and anthem has a history; each was chosen after lot of thought and deliberation. So far as our National Anthem is concerned, the first stanza of Rebindranath Tagore’s song “Jana Gana Mana in raga Alhiya Bilawal was selected as national anthem even before Independence after discussion, deliberation and debate on the report of a committee headed by Jawaharlal Nehru with Subhas Chandra Bose and Pattabhi Sitaramayya as members. During his European exile, Netaji Bose personally got it recorded in Hamburg, Germany and it was officially played for the first time on 26th January 1942 by the “Free India Centre” – India’s legation in Berlin. It was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 24th January 1949. National Anthem is too precious a heritage to be mired in needless controversies.   






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Atul Manchanda

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