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Controversy over Jana Gana Mana takes a new turn

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

The controversy over the actual composer of the national anthem took yet another twist this week, with Calcutta-based Rabindra Sangeet exponent Subinoy Roy facing a defamation suit in the court of the Darjeeling chief judicial magistrate.

The suit, filed by the Communist Party (Revolutionary Marxist), takes exception to a statement made by Roy in a recent edition of The Pioneer, in which he says that a Gorkha was not capable of the kind of musical talent required to have composed the music for the Indian national anthem.

Roy refutes claims that the tune for Jana Gana Mana was composed by Captain Ram Singh, member of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army and well-known music composer, and avers that Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who penned the words, had also composed the music.

The statement that a Gorkha was not capable of such musical ability, the CPRM holds in its suit, is libellous. The suit also names the editor, publisher and Calcutta correspondent of The Pioneer. A similar suit has also been filed by the All Gorkha Students Union.

Captain Ram Singh, meanwhile, has expressed anguish over parochial considerations being attached to the history of the national anthem.

Reacting to claims by Netaji's family members and leading Bengali musicians that the national anthem "could not have been composed by a Gorkha", the 80-year old INA veteran lamented that "things in our country have come to such a petty pass, that sectarian and regional factors now dominate the thinking of the people."

The genesis of the controversy owes to the publication of an advertisement, in a Calcutta daily, claiming that the music for Jana Gana Mana was composed by Captain Ram Singh. The ad, issued by the Gorkha Hill Council on Netaji's birth centenary, has sought to highlight this as one among the Gorkhas's many achievements.

Among the first to take exception was Dr Sisir Bose, Netaji's nephew and director of the Netaji Research Bureau in Calcutta. Subinoy Roy and composer Ananda Shankar also issued statements contradicting the ad.

"The anthem was set to tune by none other than Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore; just imagine a Gorkha soldier doing that; after all it requires some knowledge of that class and its basics," said Roy while Shankar, even more scathing, said that Ram Singh's claim was tantamount to "that man Goud once saying that he had married Priyanka Gandhi."

Such remarks have, it appears, grieved the INA veteran deeply. A composer of repute, Ram Singh in fact holds a lifetime post as music consultant to Uttar Pradesh's Provincial Armed Constabulary, and is known to have composed the INA's immortal anthem, Kadam kadam badhaye ja; Khushi ke geet gaya ja.

Lamenting "the level to which people could stoop," Ram Singh narrated to this correspondent the tale of how and when the Indian anthem had been composed. "It was sometime in 1943 in Rangoon, when Netaji called me over to say that a national anthem in Hindi was required for the provisional government of the Indian National Army. Jana gana mana was in Bengali, so Netaji, Abid Hasan and another person got together to translate it. Subsequently, it was given to me and I set it to music."

Singh added that when though the Hindi version was what was first sung, four years later, in 1947, the Indian government subsequently decided to adopt the original Bengali version as the national anthem. "However," he added, "the tune I had composed was retained."

Beaming with pride, he recalled how he had composed the tune in just one day. "Then Netaji told me to brush it up, so I got back to it and redid the whole tune, and the final version was ready about 12 days later."

Asked specifically if he would like to react to the criticism of people like Roy and Shankar, Ram Singh said, "I think it is shameful that people can give such a parochial slant to something of national interest. I'd like to point out, too, that both the national anthem and the INA anthem which I composed are songs of soldiers. Gorkhas have in them what, in Hindi literature, we call Veer-Ras, and hence it is not so incredible that we Gorkhas can compose good music. In any event," added the evidently distressed soldier, "music is not, and can never be, the exclusive domain of any particular community, or the people of any particular region."

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