‘Rituraj’ Jawaharlal Nehru with Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan, West Bengal

Nehru and The National Anthem

In this statement to Parliament in 1948, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru explained that it was up to the Constituent Assembly to take a final call on the National Anthem

Statement by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly, August 25, 1948


The question of having a National Anthem tune to be played by orchestras and bands became an urgent one for us immediately after August 15, 1947. It was as important from the point of view of our Defence Services and our foreign embassies and legations and other establishments. It was obviously not suitable for ‘God Save The King’ to be played by our army bands ,or abroad, after the changeover to independence. We were constantly being asked as to what tune should be played on such occasions. We could not give an answer because the decision could only be made ultimately by the Constituent Assembly.


The ‘Jana-Gana-Mana’ tune, slightly varied, had been adopted as National Anthem by the Indian National Army in South East Asia and had subsequently attained a degree of popularity in India also.


The matter came to a head on the occasion of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1947 in New York. Our delegation was asked for a National Anthem for the orchestra to play on a particular occasion. The delegation possessed a record of ‘Jana-Gana-Mana’ and they gave this to the orchestra who practiced it. When they played it before a large gathering it was very greatly appreciated, and representatives of many nations asked for a musical score of this new tune which struck them as distinctive and dignified. This orchestral rendering of ‘Jana-Gana-Mana’ was recorded and sent to India. The practice grew for our Defence Services bands to play this tune, and foreign embassies and legations also used this whenever occasion required. From various countries we received messages of appreciation and congratulation of this tune, which was considered by experts and others as superior to most of the National Anthems which they had heard. Many expert musicians in India and abroad, as well as many bands and orchestras practiced it, and sometimes slightly varied it, with the result that the All India Radio (AIR) collected quite a number of renderings.

‘Jana-Gana-Mana’, Jawaharlal Nehru pointed out, was adopted as the ‘National Anthem’ by the Indian National Army and was found to be more suitable than ‘Vande Mataram’ for bands and orchestras

Apart from the general appreciation with which this tune was received, there was at the time not much choice for us, as there was no proper musical rendering available to us of any other National Song which we could send abroad. At that stage, I wrote to all the Provincial Governors and asked their views about our adopting “Jana-Gana-Mana’ or any other song as the National Anthem. I asked them to consult their Premiers before replying. I made it perfectly clear to them that the final decision rested with the Constituent Assembly, but owing to the urgency of some directions being sent to foreign embassies and the Defence Services, a provisional decision had become essential. Every one of these Governors, except one ( the Governor of the Central Provinces) signified their approval of ‘Jana-Gana-Mana’. Thereupon, the cabinet considered the matter and came to the decision that provisionally ‘Jana-Gana-Mana’ should be used as the tune for the National Anthem till such time as the Constituent Assembly came to a final decision.


Instructions were issued accordingly to the Provincial Governors. It was very clear that the wording of ‘Jana-Gana-Mana’ was not wholly appropriate and some changes would be necessary. What was important was the tune to be played by bands and orchestras and not the wording. Subsequently the new Premier of West Bengal informed us that he and his Government preferred ‘Vande Mataram’.


This is the position at present. It is unfortunate that some kind of argument has arisen between ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Jana-Gana-Mana’. ‘Vande Mataram’ is obviously and indisputedly the premier national song of India, with great historical tradition and intimately connected with our struggle for freedom. That position it is bound to retain and no other song can displace it. It represents the passion and poignancy of that struggle, but perhaps not so much the culmination of it.


In regard to the national anthem tune, it was felt that the tune was more important than the words, and that this tune should be such as to represent the Indian musical genius as well as to some extent the Western, so that it might equally be adaptable to orchestral and band music, and for being played abroad. The real significance of the national anthem is perhaps more abroad than the Home country. Past experience has shown us that ‘ Jana-Gana-Mana’ tune has been greatly appreciated and admired abroad. It is very distinctive and there is a certain life and movement in it. It was thought by some people that the ‘Vande Mataram’ tune with all its very great attraction and historical background was not easily suitable for being played by orchestras in foreign countries, and there was not enough movement in it. It seemed, therefore, that while ‘Vande Mataram’ should continue to be the National Song par excellence in India, the National Anthem tune should be that of ‘Jana-Gana-Mana’. The wording of ‘Jana-Gana-Mana’ is to be suitably altered to fit in with the existing circumstances.


This question has to be considered by the Constituent Assembly and it is open to that Assembly to decide as it chooses. It may decide on a completely new song or tune if such is available.”


An extract from The Three Chancellors, Timeless Books,2012