It is heartening to note that the Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra has hinted that it may modify its 2016 verdict and make it optional for cinema halls to play the national anthem. The top court also asked the Centre to consider amending the national flag code if it wanted to enforce the playing of the national anthem in cinema halls across the country. It may be recalled here that in November 2016, the Supreme Court passed an order saying that, “All the cinema halls in India shall play the National Anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.”
Simply put, on October 23, the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said the court “may modify its order and may replace the word “shall” with “may” Until then the November order will be in operation. During the hearing, one of the Judges on the Bench, Justice DY Chandrachud asked Attorney General KK Venugopal whether everyone “should wear our patriotism on our sleeves?” Elaborating further he said that, “When a court mandates, the question arises then why restrict it to movies. Why not drama and other public places? Why didn’t the Flag Code say about movies? Because there are entertainment places…Why do you have to wear patriotism on your sleeves?”
It may be recalled that the court was hearing a petition against the November order filed by the Kodungallur Film Society in Kerala to recall the November 2016 order. Responding on behalf of the government, Venugopal said the playing of the national anthem fostered national unity in a vast and diverse country like India, and referred to the fundamental duties enshrined in the Constitution. The Attorney General KK Venugopal also opposed recalling of the order by the top court.
To put things in perspective, the CJI Dipak Misra who was part of the original Bench which gave the November 30 order did not seem completely in agreement with Justice Chandrachud and said: “This is not wearing patriotism on your sleeve. This is not that.” CJI Misra said the court may modify its earlier order and replace the “shall” in it with “may”. Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General KK Venugopal too agreed with this and said the court should grant full discretion to the government whether to make such regulation or not. He said: “Leave it to the government to take a call. They may or may not”.
As it turned out, this was opposed by some interveners in the case who said the court had full discretion and the November 30 order was already being followed. But Venugopal vigorously opposed the recall of the entire order saying the singing of the anthem was a “unifying factor” in a country as diverse as India. He told the Bench that, “Because of the vast diversity based on religion, race, caste and even region, it becomes necessary to have a unifying force which can be brought about by playing the national anthem so that people come out from the movie theatre with the belief that they are all Indians.”
On expected lines, the Attorney General also referred to the fundamental duties enshrined in Article 51A of the Constitution and said it expressly states that the purpose of singing and respecting the national anthem was to “unify a diverse nation”. However, the reference to fundamental duties did not find favour with Justice Chandrachud who said that, “Should the court enforce each and every provision of 51A. Look at how extensive it is”. He had also questions for the government to answer. Justice Chandrachud is absolutely right in asking about enforcing each and every provision of Article 51A of the Constitution.
It must be brought out here that while referring to the Flag Code which lays down the laws, practices and conventions that apply, Justice Chandrachud said: “You take the call. Why put the burden on us. Why there is reservation on the part of the government”. During the hearing, the Bench also referred to notification issued by Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh even before its November 2016 order and sought to know the status of the same.
Truth be told, the Supreme Court was candid enough to concede that its order to play the national anthem before every movie in cinema halls and for the audience to stand up and show their respect had been misused to call people “anti-national” and left it to the government to frame rules in this regard. The court wondered aloud as to why citizens had to prove their patriotism this way. The Apex Court also asked the Central government to bring in rules to this effect if it wanted.
Needless to say, when Justice DY Chandrachud, sitting alongside Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar began deliberating the issue, it seemed the top court had decided to dilute the strict rigour when it came to singing the national anthem when it left the issue to be dealt with by the executive. It also indicated as much when Justice DY Chandrachud spoke of the order being used to call people anti-national. Justice Chandrachud also wondered that, “People go out for a movie for entertainment. Sometimes, they go in their shorts. Next, we may have to say they can’t wear shorts. Tomorrow if someone says don’t wear shorts and T-shirt to cinema halls because National Anthem is being played…Where do we draw a line? Where do we stop this moral policing?”
Truly speaking, on the government’s stand that national anthem promotes unity amongst Indians, the Apex Court said that, “Why don’t you amend the Rules? Why should we take on your burden?” It must be mentioned here that the government through Attorney General KK Venugopal had opposed any attempt to recall the order, saying it helped foster the spirit of unity in a diverse nation and kept “fissiparous tendencies” based on religion, caste and region at bay. But this argument did not cut much ice with the court.
Be it noted, Justice Chandrachud immediately lobbed the issue back to the government. Justice Chandrachud did not mince words when he asked point blank: “What stops you from amending the laws if you are so eager? Why haven’t you done it? Who do you have to throw the burden on the court? People go to movie theatres to have undiluted entertainment. Why should we decide what they should do there?” There is a lot of merit in what Justice Chandrachud has said so categorically. Government must introspect and act as per the advice rendered by Justice Chandrachud.
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform them that the Supreme Court has fixed January 9, 2018 to hear the government on whether it will issue an appropriate notification or circular to this effect. Justice Chandrachud also asked that, “Why should you presume that not singing national anthem in a theatre makes a person anti-national?” Justice Chandrachud also minced no words in noting that patriotic values are instilled by a society’s democratic values and not by court orders and mandates.
It is also noteworthy that the Bench rightly said that, “We can say ‘may’ instead of ‘shall’ in our order which would allow the government to bring the law.” It asked the Centre to take a decision without being influenced by an interim order. The interim order was incidentally passed by a Bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra before he became the CJI and led to numerous petitions to bring schools and public offices, including courts within the ambit of the order.
It is indisputable that Justice Chandrachud in particular was very critical of the earlier order of November 30 in 2016 by which it directed that all cinema halls must play the National Anthem before screening and all must stand when it is played. He said that moral policing in the name of patriotism should not be allowed. This begs the question: Who can dispute this? No sane person will ever dispute what Justice Chandrachud has said so explicitly!
Going forward, Justice Chandrachud also very rightly asks that, “Why do you think that one who does not sing the National Anthem is not patriotic? You do not have to sing the National Anthem to prove your patriotism. Values are inculcated in a broad social and political culture and patriotism cannot be inculcated among people by the Supreme Court order making it mandatory for playing the National Anthem in cinema halls.” In the same vein the court said that it was the fundamental duty of every citizen to respect the National Anthem and National Flag.
Strictly speaking for myself, what is most important is one’s moral character. If our character is strong and if we love our nation from the core of our heart then it does not matter whether we sing national anthem or not but if we are corrupt and have no good character then it does not matter at all as to how many times we sing national anthem or national song or anything else! We all saw how political leaders had just no compunction in displaying moral bankruptcy by according a red carpet welcome to Pakistani invader General Pervez Musharraf within just 2 to 3 months of Kargil war and without caring as to how the families of slain soldiers would feel who knew that it was General Musharraf who masterminded Kargil war in which India lost more than 600 soldiers as per official figures even though unofficially the figure is quite high! Such political leaders who are always ready to compromise our national interests to appease Pakistan and all those who are inimical to our long term national interests keep singing national anthem but it does not make them a true patriot!
What a national disgrace that even after more than 70 years of independence we see that Jammu and Kashmir have not been fully and finally merged with India! How can one nation have two flags, two Constitutions and two laws? Nothing on earth can be more preposterous than this!
Astonishing that even former CJI JS Khehar had questioned this but our politicians are just interested always in appointing interlocutors, holding talks with those separatists who openly swear by Pakistan and who rabble rouse against India and are just not interested in putting a complete end to all such laws in J&K which were inserted not by any Constitutional amendment nor were there in original Constitution of India prepared by Dr BR Ambedkar but were inserted by a Presidential Order which could be set aside anytime thereafter but after more than 70 years we see nothing being done! Why J&K was not fully and finally merged with India after Maharaja Hari Singh signed the unconditional treaty of merging J&K with India? All such leaders who are responsible for this J&K fiasco sing national anthem but how does it benefit our nation except rendering a token service meant for just public consumption for 52 seconds only!
This is not real patriotism! Real patriotism is when we don’t take bribes, don’t give bribes, don’t compromise with our national interests in any manner, don’t allow criminals to make a mockery of our criminal justice system by making sure that justice is delivered in time, don’t vote on communal or caste lines, don’t fight in name of religion, caste, creed etc and most importantly when we consider our own vested interests as least important and our national interests as most important! How many of us actually do this?
This alone explains why Justice Chandrachud has rightly said that patriotism has to be genuine and a show should not be made of it by wearing it on our sleeves! Justice Chandrachud has certainly well earned accolades from all quarters for this bold and pragmatic judgment just like he did earlier in so many cases most famous being the Privacy case titled Justice KS Puttaswamy (Retired) v Union of India in which he didn’t hesitate to overrule even his own father’s ruling who is also former CJI – Justice YV Chandrachud given decades back in Emergency era of 1976 in ADM Jabalpur case! He has certainly added one more shining feather in his cap which has many more such feathers!
All said and done, while no one will question the playing of national anthem at official gatherings, school assemblies and political rallies but it is completely absurd to make it mandatory even in places of entertainment like cinema halls, holiday resorts etc! This is no way to inculcate patriotism. The right way is to give prime importance to the pride of our soldiers by nuking all relations with rogue countries like Pakistan who have been waging a proxy war against India since last many decades.
Little wonder that Kuwait has recently nuked all ties with Pakistan and has asked all Pakistanis to leave Kuwait because they don’t want their country to face the risk of being attacked by terrorists! More than a lakh soldiers have sacrificed their lives fighting terrorists and proxy war sponsored directly by Pakistan. But what a shame that still our leaders believe in “talks and dialogues” with Pakistan inspite of being stabbed in the back time and again!
What a disgrace that still we have unilaterally extended Most Favoured Nation status to them unilaterally since 1996 which is continuing till today even though our soldiers are being killed daily fighting Pakistani soldiers and terrorists trained by them! Our bureaucrats and leaders just ritually call Pakistan a “Terroristan” when UN session is called as we saw just recently but nothing beyond that! Rajeev Chandrashekhar who is independent Rajya Sabha MP from Bangalore has tried many times to bring in an independent Bill to declare Pakistan as a “terror state” but not a single major national party is ready to support it even though all these parties never tire singing national anthem time and again! What is the sense in doing so if your actions don’t match with your words?
On a concluding note, I am sure that what Justice Chandrachud has said would be implemented in letter and spirit and no one would be compelled to sing national anthem against his or her wishes! I completely subscribe with what Justice Chandrachud has said. Government must take a final call on this and implement what Justice Chandrachud has said so categorically!
By Sanjeev Sirohi