A secular-minded Mohammad Ali Jinnah commissioned Jagannath Azad, a Hindu, three days before independence to write a national anthem for Pakistan.
As children we learnt that Pakistan didn’t have a national anthem until the 1950s. My journalist uncle Zawwar Hasan used to tell us of a reporter friend who visited China soon after Independence. Asked about Pakistan’s national anthem, he sang the nonsensical ‘laralapa laralapa.’
If these journalists were unaware that Pakistan had a national anthem — commissioned and approved in 1947 by no less a person than the country’s founder and first Governor General, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, long before Hafeez Jullandri’s Persianised lyrics were adopted as the anthem in the 1950s — ordinary citizens may be forgiven for their ignorance.
The lyricist of the first national anthem was the poet Jagannath Azad, son of the renowned poet Tilok Chand Mahroom (who won accolades for his rendering of naat at mushairas). Born in Isa Khel (Mianwali), Jagannath Azad was working in Lahore when Mr. Jinnah commissioned him for this task just three days before Independence. He complied, Jinnah approved the lyrics, and the anthem went on air on Radio Pakistan Karachi (then the capital of Pakistan) the day Pakistan was born. Some Pakistanis still remember hearing it. Those who came after 1948 have no memory of it.
My own introduction to it was recent, through an unexpected resource. Flying to Karachi from Lahore, I came upon an article on the history of Pakistan’s flag and national anthem in PIA’s monthly ‘Hamsafar’ magazine (‘Pride of Pakistan’ by Khushboo Aziz, August issue).
“Quaid-e-Azam being the visionary that he was knew an anthem would also be needed, not only to be used in official capacity but inspire patriotism in the nation. Since he was secular-minded, enlightened, and although very patriotic but not in the least petty Jinnah commissioned a Hindu, Lahore-based writer Jagannath Azad three days before independence to write a national anthem for Pakistan. Jagannath submitted these lyrics:
Ae sarzameene paak?
Zarray teray haen aaj sitaaron se taabnaak?
Roshan hai kehkashaan se kaheen aaj teri khaak?
Ae sarzameene paak.”?
(“Oh land of Pakistan, the stars themselves illuminate each particle of yours/Rainbows brighten your very dust”).
As Jaswant Singh’s forthcoming book on Mr. Jinnah created ripples in mid-August, The Kashmir Times, Jammu, published a short piece, ‘A Hindu wrote Pakistan’s first national anthem – How Jinnah got Urdu-knowing Jagannath Azad to write the song’ (Aug 21, 2009). The reproduction of a front-page report by Luv Puri in The Hindu (June 19, 2005), it drew on Puri’s interview of Azad in Jammu city days before his death. Talking to Puri, Azad recalled how Jinnah asked him to write Pakistan’s national anthem. In the interview, headlined ‘My last wish is to write a song of peace for both India & Pakistan: Azad,’ he said he was in Lahore working in a literary newspaper “when mayhem had struck” the entire country (Special report by Luv Puri, Milli Gazette, New Delhi, Aug 16-31, 2004).
“All my relatives had left for India and for me to think of leaving Lahore was painful… My Muslim friends requested me to stay on and took responsibility of my safety. On the morning of August 9, 1947, there was a message from Pakistan’s first Governor-General, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It was through a friend working in Radio Lahore who called me to his office. He told me ‘Quaid-e-Azam wants you to write a national anthem for Pakistan.’
“I told them it would be difficult to pen it in five days and my friend pleaded that as the request has come from the tallest leader of Pakistan, I should consider his request. On much persistence, I agreed.”
Why him? Azad felt that the answer lay in Jinnah’s speech of Aug 11, 1947, stating that if everyone saw themselves “first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations… in the course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”
“Even I was surprised when my colleagues in Radio Pakistan, Lahore approached me,” recalled Azad. “…They confided in me that ‘Quaid-e-Azam wanted the anthem to be written by an Urdu-knowing Hindu.’ Through this, I believe Jinnah Sahib wanted to sow the roots of secularism in a Pakistan where intolerance had no place.”
Hamsafar terms it “the anthem for Pakistan’s Muslims” — apparently forgetting about the country’s non-Muslim citizens. Even after the forced migrations on either side, West Pakistan still had some 10 per cent, and East Pakistan about 25 per cent non-Muslims — symbolised by the white stripe in Pakistan’s flag.
Increasing insecurity forced Azad to migrate to Delhi in mid-September 1947. He returned to Lahore in October, says his son Chander K. Azad in an email to this writer. “However, his friends advised him against staying as they found it difficult to keep him safe… He returned to Delhi with a refugee party.”
Azad had a distinguished career in India — eminent Urdu journalist, authority on Allama Iqbal (in the preface of his last manuscript, unpublished, ‘Roodad-e-Iqbal’ he wrote immodestly, “anything on Iqbal after this has no meaning”), author of over 70 books, government servant (retired in 1997), and recipient of numerous awards and honours. (See Chander K. Azad’s email of Sept. 6 in www.beenasarwar.wordpress.com).
However, his lyrics survived in Pakistani barely six months beyond Jinnah’s death in September 1948. “The people and the Constitutional bodies of the country wanted to have a more patriotic and more passionate national anthem that depicted their values and identity to the world,” explains Hamsafar (loaded ideological terminology aside, one never read about the Hindu poet Azad’s contribution in any official literature before, ‘enlightened moderation’ notwithstanding.)
The National Anthem Committee (NAC), formed in December 1948, took two years to finalise a new anthem. After the Shah of Iran’s impending visit in 1950 made the decision imperative, NAC member Hafeez Jallandri’s poem was chosen from among 723 submissions.
The anthem commissioned by Jinnah was just one of his legacies that his successors swept aside, along with the principles he stressed in his address to the Constituent Assembly on Aug 11, 1947 — meant to be his political will and testament according to his official biographer Hector Bolitho (Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan, John Murray, London, 1954).
Pakistan’s inherited problems, he said included the maintenance of law and order (the State must fully protect “the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects”), the “curse” of bribery and corruption, the “monster” of black-marketing, and the “great evil” of nepotism. Since Partition had happened, he said, we must “concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor.”
This speech, literally censored by “hidden hands” as Zamir Niazi documents in Press in Chains (1986), also contains Jinnah’s famous lines about the “fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State,” where religious identity becomes secondary and where religion, caste or creed “has nothing to do with the business of the State…”
A month after his death, the Safety Act Ordinance of 1948, providing for detention without trial — the draft of which Jinnah had in March angrily dismissed as a “black law” — was passed. The following March, the Constituent Assembly passed the ‘Objectives Resolution’ that laid the basis for recognising Pakistan as a state based on an ideology.
In all these deviations from Jinnah’s vision, perhaps discarding Azad’s poem appears minuscule. But it is important for its symbolism. It must be restored and given a place of honour, at least as a national song our children can learn — after all, Indian children learn Iqbal’s ‘Saarey jehan se accha.’ Such symbolism is necessary if we are to claim the political spaces for resurrecting Jinnah’s vision about a nation where religion, caste or creed “has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
(The writer is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.)