The first meeting of the National Anthem Committee took place on March 1, 1949, just days before the infamous Objectives Resolution was tabled in the Constituent Assembly. Perhaps, March 1949 was considered an auspicious month for such grave decisions which would chart the future trajectory of the country.
In its first meeting, the committee decided that while it was desirable that a national anthem tune and words be decided upon as early as possible, it was impractical to set a deadline for such a critical task. They had already had the experience of a deadline in 1948 where even after extension no suitable tune or words were found and so it was decided to wait — as long as needed — for the ‘right’ tune and the ‘right’ words.
The committee also then decided that the anthem should ‘be in consonance with the ideology of the state’ since obviously within ten days of its meeting the ideology of the state was firmed by the Objectives Resolution. But as the Objectives Resolution had yet to come to the fore, the committee also resolved that ‘it should have a universal appeal and might emphasise abiding values like equality, fraternity and human dignity’ — all laudable ideals. The committee then resolved that the tune — the first item to be decided — should be ‘something capable of being written down or reduced to notation’ so that improvisation and diversification of the tune could be controlled.
The committee met again in July 1949 and examined some submissions by the poet Hafeez Jalandhari, but found them wanting. Mr Nazir Ahmed Khan and Mr A.D. Azhar also told them that they could not find a suitable poem of Iqbal for adoption either. This was interesting since Iqbal’s corpus was large, and India had already used his poem ‘Sare Jahan Say Accha’ as one of their national songs.
For Pakistan to have been unable to find a suitable poem, especially when it regarded him as the originator of the idea of Pakistan and their national poet, was in the least embarrassing. Confronted with a lack of success despite attempts, the committee decided to create two sub-committees, one to find a suitable tune and the other to find appropriate words for the national anthem.
More than the words, the tune, seemed easy to agree on. In consultation with the committee, Mr Ahmed G Chagla created a tune which was then played by the Royal Pakistan Navy Band, and considered satisfactory. The committee also tried the tune with bagpipes, ands still it sounded good. And so when the need arose for an anthem to be played during the visit of the Shah of Iran in 1950 this tune was utilised. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan also used the same tune during his state visit to the United States in the same year.
Therefore, the tune was then professionally recorded both in the United Kingdom and the United States and placed before the National Anthem Committee which approved it on August 10, 1950. The committee gave two critical reasons for its choice. First, the tune was easy to play in diverse environments without mutilation, and secondly, the tune was purely eastern in origin. The committee noted that “the first portion consists of passages based on ‘Tilak Kamode,’ ‘Bilawal’ and ‘Kohiari’.
The second portion is entirely in the melody type, ‘Pelu’, except the second line which is based on melody type ‘Dhanasiri’. Then, as if to give it an imprimatur, in case there were objections, the committee hastened to add: “All these melody types, it must be emphasised, were introduced in Indo-Pakistan music during the Muslim period”. Hence, it sounded good, and was Muslim enough — what else could one want?
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Once the tune was agreed upon, the task was to find the right words to fit it. The redoubtable Z.A. Bokhari, the Controller of Broadcasting, who had earlier suggested Surah Fatiha as the national anthem, rose to the occasion and submitted a poem for consideration. The committee considered it on December 6, 1950, and much to his chagrin, again turned down his suggestion. It was felt that ‘the wording was not as simple as would appeal to the public at large’.
At its next meeting in January 1951, the committee decided to approach certain poets, including Hafeez Jalandhari, to produce more poems for consideration. It also realised that it should not just limit itself to Urdu, and should ask some Bengali poets — since it was the language of a majority of Pakistanis — to also submit some poems. Therefore, four Bengali poets were also requested to submit poems for consideration.
After receiving various submissions, the committee met again in March 1951 and considered all the options. After long deliberations, it submitted to the government that the national anthem be selected from among the submission of Hafeez Jalandhari and Mr Hakim Ahmed Pasha. However, since both these were in Urdu, the committee also recommended that a poem by Iqbal (no suggestion still as to which one!), and the poem ‘Chal, Chal, Chal’ by the Bengali poet Nazrul Islam, as adapted by Mr Jasimuddin, but adopted as national songs so that the majority Bengalis might also have a national song in their mother tongue.
When the cabinet met on December 5, 1951, it vacillated on even officially approving the Chagla tune, let alone select one of the two poems submitted by the National Anthem Committee. It again asked if some more tunes and words could be submitted for consideration, and hence the topic was sent to the cold storage.
After a gap of two years, the cabinet revisited the issue on December 29, 1953 and again considered the tune and words. Then, while it finally approved the tune of Mr Chagla, there was some discomfort over the overly Persianised poem of Hafeez Jalandhari. It was then suggested that Hafeez Jalandhari be asked to modify some of the words of his poem, and it was suggested that Mr Z.A. Bokhari’s poem which has been rejected years earlier, be rehabilitated as the first stanza of the anthem followed by two from Hafeez Jalandhari’s poem.
Upon hearing the views of the cabinet, Hafeez Jalandhari simply refused to ‘tolerate anything ridiculous in the name of the national anthem’ and contended that “In case Mr Bokhari proves suitability of even a single verse from his composition to Chagla’s tune I would renounce my role as a poet and would disassociate from poetry forever.” With such a strong response from Hafeez Jalandhari, the cabinet decided to revert to his full poem as the anthem without any changes, and finally approved it on August 4, 1954. Thus, six years after the creation of the country, a national anthem tune and words were finally settled!
The story of the Pakistan’s national anthem is interesting in itself, but also in certain other respects. First, it shows the fraught nature of the exercise: how to come up with a ‘national’ anthem for a country composed of an ‘international’ religion and community? Thus the suggestion of Surah Fatiha was not really far-fetched as the contradictions of the foundation of the country were just beginning to emerge in 1948.
Secondly, the issue of language was significant. Early in 1948, the issue of Bengali versus Urdu had erupted, and if the national anthem were to be only in Urdu, it would clearly promote a language spoken by an elite minority. Perhaps in that context the choice of Hafeez Jalandhari’s highly Persianised poem was correct since Persian had for long been the language of the literati in South Asia, both in areas of East and West Pakistan, and so its choice was not as contentious. In a way it was equivalent to choosing an anthem in Latin if there were competing European languages.
And thirdly, it is interesting to note that the submissions of the National Anthem Committee was without any dissent even though it had members from both wings of the country, as well as members belonging to both the major communities. Such unanimity of opinion, which was hard to find at that time, was testament that if creative ways were devised (such as recommending a national song in Bengali), agreement could be easily reached between the two wings. The agreement over the national anthem, both its tune and words, showed — at that contentious time even — that a united Pakistan could indeed work.