Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose:  “Give Me Blood, and I Promise You Freedom”

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Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was born in India on 23 January 1897.  He died in a Japanese Hospital on the 23rd of January 1945 in Taiwan.  Taiwan was then occupied by the Japanese Army during WW II.  He died a painful death from burns suffered during an airplane crash.  Bose believed in a free India and spent his life fighting against what he regarded as the British occupation of India.

For many in India, Bose was a hero for his staunch support Indian independence.  However, for many others he became somewhat of an embarrassment.  Bose took literally the old saying that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  In the later stages of WW II, he allied himself with the Axis powers of Germany and Japan.  Since they were fighting the British, Subhash believed that he could use their forces to help free India from British rule.  In addition to his willingness to ally himself with the Fascist forces, Subhas had another characteristic which cost him much support for his cause of India Nationalism.  Whereas Mahatma Gandhi believed in a philosophy of “Passive Non-Violence” to overthrow British rule, Bose believed that it could only happen if Indians were willing to resort to force and direct battles with the British.   Bose was no believer in non-violence.

BapuYou may have by now noticed that many great leaders seem to have had a sort of doppelganger or one who directly opposes their strategies and methods.  Martin Luther King had Malcolm X.  Sun Yat-sen had Zhang Binglin.  Nelson Mandela had Steve Biko.  Mahatma Gandhi had Subhash Bose.  Each of these men had similar end goals but the conflicts with their compatriots came about because of the differences in their methods for reaching their goals.  History remembers the winner of the conflicts and the loser is often only a footnote in the history of the winner’s biography.

Few people in America will recognize the name of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.  However, I think that he is a man that should be known to the world and remembered.  He had dedication and devotion to a cause bigger than himself.  He was a man of conviction, integrity, and commitment.  Many people struggle for things in their lives which will benefit themselves.  Bose’s struggle was for a freedom for his people and his nation.

I believe that freedom comes about because of a dynamic tension or yin-yang relationship between violence and peace or to put it another way between the sword and the olive branch.  If you regard the great revolutions of history, you will seldom find any that are successful solely on the basis of peaceful protests.  Frederic Douglas said that, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.”

Here are a few other quotes regarding the relationship between violence and revolution:

“Revolution does have to be violent precisely because the Pharaoh won’t let you go. If the Pharaoh would let you go, the revolution won’t have to be violent.”  — Michael Hardt

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”  — John F. Kennedy

“We decry violence all the time in this country but look at our history. We were born in a violent revolution, and we’ve been in wars ever since. We’re not a pacific people.”  — James Lee Burke

History shows that seldom does the oppressor voluntarily allow the oppressed to be free.  Greed, power, and lack of compassion are typical traits of all oppressors.  Gandhi was a great man who overcame many trials and difficulties to pursue his path for Indian freedom.  Although Bose chose a different path, his trials and difficulties were as great if not greater than those suffered by Gandhi.  Bose was not afraid to speak out and to risk his life for what he believed.  He makes this point truly clear in the following speech.

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Give me blood and I promise you freedom:

Subhash’s famous speech was delivered in Burma (Now Myanmar) to the Indian National Army on July 4, 1944.

“Friends! Twelve months ago a new programme of ‘total mobilization’ or ‘maximum sacrifice’ was placed before Indians in East Asia.  Today I shall give you an account of our achievements during the past year and shall place before you our demands for the coming year.  But, before I do so, I want you to realize once again what a golden opportunity we have for winning freedom. The British are engaged in a worldwide struggle and in the course of this struggle they have suffered defeat after defeat on so many fronts.”

The British were fighting on two fronts.  In the West, they were battling the Nazis.  In the East, they were battling the Japanese.  At the beginning of the war, things went badly for the British on both fronts.  Bose had assumed that preoccupied as the British were with battling the Japanese and Germans, they would be easy pickings for an Indian army attacking India.  He was dead wrong.

“I am so very hopeful and optimistic about the outcome of our struggle because I do not rely merely on the efforts of three million Indians in East Asia. There is a gigantic movement going on inside India and millions of our countrymen are prepared for maximum suffering and sacrifice in order to achieve liberty.”

The battle for Indian independence has been estimated to have killed millions of Indian civilians and soldiers.  In “War of Civilizations: India AD 1857,” by A. Misra, a writer and historian based in Mumbai, he argues that the war was an untold holocaust that caused the deaths of almost 10 million people over just a span of 10 years beginning in 1857.  The total number of deaths due to the British treatment of Indian revolutionaries will perhaps never be known.  The British were brutal in their treatment of people they regarded as “disloyal” to the British Empire.

“Unfortunately, ever since the great fight of 1857, our countrymen are disarmed, whereas the enemy is armed to the teeth. Without arms and without a modern army, it is impossible for a disarmed people to win freedom in this modern age. Through the grace of Providence and through the help of generous Nippon, it has become possible for Indians in East Asia to get arms to build up a modern army.”

Many Indian regiments were disarmed after the ending of the 1857 uprising.  Indian artillery, except for a few mountain batteries, was abolished.  Unlike in the American Civil War where soldiers went home with their rifles, the British took arms away from the militants.

“We require more men and women of all categories for administration and reconstruction in liberated areas. We must be prepared for a situation in which the enemy will ruthlessly apply the scorched earth policy, before withdrawing from a particular area and will also force the civilian population to evacuate as was attempted in Burma.”

Vereshchagin-Blowing_from_Guns_in_British_IndiaMemories of the atrocities committed by the British in the 1857 uprising were still prevalent among the Indian population.  There were atrocities on both sides, but even after the war was concluded, the British engaged in a number of substantial revenge and retribution attacks against the Indians suspected or known to have supported the uprising.

“The most important of all is the problem of sending reinforcements in men and in supplies to the fighting fronts. If we do not do so, we cannot hope to maintain our success at the fronts. Nor can we hope to penetrate deeper into India.”

Boots on the ground are always critical to winning any wars.  100,000 Indian National Army (INA) soldiers fought on the Japanese side against their fellow Indians who fought on the British side.  The INA was dwarfed by the estimated 2 million Indian volunteers who fought for the British.

“Friends, one year ago, when I made certain demands of you, I told you that if you give me ‘total mobilization’, I would give you a ‘second front’. I have redeemed that pledge. The first phase of our campaign is over. Our victorious troops, fighting side by side with Nipponese troops, have pushed back the enemy and are now fighting bravely on the sacred soil of our dear motherland.”

As I mentioned earlier, Bose allied himself with the Japanese to fight for Indian independence.  Most Indians remained loyal to the British.  The battle for India lasted 80 days, from April 4 to June 22, 1944.  The Japanese were roundly defeated and forced to leave India.  It was one of the worst defeats suffered by the Japanese up to that time.

“Gird up your loins for the task that now lies ahead. I had asked you for men, money and materials. I have got them in generous measure. Now I demand more of you. Men, money and materials cannot by themselves bring victory or freedom. We must have the motive-power that will inspire us to brave deeds and heroic exploits.”

Bose now exhorted his Indian followers to give more than just their bodies and resources.  He wanted them to believe in the cause of independence as much as he did.

“It will be a fatal mistake for you to wish to live and see India free simply because victory is now within reach. No one here should have the desire to live to enjoy freedom. A long fight is still in front of us.”

0c6f7302f021918ba104c6faf94798e8Perhaps Bose saw the writing on the wall.  He is warning his supporters that they may “not see the promised land.”  The promised land being independence for India.  Nevertheless, they should remain committed to the effort.

“We should have but one desire today – the desire to die so that India may live – the desire to face a martyr’s death, so that the path to freedom may be paved with the martyr’s blood.  Friends! My comrades in the War of Liberation! Today I demand of you one thing, above all. I demand of you blood. It is blood alone that can avenge the blood that the enemy has spilt. It is blood alone that can pay the price of freedom.”

Freedom must be purchased at the cost of blood.  It is often said that “freedom is never free.”  Bose is asking his supporters to be willing to die for the cause.

“Give me blood and I promise you freedom!”

Subhash’s final line in his speech reminds me of Patrick Henry’s famous line “Give me liberty or give me death.”  The price of freedom can be steep.  Millions of men and women have given their lives to fight for the independence of their countries.

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On June 15, 1947, the British House of Commons passed the Indian Independence Act which divided India into two dominions, India, and Pakistan.  The fight for Indian independence began ninety years earlier and its success can be attributed to the relentlessness that leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had for freedom.

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The excerpts from Bose’s famous speech were taken from the “Indian Express.” You can view the entire speech on this site. 

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