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Explained: The history of popular slogans raised during the Indian independence movement

How did the famous slogans first come about, and where have they come from? Inspiring and controversial, we explain the history of slogans that have endured in India’s politics.

Be it ‘Jai Hind!’ or ‘Vande Mataram!’, most of the popular patriotic slogans raised today are likely to have their origins in the movement for Indian independence.

Some of those slogans have been invoked in the modern day too, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ during the anti-corruption protests led by Anna Hazare in 2011, and the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests of late 2019. But how did these calls first come about, and where have they come from? Inspiring and controversial, we explain the history of slogans that have endured in India’s politics.

1. ‘Jai Hind’ by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

Bengal’s Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose popularised ‘Jai Hind’ as a salutation for soldiers of his Indian National Army (INA), which fought alongside Netaji’s ally Japan in the Second World War. But according to some accounts, Netaji did not actually coin the slogan.

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In his 2014 book, ‘Lengendotes of Hyderabad’, former civil servant Narendra Luther said the term was coined by Zain-ul Abideen Hasan, the son of a collector from Hyderabad, who had gone to Germany to study. There, he met Bose and eventually left his studies to join the INA. His grand-nephew, Anvar Ali Khan, later wrote that Khan was tasked by Bose to look for a military greeting or salutation for the INA’s soldiers, a slogan which was not caste or community-specific, given the all-India basis of the INA.

Luther’s book says Hasan had initially suggested ‘Hello’, which was rejected by Bose. According to Anvar Ali Khan, the idea for ‘Jai Hind’ came to Hasan when he was at the Konigsbruck camp in Germany. He overheard two Rajput soldiers greet each other with the slogan ‘Jai Ramji ki’. That led to the idea of ‘Jai Hindustan ki’ in his mind and it was then shortened to ‘Jai Hind’, with the term meaning ‘Long live India’ or a call to lead a fight for India.

2. ‘Tum mujhe khoon do, main tumhe aazadi doonga’ by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

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As per the book ‘Subhas Chandra Bose: The Nationalist and the Commander – What Netaji Did, What Netaji Said’ edited by Vanitha Ramchandani, the slogan had origins in a speech Netaji made in Myanmar, then called Burma, on July 4, 1944.

“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 enemy having been thus considerably weakened, our fight for liberty has become very much easier than it was five years ago,” he said, encouraging Indians to utilise the opportunity provided by the Second World War.

He added, “Such a rare and God-given opportunity comes once in a century…through the help of generous Nippon, it has become possible for Indians in East Asia to get arms to build up a modern army,” as support of East Asian countries like Japan (called Nippon in Japanese) was a strategy he believed in.

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Underlining his core philosophy of violence being necessary to achieve independence, he said, “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,” ending the sentiment with “Tum mujhe khoon do, main tumhe aazadi doonga” (Give me blood and I promise you freedom).

3. ‘Vande Mataram’ by Bankim Chandra Chatterji

The term refers to a sense of respect expressed to the motherland. In 1870, Bengali novelist Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote a song which would go on to assume a national stature, but would also be seen as communally divisive by some.

Written in Bengali, the song titled ‘Vande Mataram’ would not be introduced into the public sphere until the publishing of the novel Anandamath in 1882, of which the song is a part. Vande Mataram would soon be at the forefront of sentiments expressed during the freedom movement.

The novel Anandmath, set in the early 1770s against the backdrop of the Fakir-Sannyasi Rebellion against the British in Bengal, came at a time of the Bengal agrarian crisis when the region was hit by three famines one after another. Chattopadhyay’s novel held the Muslim Nawab responsible for the excruciating circumstances, claiming it was the Nawab bowing down to The East India Company that had caused such a situation. After the British rule ended, the song was in contention for being the national anthem, but was criticised by some and ended up becoming the national song instead.

4. ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ by Maulana Hasrat Mohani

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‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long live the revolution) was first used by Maulana Hasrat Mohani in 1921. Historian S Irfan Habib, writing in The Indian Express, said Mohani (1875-1951) was born in a town called Mohan in the Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh. Hasrat was his pen name (takhallus) as a revolutionary Urdu poet, which also became his identity as a political leader. Hasrat Mohani was a labour leader, scholar, poet and also one of the founders of the Communist Party of India in 1925.

Along with Swami Kumaranand — also involved in the Indian Communist movement — Mohani first raised the demand for complete independence or ‘Poorna Swaraj’, at the Ahmedabad session of the Congress in 1921. He was later elected a member of the Constituent Assembly and was also a member of the drafting committee of the Constitution along with Dr B R Ambedkar.

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His stress on Inquilab was inspired by his urge to fight against social and economic inequality, along with colonialism. Before Mohani coined this slogan, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia made the idea of revolution symbolic of the struggle for oppressed nationalities globally.

It was from the mid-1920s that this slogan became a war cry of Bhagat Singh and his Naujawan Bharat Sabha, as well as his Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). Bhagat Singh also wished for a social revolution to break age-old discriminatory practices. This slogan got major traction when he and B K Dutt dropped bombs in the Assembly on April 8, 1929, and shouted it.

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5. ‘Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna’ by Bismil Azimabadi

“Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil men hai, dekhna hai zor kitna bazu-e-qatil men hai” (Our hearts are now longing to die for a good cause, that we shall see what strength the arms of killers possess), are the first two lines of a poem written by Bismil Azimabadi, a freedom fighter and poet from Bihar, after the Jallianwalah Bagh Massacre of 1921 in Amritsar, Punjab. In the poem, the line ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil men hai’ is repeated, and the two lines have been used often in Hindi movies with patriotic themes.

The lines were popularised by Ram Prasad Bismil, another revolutionary. They convey a deep longing to take on an enemy, a spirit seen in the way Bismil, an Urdu poet and revolutionary, was part of major events that raised the spirits of fellow freedom fighters at the time. He was a part of the Kakori train robbery, a successful and ambitious operation in which a train filled with British goods and money was robbed for Indian fighters to purchase arms.

6. ‘Do or Die’ by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

In 1942, with the Second World War commencing and the failure of Stafford Cripps Missions – which only promised India a ‘dominion status’ where it would still have to bear allegiance to the King of England – it was realised that the movement for freedom needed to be intensified.

On August 8, 1942, the All-India Congress Committee met in Gowalia Tank Maidan (August Kranti Maidan) in Bombay. Gandhi addressed thousands after the meeting to spell out the way forward. He told the people that he would firmly take his demands to the Viceroy, saying, “I am not going to be satisfied with anything short of complete freedom. Maybe he will propose the abolition of salt tax, etc. But I will say, ‘Nothing less than freedom’”.

He then told the people what they must do: “Here is a mantra, a short one, that I give you. Imprint it on your hearts, so that in every breath you give expression to it. The mantra is: ‘Do or Die’. We shall either free India or die trying; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery.”

Later, some organised protesters took to more violent methods, blowing up bridges, cutting telegraph wires, and taking apart railway lines. In Bihar and UP, a full-fledged rebellion began, with slogans of ‘Thana jalao’, ‘Station phoonk do’ that demanded burning of police stations and train stations, and ‘Angrez bhaag gaya hai’ (the Englishman has ran away). Trains were stopped, taken over, and national flags were put on them.

7. ‘Quit India’ by Yusuf Meherally

While Gandhi gave the clarion call of ‘Quit India’, the slogan was coined by Yusuf Meherally, a socialist and trade unionist who also served as Mayor of Mumbai. A few years ago, in 1928, Meherally had also coined the slogan “Simon Go Back” to protest the Simon Commission – that although was meant to work on Indian constitutional reform, but lacked any Indians.

According to Saad Ali, who was a part of the Quit India movement, Meherally was a Congress Socialist Party member who was actively involved in anti-government protests. “Meherally was very popular. Beaten badly during the Simon Commission Boycott, he’d never really recovered, and I nursed him during a phase of ill-health…I remember he’d read out the daily news to us”, said Ali, speaking of their experiences in jail.

First published on: 10-08-2022 at 05:11:03 pm
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