Bal Gangadhar Tilak
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Father of India’s revolution
Amongst the stalwarts of the freedom strugglein the pre-Gandhi era, the name of Lokmanya Tilak stands out as a colossus for his supreme courage, sacrifice, selflessness and his historic role in the early phase of the independence movement.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born on July 23, 1856 at Ratnagiri in Maharashtra in a middle class family. Soon after his graduation Tilak developed a serious concern for the social and political problems of his day. He wanted to reform the system of education introduced by the British and started a society for spread of education in Maharashtra. But his restless mind could not remain limited to one field. He soon ventured into journalism and started a Marathi paper, Kesari. He passionately wrote for reforming the Indian society. On the problem of untouchability he wrote, “I would not recognize even God if He said that untouchability was ordained by Him.” While advocating social reforms he turned the attention of the people to the political problem – liberation of India from British rule. He began writing articles in the Kesari, asserting every Indian’s birth right to be free. This was a revolutionary doctrine to be preached in those days. This brought him into conflict with the Empire and he was convicted on charge of sedition in 1897. However, this conviction proved to be a blessing in disguise from a provincial leader, Tilak became a national leader.
In 1889 (the year Jawaharlal Nehru was born), Tilak attended the Bombay session of the Indian National Congress presided by Sir William Wedderburn. Tilak was then 33. Two other young Congressmen who were to become his contemporaries also appeared on the Congress platform for the first time – Lala Lajpat Rai (34) and Gopal Krishan Gokhale (33).
The Congress, since its birth in 1885, was dominated by the Moderates who had faith in British sense of justice and fairplay and believed in constitutional and lawful methods of agitation. This, however, dramatically changed with Lord Curzon’s decision to partition of Bengal. The youth of India moved towards militant politics and direct action. Alongwith Bipin Chander Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai, Tilak seized the opportunity of disillusionment against the British and denounced the “political mendicancy” of the Moderates. The trio of Bal-Pal-Lal, alongwith Aurobindo Ghose, became popular as “Extremists”, though they preferred to call themselves “Nationalists”
Tilak advocated a fourfold programme – of boycott, Swadeshi, national education and swaraj. In 1905, he wrote: “History abundantly proves that a subject people, however, helpless, can, by means of unity, courage and determination, overcome their haughty rulers without resort to arms.” In 1907, he declared: “We are not armed, and there is no necessity of arms either. We have a stronger weapon, a political weapon in boycott.”
Pt Jawaharlal Nehru recalls in “The Discovery of India”:- With the coming of age of the National Congress, which had been founded in 1885, a new type of leadership appeared, more aggressive and defiant and representing the much larger numbers of the lower middle classes as well as students and young men. The powerful agitation against the partition of Bengal had thrown up many able and aggressive leaders there of this type, but the real symbol of the new age was Bal Gangadhar Tilak from Maharashtra.
On June 24, 1903 a warrant of arrest was served on Tilak in Bombay. The historic trial of Tilak on charges of sedition began on July 13. Tilak was convicted and deported to Mandalay in Burma where he was to spend the next years of his life. On hearing the verdict, Tilak defiantly said: All I wish to say is that, in spite of the verdict of the jury, I maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of things and it may be the will of Providence that the cause which I represent may prosper more by my suffering than by my remaining free. At Mandalay, Tilak soon settled himself into the routine of writing and thinking. The man of action absorbed himself in reading, in learning new things and in contemplating on the true message of the Gita. A most fruitful result of this constant reading and reflection was the Gita Rahasya. In this, Tilak tried to show how the philosophy of the Gita helps to solve the moral issues involved in every-day life. On June 8, 1914, Tilak was informed that his exile was over. He was now 58, and his health was broken, but his spirit was unbowed. On his return to India, he resumed his political activities with his usual zeal and thoroughness.
According to Tilak’s biographer, D.V. Tahmankar, “the year 1916 was the most eventful in Tilak’s career. The early part of the year saw the foundation of the Home Rule League, its phenomenal success, the presentation of the public purse on Tilak’s sixty-first birthday, and his legal victory in the last sedition of the Lucknow Congress, which marks the zenith not only of Tilak’s life, but also, perhaps, of the history of the Congress. Tilak, who had previously borne a reputation for intransigence in politics, now appears in the role of a constructive and conciliatory stateman. The days of fiery speeches and denunciations are over; a new phase of compromise and responsive co-operation begins. He is seen at his best at the Lucknow Congress which marks a definite stage in the political evolution of India.” The formation of the Indian Home Rule League was the crowning achievement of Tilak’s political career. He had worked for thirty-five years to give concrete shape to the people’s political aspirations, largely aroused and sustained to by his own exertions and sufferings, and his labours at last bore fruit. The country could now speak out and demand its birthright without fear. The people had become conscious of their rights; their aspirations had assumed a definite shape, and they realized that a foreign bureaucracy cannot be mended but must be ended. Now the time had surely come, Tilak said, to demand control of the country’s affairs. But if the demand for Swaraj was to be effective, it must be made through a powerful and organised body. The Home Rule League was to be that body. It was founded on April 28, 1916 with its headquarters in Pune. A similar Home Rule league was started by Annie Besant (who the following year became the first woman President of INC) with its headquarters at Madras. Both the Home Rule Leagues supplemented each other. While Tilak confined in activities to Bombay Presidency and Central Provinces, Annie Besant concentrated her efforts in the rest of India. The Home Rule Movement marked the beginning of a new phase in India’s struggle for freedom. It placed before the country a concrete scheme of self-government. The success of the Home Rule Movement made the British bureaucracy nervous and they took all possible steps to restrict the activities of Tilak and Annie Besant. The repressive measure of the govt., however, had an opposite effect. The popularity of both the leaders soared sky high and inspired the people to prepare themselves for further struggle and sacrifices.
Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, while unveiling a portrait of Lokmanya Tilak in Parliament on July 28, 1956 concluded his glowing tribute to Tilak thus: “It was not my privilege to come into close contact with Tilak. When he was at the height of his career, I was away in a far country, still a student. But even there his voice and his story reached us and fired our imagination. We early grew up under the influence and were moulded by it. In a sense, India to the youth of that time was what had been presented by Tilak, through what he said and what he wrote, and above all, what he suffered. That was the inheritance that Gandhiji had to start his vast movements with. Ifthere had not been that moulding of the Indian people and India’s imagination and India’s youth by Lokmanya, it would not have been easy for the next step to be taken. Thus in this historical panorama we can see one great man after another coming and performing acts of destiny and history which have cumulatively led to the achievement of India’s freedom. We meet here not only to unveil the picture of this great man, the Father of India’s Revolution, but to remember him and to be inspired by him.”
Lokmanya Tilak was the tallest of the leaders of his generation who prepared the nation for the trials and triumphs of the Gandhian era. On August 1, 1920, a day before Gandhiji launched the noncooperation movement, Tilak passed away, thus marking the end of one and beginning of another era that culminated in the realization of his dream of free India.
(The writer is former member of the National Commission for Minorities)
When Tilak ‘Delayed’ Swaraj
When Tilak ‘Delayed’ Swaraj
In 1917, the first meeting of the Gujarat Political Conference was held at Godhra (Gujarat). Gandhi arrived on the dot as was his habit. The great Lokmanya Tilak had also been invited to the conference, but he arrived a little late. Gandhi received the Lokmanya with great respect and all the deference due to a national leader. But Gandhi could not desist from commenting that the Lokmanya was half an hour late, and if Swaraj was delayed by half an hour, he would have to bear the blame for it.