“Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it”. This is the slogan that made Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak a force to reckon with during India’s fight for freedom from the British.
From teacher and lawyer to journalist and independence activist, Tilak’s life went through some distinct phases. On his 162ndbirth anniversary, we take a closer look at his career and politics to understand what made him the towering personality that he is remembered as today.
Radical Approach In Politics
Bal Gangadhar Tilak joined the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1890; his leadership soon showed a contrast between the moderates who came before him and the radicals who followed him.
He wanted to stop being loyal to the British and not use constitutional agitation as a means to gain their goals. Instead, he wanted to get Swarajya or self-rule which he believed to be the essence of freedom and important for the growth of a nation.
Because of his radical approach, Tilak came into direct opposition with his contemporary, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who was one of the stalwarts of the Congress at that time. However, he did gain the support of other radicals, like Aurobindo Ghose and V.O Chidambaram Pillai.
Tilak also formed the famous Lal-Bal-Pal trio alongside Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal. They took over the leadership of the radical section of the Congress after the split at the Surat session in 1907.
Tilak was considered to be a radical nationalist, but was socially conservative, believing that society should be based on Hindu revivalist structures. In fact, Tilak was a strong believer in Vedic philosophy and social ideas.
Early Life And Career
Born as Keshav Gangadhar Tilak on 23 July 1856, in the small coastal town of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, he soon moved to Poona (now Pune). Tilak’s father was a renowned Sanskrit scholar, and belonged to the Marathi Chitpavan Brahmin section. He died when Tilak was about 16 years old.
Tilak was interested in academia, and he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in first class in Mathematics from Deccan College of Pune in 1877. He then obtained an LL.B from Government Law College.
After receiving his degrees, Tilak taught Mathematics for some time at a private school, but soon left due to differences with his colleagues. He then decided to pursue journalism, and took an active part in public life.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak founded two magazines, the Maratha (in English) and the Kesari (in Marathi), where he put forward his views vehemently. He would write scathing articles about the kind of oppression and tyranny brought about by the British and demand Swaraj throughout.
Tilak established the Deccan Education Society in 1884 with some of his colleagues from university, with the view of improving education for the Indian youth. Two of the institutions set up by the society that still exist today are the New English School for secondary education and the Fergusson College.
Swadeshi And Home Rule League
Two of the most prominent movements organized by Bal Gangadhar Tilak were the Swadeshi and Boycott (of foreign goods) movement and the Home Rule League.
The Swadeshi and Boycott movement was a revivalism of traditional Indian cottage industries. It was intensified after the Partition of Bengal in 1905, and the impact of the movement was felt all over the country where there were Indian industries, schools, universities and traditional cottage industries being set up.
It also came with the boycott of all English made goods like Lancashire and Manchester made goods.
The Home Rule League was organized by Tilak along with Annie Besant and G.S. Kharparde. The aim of this movement was to recruit members and form a pressure group which would eventually lead to home rule for India. This was inspired by the Irish freedom movement, and Besant being an Irishwoman brought this idea to India.
Sedition Charges And Life In Prison
His support for revolutionaries got him into serious trouble with the British authorities. He was charged with sedition and sentenced to six years of imprisonment in Mandalay (Burma, now Myanmar) between 1908-1914. He focused on reading and writing while in jail.
After being released, Tilak tempered his views, and decided to focus more on getting concessions from the British rather than a full-scale self-rule all at once. When the first World War started, Tilak cabled George V, King-Emperor of the United Kingdom and its territories, to lend his support.
When Morley-Minto released the Indian Councils Act, 1909, Tilak welcomed it saying that it marked an increased confidence between the rulers and the ruled. He was also convinced that violence diminished, rather than hastened, the pace of political reforms in India.
However, Tilak was not totally removed from his goal of Swaraj, and he told Gandhi when they first met that total non-violence should not be the goal, but attaining self-rule by all means necessary.
Leaving A Rich Legacy
Bal Gangadhar Tilak died in 1920, soon after the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre took place. This incident greatly disappointed Tilak, as it showed that all the work done by the Congress and the Home Rule movement was in vain, and that there was actually no reconciliation between the British who continued their oppressive rule over the subcontinent and the Indians.
Tilak’s role in the Indian Independence Movement was, however, not diminished, and the part he played in the movement served as an inspiration for generations to come. He was given the epithet “Father of the Indian unrest” by the British colonial authorities.
In fact the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Samuel Montagu, is known to have said that “In India there was only one natural aggressive nationalist and he was Tilak.”
He was given the title of Lokmanya(roughly translated as The Revered) by his followers. Gandhi is known to have acknowledged Tilak’s love for India, and how much he had done for the country. Though considering Gokhale to be his political mentor, Gandhi had immense respect for Tilak, which becomes obvious from his writings.