Patriots >Extremist Leaders > Tilak ,Bal Gangadhar ( Lokmanya )
Tilak ,Bal Gangadhar ( Lokmanya )

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, widely acclaimed as ‘the father of Indian Unrest’, was born on 23 July 1856 at Ratnagiri, in an orthodox Chitpavan Brahmin family. His forefathers were Khots or petty landlords. His great-grandfather, Keshavarao, was an expert horseman and an accurate marksman. He held a high position under the Government of the Peshwas, but he resigned his office in 1818 as soon as the British took over the administration of the country. Tilak’s grandfather, Ramchandrapanth, was a talented man and died in Benares as a Sannyasi.

Tilak’s father, Gangadhar Shastri, was a good Sanskrit scholar and a friend of Ramakrishna Bhandarkar. Tilak’s mother’s name was Paravti Bai Gangadhar. Tilak’s father, Gangadharpanth, started his career as a school teacher at Ratnagiri. In 1886 he was transferred to Poona as an Assistant Deputy Education Inspector for Primary Schools. In spite of the ancient aristocratic heritage, the family belonged to the lower-middle class when Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born. In 1871 Tilak married Tapibai. After marriage her name was changed to Satyabhamabai. She belonged to the Ballal Val Chitpavan family of Ladghar village near Dapoli in Ratnagiri district.

Tilak received most of his education at Poona. A brilliant student, Tilak was known even in his childhood for his fierce self-respect, regard for truth and his intense reaction to injustice. He passed his B.A. in the first class with Mathematics and Sanskrit (1876) and completed his education with a Law degree in 1879. While he was a student at the Deccan College, Poona, he was much influenced by the teaching of Professor Wordsworth and Professor Shoot. The former taught him English Literature and the latter taught him History and Political Economy which helped him to appreciate English ideas.

Tilak, in spite of his Hindu conservatism, was much influenced by Western thought on Politics and Metaphysics. He was particularly fond of Hegel, Kant, Spencer, Mill, Bentham, Voltaire and Rousseau. As he himself expressed it in the ‘Gita Rahasya’ : “To a certain extent my line of argument runs parallel to the line of thinking followed by Green in his book on Ethics.”

After completing his education, Tilak spurned the lucrative offers of Government service and decided to devote himself to the larger cause of national awakening. He firmly believed that modern education had to be taken to the masses by the Indians themselves if they were to grow in stature to overcome the pathetic acceptance of the concept of the rulers and the ruled which the Britishers wanted to preserve so assiduously.

He joined Agarkar, Chiplunkar and Namjoshi in starting the New English School and later in founding the Deccan Education Society and the Fergusson College in 1885. He, however, parted company with them in 1890, following serious differences about the fundamental commitments of the members of the Society.

In a way it could be said that Tilak’s true public life started only after his dissociation from the Deccan Education Society in 1890, by which time he had acquired complete control over the Kesari and the Mahratta, the two newspapers unfold before the reader the many facets of Tilak’s complex but captivating personality, many of them inexplicably contradictory. A radical so far as his political views were concerned, Tilak was a conservative so far as the question of social reforms was concerned.

Social reforms did not receive a high priority in his programme of opposition to the Age of Consent Bill. Once he took tea in a Christian Missionary School and underwent a penance for it. On 24 March 1918 an All India Depressed Classes Conference was held under the Presidentship of Sayajirao Gaikwad, the a Maharaja of Baroda. Although Tilak spoke for the removal of untouchability, he refused to sign a manifesto declaring that the signatories would not observe untouchability in their day-to-day life.

Through his writings and speeches, he led the radicals in rousing public indignation against the ways of the British administration, their callous indifference to the sufferings and indignities which the Indian people were made to suffer at the hands of the British officers. The famine of 1896 and the subsequent plague epidemic in the Bombay Province brought Tilak into conflict with the Government.

Through the columns of the Kesari and the Mahratta he roused the people to demand from the Government what was due to them and demand it not as a favour but as a right. Tilak built up a new spirit of popular resistance against foreign rule and made the masses aware of their strength.

On the national plane also, Tilak’s impact was equally forceful and revolutionary. He came on the national scene as a symbol of radical youth. During the 1896-97 plague in Maharashtra, Tilak bitterly criticised the Government for the plague measures taken and for the harassment to the public. The dissatisfaction among the Maharastrians led to the murder of Mr. Rand on 22 June 1897 at Poona. Tilak was accused of sedition and tried. On 14 September 1897 he was sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment.

But for a long time he was nowhere near the ‘inner circle’ which evolved the policies of the Congress. His concept of a political party was radically different from that of the other leaders. He wanted the Indian National Congress to be a rallying point for all classes and communities in India. He primarily strove to create a social sanction for the political ideals of the generation which was oppressed by an alien rule.

Tilak essentially aimed at building up a militant mass movement is support of the political objectives which he had in mind. These extreme political views of Tilak alarmed the moderates in the Congress Party. Tilak expressed his views on Swaraj strongly at the Calcutta session of the Congress in 1906.

But it was not long before Tilak’s ideology appealed to a people who were completely disillusioned by the indifference of the Government to their sufferings. His thesis of national education, Swadeshi and Boycott leading to Swarajya was revolutionary in concept and it fired the imagination of the people.

While addressing an audience at Calcutta in January 1907, Tilak said : “Your future rests entirely in your hands. If you mean to be free you can be free. If you have not the power of active resistance, have you not the power of self-denial and self-abstinence in such a way as not to assist this boycott. We shall not give the Government assistance to collect revenue and keep peace. We shall not assist them in fighting beyond our frontiers ; we shall not assist them in carrying on the administration of justice and when time comes we shall not pay taxes. If you can do that by your united efforts, you are free tomorrow. The point is to have the entire control in out hands. I want to have the key of my house and not merely one stranger turned out. Self-government is our goal” (Bal Gangadhar Tilak-‘Writings and Speeches’).

This was unusual language which exuded self-confidence which was contagious. It infused a new spirit of defiance into the people. Tilak’s uniqueness lies in the fact that at a time when British imperialism was at its zenith, he aroused a desperate people to demand ‘Swarajya’ as a matter of right.

The partition of Bengal gave a sharper edge to the struggle for freedom. Tilak, as a gifted general with a clear political vision, used this tension to created unrest all over India through his speeches and writings. He was also in close touch with the revolutionaries of his time and was not unreceptive to their plan to open another front for the freedom struggle. In 1907, when the Indian National Congress was held at Surat, there was an open split between the Moderates and the Extremists.

The Extremists were supposed to be followers of Tilak and were mostly members of the Revolutionary Partyin Bengal led by Aurobindo

Ghose.Tilak wrote two articles in the Kesari. “The Country’s Misfortune” and “These Remedies Are Not Lasting”. He pleaded with the Government to try to appreciate the changed psychology of the people. On 22 July 1908 Tilak was charged for bringing into people hatred and contempt and exciting disloyalty and feelings of enmity towards His Majesty and the Government established by Law in British India and was sentenced to transportation. Tilak spent six years in the Mandalay Jail, Burma, and was released on 17 June 1914.

After his released from Jail, Tilak soon returned to the arena of battle. Along with Annie Besant, he launched the Home Rule agitation for obtaining autonomy within the Empire in 1916. In the whirlwind campaign (1917), Tilak carried the message of Home Rule to the farthest corners of the country. It was because of the untiring efforts of Tilak and his band of dedicated colleagues that the Home Rule Movement spread like wildfire and forced the Government to come out with the declaration that the goal of British Policy was the realisation of responsible government in India.

This was not enough to meet the aspirations of Tilak. But while he declared the Indian Reforms Act of 1919 as inadequate, unsatisfactory and disappointing, he was too much of a pragmatist to let go whatever little gains it represented. He wanted to use the Act to gather more strength to demand more. He wanted to use the Act so as to organise the people to fight elections and to demonstrate effectively the intensity of the popular support for the freedom movement. He was confident of reaching in his lifetime. In April 1920 he started the Congress Democratic Party to carry on an agitation for Swarajya. Death, unfortunately, overtook him and he died in Bombay on 1 August 1920.

Tilak filed a law suit against Sit Valentine Chirol in 1918 for defaming him in his book ‘Indian Unrest’. Tilak left Bombay on 19 September 1918 and reached London on 30 October 1918. He lost the Chirol Libel Case. But he started the activities of the Home Rule League in England. He returned to Bombay on 27 November 1919. During his stay in England Tilak established good relations with George Lansbury, the Socialist leader, Edgar Wallace, the well known journalist and author, and Ramsay Macdonald of the Labour Party. Tilak established such a friendly relationship with the Labour Party that from then on India became one of the major planks in the Labour Party’s Programme.

Tilak had a remarkable personality . He was dark of complexion, of medium height and medium build. The forehead was broad, the eyes large and piercing, and the face was stern and had a grave look. The dress-toga-like upper garment, uttariya or loose cloth round the shoulder, dhoti, red shoes and red pugree- which was common when his public life began in 1880, he wore throughout his life, except when he visited England. His diet was simple ; the only luxuries he allowed himself were tea and betelnut.

He bought the Gaikwad Wada in 1904, lived in a part of it and accommodated the printing press for his journals and his office in the rest. His office boasted of only a few pieces of furniture, a Victorian type of table, full of drawers and pigeonholes, a low chair from which he dictated his articles and cupboards and shelves stacked with books and journals. All his time was taken up in reading, writing, and discussions with his colleagues and public speeches. Not a week passed when he did not address a public meeting in one or another part of the country. His speeches and writings are marked by a vigorous and aggressive style which reflected his rugged personality.

Tilak’s entire life was a “Karma Yajna’. He worked, ceaselessly and selflessly, to rouse a nation out of its slumber. With a dominant will power and tenacity, unique organising ability, and above all else an implicit faith in himself and his ideal of ‘Sampoorna Swarajya’, he refused to accepted defeat. With a remarkable degree of resilience Tilak always took setbacks to his activities philosophically and began to build up the edifice anew. Undaunted by the public hostility that he roused in England, he carried his message of freedom right up to Whitehall.

The composition of a treatise like ‘Gita Rahasya’, while undergoing a prison sentence at Mandalay, is another index of Tilak’s ceaselessly working mind. As was only to be expected, his interpretation of the Gita is based on an activist philosophy. He was in the true sense of the word a ‘Karma Yogi’.

When we come to assess the contribution of Tilak, we are faced with a difficult problem. His was a complex personality. Radical in political outlook and demands, Tilak was a conservative so far as social and religious reforms were concerned. He had his own views about social change. He has said :"a true nationalist desires to build on old foundations…but without detriment to progress and reform needed for our national conflict." For him, there was no question that was not dependent on Swaraj.

As Gandhiji had said, Tilak knew no other religion but love of the country. With his fearlessness and burning love for the country, he challenged both the westernised social reformer as well as the spirit of orthodoxy. Tilak, being a political realist, was aware that spirtualisation of politics could as well bring his dream of Swaraj nearer. Although an ardent Hindu, he believed in the fundamentals of secularism and tried to divorce the public life of the society from religious precepts.

He believed in Hindu-Muslim unity and was keenly aware that the yoke of foreign domination could not be thrown off unless the country stood united as one man. These contradictions make Tilak possibly the most controversial personality in recent Indian history. From his friends and followers he received the highest adulation ; they called him ‘Lokmanya’. To his opponents he was a social reactionary, a rabble-rouser.

But nothing can detract from the monumental contribution that he made towards the Indian freedom struggle by rousing the political consciousness of the common people and by drawing them into the freedom struggle. He was perhaps the first leader who realised the strength of the masses-even unarmed, uneducated masses-in the fight against foreign domination. He had a rare insight into the working of society.

He evolved programmes, such as Shivaji Jayanti and Ganesh Pooja with the sole motive of bringing people together to ensure their awakening and involvement in the freedom struggle. He has been aptly described as the ‘Father of Indian Unrest’, because it was he who made people the moral courage to exert themselves to secure them.

His demand for ‘Sampoorna Swarajya’ as his birthright was radically and refreshingly different from what the moderate leaders of the Congress had been seeking. His speeches and writings had a new, vigorous and aggressive quality which electrified the country. It would not be wrong to say that Tilak laid the foundations on which, after him, Ganhiji built the edifice of the independence movement.

The emergence of Tilak on the political horizon of the country was thus truly watershed in the life of the country. In a period of Indian history when the intellectual aristocracy was perhaps at its best, he brought to the political arena a new kind of leadership which was highly intellectual, had a clear vision and an intense patriotism but at the same time had its roots and strength in the vast illiterate and poor masses.

The Tilak era, is therefore, of special significance . The transformation of the Congress Party from a political platform of the sophisticated, westernised and educated few to a mass movement drawing strength from the millions of the poor and downtrodden was possible because of the new orientation given to the freedom struggle by Tilak. The ‘Tilak Era’ constitutes a significant landmark in our struggle for independence. It was essentially in this period that a moral strength was imparted to this movement and a new political strategy for the struggle came to be accepted.

Author : Y. B. Chavan