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. Tilaks grandfather, Ramchandrapanth,
was a talented man and died in Benares as a
Tilaks father, Gangadhar Shastri, was
a good Sanskrit scholar and a friend of Ramakrishna
Bhandarkar. Tilaks mothers name
was Paravti Bai Gangadhar. Tilaks 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
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
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 Tilaks
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
Tilaks 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, Tilaks 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 Tilaks 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
This was unusual language which exuded self-confidence
which was contagious. It infused a new spirit
of defiance into the people. Tilaks 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 Countrys 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 Partys
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.
Tilaks 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
The composition of a treatise like Gita
Rahasya, while undergoing a prison sentence
at Mandalay, is another index of Tilaks
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
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
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.