An insight into India’s struggle for independence cannot be complete without the mention of the revolutionist Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was a strong pioneer of Poorna Swaraj (complete independence). On his 163rd birth anniversary, here are a few pages from the life of this legendary man.
Imprisoned for setting up the wave of patriotism and revolutionising the face of Indian struggle for complete independence and yet running Kesari, a newspaper that not only mirrored the truth of British Raj in India but also incorporated radical articles that called for the common man to fight back, with an unwavering dedication- such was the persona of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, an Indian pioneer revolutionist who was all about his country and its independence.
Tilak, often referred to as the ‘father of the Indian unrest’, was one of the first revolutionists who not only raised their voice against the British Raj in India but also channelised the patriotism and anguish of the general public towards the unsettling oppression, tyranny and injustice inflicted on Indians under the colonial rule, to the attainment of poorna swaraj (complete independence).
Even before joining the struggle for independence, Tilak worked significantly towards the betterment of the Indian society. A strong advocate of education, Tilak, along with his few college friends, laid the foundation of The New English School in 1880 followed by the setting up of an unconventional society that emphasised on seeding nationalistic ideals in youth with a special focus on Indian culture, the Deccan Education Society.
Soon, he started two weekly newspapers namely Kesari, in Marathi, and Mahratta, in English that mirrored the situation of the society at that time. These newspapers often had to face the wrath of British officials for openly criticising the colonial policies and provoking the readers to raise their voices against the same.
In the following years when he realised that India’s battle against the tyranny of colonial rule called for leaderships that could direct the fate of this battle, he didn’t refrain himself from joining politics. Resigning from the education society, he joined the then political party playing a pivotal role in shaping the struggle, Indian National Congress (INC), in 1890.
While Tilak worked with utmost dedication towards the cause, he was put behind the bars for 18 months when two Chapekar brothers murdered two British officials. The radical views and extremism that Tilak embodied, were alleged to have incited them to commit the crime. However, Tilak, who had become a national hero by now, did not deter from running his newspapers and voicing his opinions.
On being released, Tilak called for a clarion call, “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it”, a slogan he is remembered for till date. Tilak’s conviction reverberated with masses and more people joined the revolution. He participated in the Swadeshi movement with valour and encouraged people to boycott foreign products as well the Indian families using or endorsing foreign goods. The idea was not only to boycott foreign goods but also help the Indian producers. He laid the foundation of Bombay Swadeshi Co-operative Stores Co. for promoting Indian products, along with Ratanji Jamshedji Tata. He once said, “Our nation is like a tree of which the original trunk is swarajya (self-rule) and the branches are swadeshi and boycott.”
The radical approach of Tilak, however, did not resonate with many members of the INC resulting in an internal tiff that grew worse day by day. In 1907 during the Surat session, this clash of ideologies resulted in the split of INC into the moderates, who did not support extremist ideology and extremist who believed radicalisation to be the need of the hour. Tilak was supported by some of the INC members as well, including Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal. These three nationalists were also, often, referred to as Lal-Bal-Pal, a triumvirate that did not hesitate in resorting to violence, if the revolution calls for it.
Many common people started agreeing to Tilak’s radical ideology leading to an upsurge in episodes of violence. One such incidence was the murder of an important British official, about which Tilak not only mentioned in his newspaper but praised the decision of murderers at lengths. Accused of sedition by the British government, Tilak was arrested again, for six years this time and was sent to Mandalay, a city in Myanmar.
However, undeterred by this arrest, Tilak continued the publication of his newspapers from this isolated cell, which were full of more such articles that openly advocated the radical ideology and presented before the readers, the ugly truth of British conspiracies. He even wrote a few books including Gita Rahasya. Tilak also lost his beloved wife during this sentence.
On June 16, 1914, Tilak was set free. Soon, he reconciled with INC and geared up his efforts for the freedom struggle. Tilak tried to reunite the moderate and radical factions but failed. Soon he gave up on this reconciliation and He laid the foundation of All India Home Rule League in 1915 along with Annie Besant, another freedom fighter with British roots, that demanded self-government within the British Empire for all of India besides emphasising on national education, social and political reforms and the abolition of untouchability. They used to travel across villages all over the country to gather the support of farmers and locals and encourage them to join the movement towards self-rule. Tilak now came to be known by the name Lokmanya (people’s beloved leader).
India lost this gem to pneumonia on August 1, 1920 in Mumbai. His funeral procession, which was organised in Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty, is one of the largest public funerals in the Indian history. Mahatama Gandhiji, another Indian leader, who was very of Tilak, was amongst the pallbearers.“My greatest bulwark is gone”, said Gandhi.
Tilak will always be revered for his contributions to India’s struggle for independence.