`Lokmanya’ Bal Gangadhar Tilak: The Man Who Coined – “Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it”

G. L. Batra, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana

Bal_G._TilakPhoto Source: Wikipedia

`Lokmanya’ Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the great educationist, social reformer, author and freedom fighter, is widely acknowledged as ‘the father of the Indian Unrest’. A learned scholar of Sanskrit, Philosophy and Political Economy, Tilak’s entire life was a ‘karma yajna’, dedicated to the ideal of independence for India. Tilak was the first leader to propound the ideal of ‘sampoorna swarajya’, and his statement, “Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it”, inspired thousands of Indians, and laid the foundation for an organized and united freedom movement. Tilak, through his newspapers, ‘Kesari’ and ‘Mahratta’, played a vital part in arousing the indignation of Indians against the callousness and excesses of the British rule, and exposed the sufferings and indignities which the Britishers were subjecting the Indians to. His bitter denouncements of the Government’s handling of the famines and epidemics that rocked parts of India during the end of the 19th century aroused anti-British feelings amongst the countrymen and were a major factor in uniting the nation against foreign rule. His writings inspired several revolutionary leaders, and is said to have led to the assassination of Mr. Rand, the notorious plague commissioner of Pune in 1897. Tilak was charged and tried of sedition for this, and sentenced to eighteen months of imprisonment.

Tilak was one of the torchbearers of revolutionary nationalism in India and along with leaders like Bepinchandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai and Aurobindo Ghosh, was among its most prominent and outspoken leaders. Tilak was a political ‘extremist’ and was a vocal critic of the moderate policy of the Indian National Congress. He regarded the peaceful and Constitutional methods of protest as ‘useless’, and propounded the path of direct action. The conflict of ideology between the moderates and extremists within the Congress, led to the split in it in 1907 during the Surat Session.

Tilak was also a major supporter of the Home Rule movement between 1916 and 1918, founded by Annie Besant. Through articles in his newspapers, and speeches, Tilak helped the movement spread and gain a mass following and support, causing more and more uneasiness to the ruling Britishers. Tilak travelled abroad and succeeded in getting the support of the British Labour Party. Along with Lala Lajpat Rai, he also oversaw the spread of the movement to America.

Tilak was a radical as far as political ideology was concerned, but his conservative nature and thought in social and religious matters too was manifest from his life. He said, “a true nationalist desires to build on old foundations ….but without detriment to progress and reform needed for our national reconstruction”.

Tilak was instrumental in celebrating Ganesh Utsav and Shivaji Jayanti as public festivals in Maharashtra, which brought people together and ensured their involvement in the freedom movement. Tilak made people aware of their identity as a nation, and their rights, and gave them the moral courage and conviction to fight for their rights against all opposition. His contribution to the freedom struggle was monumental, and his role in awakening the political consciousness in the lay people, and uniting them against the British for the common cause of independence is widely acknowledged. His untiring struggle and single-minded love for the country earned him the respectful title of ‘Lokmanya’ meaning ‘revered by the masses’ from his followers and supporters.

Lokmanya Tilak was widely respected and admired by contemporary leaders, even those who did not subscribe to his ideology or methods. Mahatma Gandhi said about him, “I admire Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak like millions of his countrymen for his indomitable will, his vast learning, his love of country, and above all, the purity of his private life and great sacrifice. Of all the men of modern times, he captivated most the imagination of his people. He breathed into us the spirit of Swarajya. No one realized the evil of the existing system of government as Tilak did.” C. R. Das called him “the greatest Maratha since Shivaji”.

Lokmanya Tilak is well known for his commentary on the Bhagvad Gita called the ‘Gita Rahasya’, which he wrote in prison, and this book is still widely acknowledged as an authoritative and scholarly exposition on the subject.

Tilak passed away of an illness in 1920. The nation was shell-shocked at the loss of the great leader. Hundreds of leaders paid their tributes to this great son of Mother India. Mahatma Gandhi wrote in the journal New India, “Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak is no more. It is difficult to think of him as dead. He was so much part of the people. No man of our times had the hold on the masses that Mr. Tilak had. …..A giant among men has fallen. The voice of the lion is hushed.…. For us, he will go down to the generations yet unborn as a maker of modern India. They will revere his memory as of a man who lived for them and died for them.”


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