Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Tilak born as Keshav Gangadhar Tilak was an Indian nationalist, journalist, teacher, social reformer, lawyer and an independence activist. He was the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement. The British colonial authorities called him “Father of the Indian unrest.” He was also conferred with the honorary title of “Lokmanya”, which literally means “accepted by the people (as their leader)”.

Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of “Swaraj” (self-rule) and a strong radical in Indian consciousness. He is known for his quote, “Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it!” in India. He formed a close alliance with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, later the founder of Pakistan, during the Indian Home Rule Movement.

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Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in 1890. He opposed its moderate attitude, especially towards the fight for self-government. He was one of the most eminent radicals at the time. Despite being personally opposed to early marriage, Tilak was against the 1891 Age of Consent bill, seeing it as interference with Hinduism and a dangerous precedent. British troops were brought in to deal with the emergency and harsh measures were employed including forced entry into private houses, examination of occupants, evacuation to hospitals and segregation camps, removing and destroying personal possessions, and preventing patients from entering or leaving the city.

Tilak encouraged the Swadeshi movement and the Boycott movement. The movement consisted of the boycott of foreign goods and also the social boycott of any Indian who used foreign goods. The Swadeshi movement consisted of the usage of natively produced goods. Once foreign goods were boycotted, there was a gap which had to be filled by the production of those goods in India itself. Tilak said that the Swadeshi and Boycott movements are two sides of the same coin.

Tilak opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and was supported by fellow Indian nationalists Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. They were referred to as the “Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate”. In 1907, the annual session of the Congress Party was held at Surat, Gujarat. Trouble broke out over the selection of the new president of the Congress between the moderate and the radical sections of the party. The party split into the “Jahal matavadi”, led by Tilak, Pal and Lajpat Rai, and the “Maval matavadi”. Nationalists like Aurobindo Ghose, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai were Tilak supporters.

When World War I started in August, Tilak cabled the King-Emperor in Britain of his support and turned his oratory to find new recruits for war efforts. He welcomed The Indian Councils Act, popularly known as Minto-Morley Reforms, which had been passed by British Parliament in May 1909, terming it as “a marked increase of confidence between the Rulers and the Ruled”.

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Acts of violence actually retarded, then hastened, the pace of political reforms, he felt. He was eager for reconciliation with Congress and had abandoned his demand for direct action and settled for agitations “strictly by constitutional means” – a line advocated by his rival Gokhale.Tilak tried to convince Mohandas Gandhi to leave the idea of Total non-violence (“Total Ahinsa”) and try to get Self-rule (“Swarajya”) by all means. Gandhi, though respected him as his guru, did not change his mind.He was the first Congress leader to suggest that Hindi written in the Devanagari script be accepted as the sole national language of India.

Tilak re-united with his fellow nationalists and re-joined the Indian National Congress in 1916. He also helped found the All India Home Rule League in 1916–18, with G. S. Khaparde and Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Annie Besant. After years of trying to reunite the moderate and radical factions, he gave up and focused on the Home Rule League, which sought self-rule. Tilak started his Home Rule League in Maharashtra, Central Provinces, and Karnataka and Berar region.

The Swadeshi movement started by Tilak at the beginning of the 20th century became part of the Independence movement until that goal was achieved in 1947. One can even say Swadeshi remained part of Indian Government policy until the 1990s when the Congress Government liberalised the economy. Tilak Smarak Ranga Mandir, a theatre auditorium in Pune was dedicated to him. In 2007, the Government of India released a coin to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Tilak.

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