Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the foremost leader of India’s freedom struggle before the advent of the Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi era, breathed his last, after a brief illness, in Bombay in the early hours of August 1, 1920.
Destiny snatched him away at a relatively young age. Had he lived longer, this lion among Indian patriots could have changed the course of the nation’s freedom struggle for the better.
Tilak was the tallest of the leaders of his generation who prepared the nation for the trials and triumphs of the Gandhian era.
First leader to recognise the importance of Identity:
Identity was once considered a primordial subject by the social science fraternity. But, then, there was a significant change.
Many social scientists recognised the importance of identity as a factor that motivates human enterprise.
Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak was perhaps the first political leader in modern India to appreciate the importance of identity issues.
He realised that these could be a tool to make inroads in the minds of an otherwise docile society.
Once that was done, people could be motivated to join the struggle for independence, which explains Tilak’s clarion call for swaraj and swadeshi.
On August 1, 1920, a day before Gandhiji launched the Non-Cooperation Movement, Tilak passed away, thus marking the end of one and beginning of another era that culminated in the realisation of his dream of free India.
Lokmanya Tilak: Father of the Indian renaissance:
“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it!”, this is the slogan that inculcated a political conscience among Indians regarding self-rule.
The slogan was given by Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak (Lokmanya means the man accepted by the people). Given his contribution, Tilak can be hailed as the first mass leader of the Indian Independence Movement.
Mahatma Gandhi called him ‘The Maker of Modern India’ or as British colonial authorities called him ‘The father of Indian unrest’, testifies his legacy and contribution to Indian society and freedom struggle.
As a philosopher-politician, his contribution is immense as he is said to be a pioneer of ideas of swaraj and swadeshi and used culture, education and the media.
Tilak’s clarion call for swaraj and swadeshi:
- In both concepts, swa or self is common. Striving for self-dependence, in Tilak’s strategy, was the stepping-stone for Independence.
- Tilak wanted to inculcate both collective thinking as well as action. For the cultivation of an enlightened mind, he used the media in the form of two newspapers, Kesari and Maratha, and national education through Deccan Education Society, an institute he established.
- His formula for preparing the ground for political activism through culture, education and media was so powerful that later on Mahatma Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar and others adopted this path.
- His ideas of swaraj and swadeshi were anchored in making every Indian conscious of the insults and injustice meted out by the British.
- He prepared a fertile ground for swaraj through his home-rule movement. He was clear on the aim of the home rule movement.
- However, his swadeshi was not just about boycotting British goods. Although he used the tools of boycott and bonfire of British goods to provide a window for popular participation, his larger objective was promoting indigenous entrepreneurship.
- Tilak wanted to promote manufacturing in India. To that end, Tilak started collecting funds for a corpus, known as Paisa Fund.
- Through this, Tilak supported Ishwar Das Varshney, an entrepreneur who was greatly inspired by Tilak’s speech in the Surat Congress. Varshney later started Paisa Fund Glass Works at Talegaon near Pune.
Blueprint of a post-Independence India in mind:
- Tilak almost had a blueprint of a post-Independence India in mind.
- For him, swa-raj was also liked to swa-bhasha and swa-bhusha, i.e. mother tongue and indigenous attire.
- Perhaps, he was the first national leader who envisioned the formation of linguistic states.
- He spoke of how we should “form one separate state each for Marathi, Telugu and Kanarese provinces.” The principle that education should be given through the vernaculars is self-evident and clear.
- Tilak adroitly used the two things — constitutionalism and democracy — that the British rulers used to boast about, to his maximum advantage.
- To that end, he used both, his passion and professional acumen as editor and pleader dexterously.
- His editorials were not only hard hitting, but well-argued and still carefully-worded in order to avoid legal implications.
- Tilak was also known for not mincing his words. However, a scholar at heart, Tilak used both activism in the field as well as opinion to hasten slowly and attain the goal of swaraj, something his fellow Congressmen were wary of publicly speaking about at that time.
The tone and tenor of his demand were strategically conciliatory. He wrote: “India was like a son who had grown up and attained maturity.
It was right now that the trustee or the father should give him what was his due. The people of India must get this effected. They have a right to do so.”
Today, when we talk about Atmanirbhar Bharat, the legacy of Tilak is carried forward.
Reviving the spirit of economic nationalism for indigenously manufactured goods and striving for social integration through culture are the features of Tilak’s strategy and they continue to be relevant even today as we observe his 100th death anniversary on August 1.