Bal Gangadhar Tilak Biography
The British called him The Father of Indian Unrest. Mahatma Gandhi described him as The Maker of Modern India. He was one of the first impassioned Indian nationalist leaders who spoke freedom to the colonial powers of the British Raj. His name was Bal Gangadhar Tilak and he will forever be remembered with reverence as the man who sowed the seeds of dissent against the British empire.
The roots of the British Raj were historically forged by trade through the East India company and backed by military might to quell opposition. By the end of the 18th century, large swathes of India were under the auspice of the British trading empire. This expansion would sweep through the sub-continent during the 19th century.
For India, 1857 was a pivotal year when the first war of independence broke out and was savagely put down by the colonialists. Entire cities were laid to waste in the conflict with Delhi and Lucknow taking the brunt of retaliatory destruction by the British. The mutineers were not well organised, but they shared a common desire of resentment towards the British for their harsh treatment of the general population.
The rebellion started with the Sepoy's who were Indian infantryman recruited to the East India company's army. Tension had been building throughout India. A spark was provided with the introduction of a new musket ball that required the soldier to bite open a cartridge greased with animal fat (Beef or Pork) to release the gun-powder. This was the final straw to Hindu's and Muslim's alike.
The Peshwa's, through the leadership of Nana Sahib and the legendary rebel Queen Rani of Jhansi also picked up the gauntlet of rebellion to fight the British. All attempts, although brave in spirit, proved futile. They lacked the organised coordination and the political objectives to be achieved were never clearly defined.
The British, although victorious, learned a harsh and bloody lesson. In 1858 the British Raj was established. The subsequent years saw all forms of politicisation of Indian movements to be prohibited.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born one year before the uprising in 1856. He was born into an educated family and grew up witnessing the oppressions inflicted on his fellow countrymen by the colonialist British.
Tilak recognised the injustice. He became politicised by the cruel inequity inflicted upon his people. He was inspired to action. Tilak was a thinking man who devised ingenious ways of circumventing political prohibitions designed to stifle dissent.
One such method was to take advantage of Hindu festivals and use them to gather support to unite Indians to a common cause of dissent. Cultural and religious festivals afforded the nationalists the opportunity to influence the masses. Tilak remembered the history of the first war of independence, he knew the British would not dare to ban religious events because any affront to their respective religions is the incendiary spark to unite the masses to armed revolt.
The British used their tried and tested method of divide and rule. Every opportunity to divide Hindu's and Muslim's was used to induce tensions between both religious communities. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was well aware of their modus operandi and he worked hard to maintain good relations between both religions.
The colonialists used subversive methods to subdue the populace. They were becoming acutely aware of the activities of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He was harassed and arrested on many occasions. He was charged and jailed for sedition three times in 1897, 1908, and 1916.
In 1908 Tilak wrote an article in his Marathi newspaper Kesari where he defended the actions of two bomb throwing militants and reinforced his call for self rule. The British quickly arrested him and charged him with sedition.
Tilak's choice of counsel was Mohammed Ali Jinnah who was an excellent lawyer as well as a respected muslim community leader in Bombay. Jinnah was also involved in the nationalist movement for independence, this was their common bond.
It was a show trial in the Bombay High Court that resulted in Justice Dinshaw D Davar sentencing Tilak to six years imprisonment to be served in Mandalay, Burma.
Upon hearing his sentence, Davar asked if the defendant wished to speak, Tilak rose and echoed these immortal words: "
All that I wish to say is that, in spite of the verdict of the jury, I still maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destinies of men and nations; and I think, it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may be benefited more by my suffering than by my pen and tongue.".
After Justice Davar appeased his British masters they awarded him with the colonial honour of Knighthood. The Indian Bar association hit on the idea of hosting a lavish dinner in his honour. When Jinnah received the invitation he was horrified. Jinnah wrote a stern letter to the Bar lambasting them to their eternal shame for honouring a British sycophant for jailing an Indian patriot.
Whilst languishing behind bars Tilak took to writing and he penned his book Shrimadh Bhagvad Gita Rahasya whilst in Mandalay.
Throughout the struggle for Indian autonomy from British rule, Tilak was looked up to as a leader of men. He was given able support from Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab and Bipin Chandra Pal of Bengal who collectively became infamously known as a triumvirate of assertive Indian nationalists.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak was not so much a rebel rabble rouser but more of an organiser of carefully planned political agitation. He was as brave as a lion and always stood by his powerful words of conviction when speaking truth to the power of British colonial rule.
Before Gandhi's rise to prominence, Tilak was the most widely known radical Indian nationalist. After his demise in 1920 he was elevated to a symbol of Indian resistance for all self respecting freedom fighters to aspire to. Through his much vaunted phrase: "Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it" he gave much needed hope and meaning to the subsequent generations of rebels and activists to join the Indian independence movement.
Quotes About Bal Gangadhar Tilak
The freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi, was impressed to say:
"Love of India was the breath of life with Mr. Tilak and in it, he has left to us a treasure, which can only increase, by use. The endless procession of yesterday shows the hold the great patriot had on the masses"
Gandhi went on to describe him as:
"The Maker of Modern India"
On another occasion Gandhi shared this interesting comparison:
"I am thankful to the organisers of the meeting for asking me to preside. The goal of every thinking Indian must be the same, though the methods for its attainment may be different and it is a matter known to all that my ways differ from Mr Tilak’s. And yet I would wish to heartily associate myself with every occasion to pay a tribute to his great services to the country, his self-sacrifice, and his learning and with the present occasion in especial"
Independent India's first Prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, hailed him as:
"The Father of the Indian Revolution"
The British historian, Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol, famously called him:
"The father of Indian unrest"
Prior to this, Chirol made clear his opinions on British rule:
"It is impossible that we should ever concede to India the rights of self-government"
The famed Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore spoke of Tilak's defeat in a libel case in London:
"You cannot purify the sacrificial fire or the sacred waters of the Ganga"
The scholar, Abdul Ghafoor Noorani, highlighted the roads where religious and political intentions merged:
"The two great political centres in Bombay at that time [c. 1916] were Sardar Griha, where Tilak lived and Jinnah’s chambers in the High Court. All political roads led to these two places for organisation, consultation and decision"
Noorani went on to say:
"Theirs was not what is known as ‘drawing room politics’. They plunged deep into mass politics. Thousands of leaflets and pamphlets were published week after week. After dinner meetings were held at Kalbadevi and Mandvi and every fortnight big public meetings were held at Shantaram’s Chawl, Girgaum, addressed by, among others, Jinnah, Tilak, Khaparde, Khadilkar, NC Kelkar and BG Horniman, an Englishman who edited the nationalist daily Bombay Chronicle"
The Indian philosopher, Sri Aurobindo, recognised the importance of his contribution towards the Indian independence movement:
"The Congress movement was for a long time purely occidental in its mind, character, and methods, confined to the English-educated few, founded on the political rights and interests of the people read in the light of English history and European ideals, but with no roots either in the past of the country or in the inner spirit of the nation. ... To bring in the mass of the people, to find the greatness of the future on the greatness of the past, to infuse Indian politics with Indian religious fervor and spirituality are the indispensable conditions for a great and powerful political awakening in India. Others, writers, thinkers, spiritual leaders, had seen this truth. Mr. Tilak was the first to bring it into the actual field of practical politics"
The author, Koenraad Elst, shared this observation:
"Interiorizing this notion, Tilak then went on to develop fanciful interpretations of Vedic verses to make them fit the scenario of a non-Indian, indeed Arctic setting of the oldest layer of Vedic literature. Perfectly innocuous verses about the dawn or the seasons, always read in their natural meaning by one or two hundred generations of Brahmins, were suddenly contrived to reveal references to the Arctic"
The Bombay High Court jurist, Mohammedali Currim Chagla, made this observation:
"It is surprising that there should have been so much in common between Jinnah and Tilak. I understand that the regard Jinnah had for Tilak was reciprocated by Tilak"
Years later, Chagla spoke of his memorial plaque:
"There is no honour and no distinction which I have valued more than the privilege of being able to unveil the tablet to Lokamanya Tilak’s memory"
In his speech, Chagla spoke of political injustice inflicted upon Tilak:
"He was sentenced for the crime of patriotism. He was sentenced because he loved his country more than his life or his liberty"
Indeed, Justice Dinshaw Davar, who was the sentencing judge in his sedition trial, broke with judicial impartiality to say:
"the two articles are seething with sedition, they preach violence and only a diseased mind, a most perverted mind, that can think that the articles that you (Tilak) have written are legitimate articles to write in political agitation"
Davar went on to state:
"You hail the advent of the bomb in India as if something had come to India for its good. I say, such journalism is a curse to the country"
Edwin Montagu, the (then) Secretary of State for India, described him thus:
"In India there was only one natural aggressive nationalist and he was Tilak"
The All-India Muslim League leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, spoke of his great contribution towards independence:
"Mr Tilak rendered yeoman services to the country and played a very important part in bringing about the Hindu-Moslem unity which ultimately resulted in the Lucknow Pact in 1916"