The Father of Indian Unrest

 “Bal Gangadhar Tilak was described by British as ‘The Father of Indian Unrest’. Tilak was born on 23rd August 1856. His slogan, “Swaraj (Self-Rule) is my birthright”, inspired and mobilized millions of Indians. The book “Geeta Rahasya” a classic treatise on Geeta in Marathi was written by him, in prison at Mandalay. He was a great journalist- editor, an authority on Vedas, Sanskrit Scholar, mathematician and a natural leader of India.”

Tilak was born in Ratnagiri, a small coastal town on 23rd July, 1856, in a middle class family. Tilak had to fend himself for college education. At an early age he was convinced that the educational system, the British provided for the Indians, was not at all adequate. He passed BA in first class. After graduation and a law degree, he helped to found a school which laid emphasis on nationalism. The studies made him realize the state in which his motherland existed under British Rule. He started a newspaper ‘Kesari’ which tried to teach Indians of their glorious past and reminded them to be self-reliant (Swadeshi).

The British were using all the native raw materials to run their factories in England and selling the finished products to India, keeping India an ever dependant, underdeveloped country. In the process, all the industries of India, such as, spinning, weaving, glass making, sugar, dyeing, paper making were getting destroyed. People became destitute for no fault of theirs, to help an empire become richer and stronger.

He tried to breathe life into the moribund nation through four mantras” (i) Boycott of Foreign Goods, (ii) National Education, (iii) Self-Government, (iv) Swadeshi or Self-reliance. He realized that mere protest against British rule would not help anymore and insisted on native production and self-reliance. “We have no arms, but there is no necessity. But our strong political weapon is boycott (of foreign goods). Organize your powers and then go to work so that they cannot refuse you what you demand”, he told the masses.

British smelled treason in these words. He founded Deccan Education Society to give better education as per the country’s needs. He wrote scathing articles over inhuman punishments meted out to the nationalist youth who protested the division of Bengal (Vanga Bhanga). Indian newspapers were not to criticize the British policy in those days and two articles titled— ‘Has the government lost its head?’ and ‘To Rule is not to wreak vengeance’ appearing in Kesari landed him in jail, after a namesake trial. The British lawmakers didn’t find it amusing and he was jailed for 18 months. In 1907, he formed a radicalist faction inside the Congress and started the Home Rule League along with an Irish lady, Ms. Annie Besant. Though a conservatist towards social reforms, he was a pioneer to foresee that mass support was needed to make his motherland free from imperialistic clutches. For the first time in British history, intellectuals in England (including the great orientalist, Max Muller) were able to convince the government that the trial was unfair. But the second time (1908) was no different. Tilak advocated his own case and when the judgment of six years of black-waters (kalapani) imprisonment was pronounced, he gave the famous statement.

“All I wish to say is that in spite of the verdict of the jury, I maintain my innocence. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of men and nations. It may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may prosper by suffering than by remaining free”.

In order to bring the Maratha people together on the same platform, he started the celebration of Shivaji Festival. When the ‘Indian Reforms Act’ was introduced in 1919, he rejected it describing it as inadequate, disappointing and unsatisfactory.

When he was 52, a diabetic and ailing person, he wrote his famous commentary on Bhagavad Geeta, the sacred book of Hindus. He stressed that Geeta taught action (karma), nothing but action, religion or spiritual message were secondary and the need of the hour was to arise and fight. This was Lord Krishna’s message to Arjuna. Tilak’s wife, his companion of 45 years, died at Pune and the news reached him in Madalay prison Burma only after a week. He had sacrificed his personal life, his profession, name and fame for the sake of the country.

By the time Tilak completed his six year prison term, he became the unquestioned leader of the Indians the uncrowned king. He was known as the Tilak Maharaj. There was unprecedented jubilation after Tilak was free and back in India. Civil resistance, the concept of Swaraj and nationalism had taken deep roots. Tilak’s suffering did not go in vain. A band of leaders, full of zeal for nationalism and self-sacrifice was coming up. National schools were coming up in all corners of India. He paved the way for Khadi (hand woven cloth), picketing against foreign goods and alcoholism. His death in 1920 brought Mahatma Gandhi on the scene and Gandhiji gave a concrete shape to Tilak’s ideas of Swadeshi. He also authored books such as ‘Geeta Rahasya” and “Arctic Home of Vedas”.

He launched the Congress Democratic Party in 1920 but before he could take up the action he suddenly died on 1st August, leaving behind millions of mourners. A champion of the downtrodden people, Tilak was given the sobriquet “Lokmanya”.