BAL GANGADHAR TILAK
“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it” was the clarion call given by Tilak in 1907 at the Surat Congress session. He was born just one year before the first war of Independence in India in 1857 and four years before Abraham Lincoln took oath as the President of USA when the political situation in that country was very unstable. So was it in India after the partition of Bengal in 1905. As Tilak grew young his life was influenced by all these happenings in his country as well as in the west specially USA.
Born on July 23, 1856 at Ratnagiri has was a great scholar, mathematician, philosopher. But over and above he was a militant nationalist. Still he was not a precursor of Chapekar Brothers, Bhagat Singh, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaq Ullah and Azad who targeted British Officers and killed him. He did not believe in this type of avenge. He believed in agitation – fiery agitation against the British rulers. But he always took the masses with him.
Tilak was brought up in a very orthodox family. His father Gangadhar, a school teacher infused in him a love for learning. He of course became a great scholar. But he broke all the shackles of conservation. He considered education a basic condition for freedom. He was deadly against the Macaulian system. He believed that we should “preserve national sentimants by giving due credit to all that is good in the old system but without detriment to progress and reforms needed for our national uplift”. Thus he established the New English School in 1880. He further founded Deccan Education Society in 1885. His aim was to create a younger generation of learned patriots having roots in the soil.
Immediately after this he turned a journalist to awaken political consciousness he started two papers – Kesri in Marathi and the Mahratta in English. In these two he bitterly criticized the British rule. He also wrote articles of passing the moderates (Gokhale and his friends and followers) who wanted social reforms along western lines and political ones along constitutional lines.
In due course he started two festivals – Ganesh Utsav and Shivaji Utsav in 1895. The aim was to give the national work a religious symbolism on the one hand and raising national on the other. The former aimed at the first. The letter was meant to arouse the patriotism against the foreign rule. Shivaji was the first in Maharashtra to defeat Muslim invaders and to establish Maratha state up to Agra.
With all these activities Tiiak came into straight conflict with the British Government. He was prosecuted for sedition and imprisoned in 1897. He became so popular that he was named Lokmanya (Beloved leader of the people). He was sentenced to 18 months of rigorous imprisonment. When he was released on September 6, 1898 he was just a Skelton and was not in position to walk steadily.
After the Surat Congress session Tilak was arrested on June 24, 1908 on charges of inciting violence through his articles. He decided to defend his own case. His address went on for more than 21 hours. His account of defence has become a testament of liberty. On July 22 the Jury asked him to make his final statement. He said, “All I wish to say is that, in spite of the verdict of the Jury, I maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of men and nations, and it may be the will of providence that the cause I represent may prosper more by my suffering than my remaining free”. Tilak was sentenced to six years imprisonment. He was deported to Mandalaya, Burma (Non Myanmar).
Behind the bars Tilak decided to give his ideas on the Bhagvad Gita a shape of book. He wrote “Gita Rahasya “. He began writing in 1910 and finished the 900 page manuscript in March next year. During his jail term his wife expired in 1912. It shook him of course. After his release in 1914 his family wanted to publish his book. After great efforts the manuscript arrived.
On his release in 1914 he again plunged in politics. He launched the Home Rule League. In 1918 as the President of Indian Home Rule League he went to England. He established good relations with the members of Labour Party. It was actually this Party that declared independence of India in 1947.
After his return in 1919 he attended the meeting of the congress at Amritsar. He advised the delegates to cooperate with Mahatma Gandhi in his non cooperation movement. He had already lost his health and expired after five days illness on August 1, 1920. Gandhi called him “the maker of modem India” and Nehru considered him “the father of the Indian Revolution”.