About two years after the death of Mr. Tilak, in 1922, when the Mahatma was about to be sentenced to prison, for 6 yrs, he said to the judge, "since you have done me the honor of recalling the trial of the late Lokmanya Gangadhar Tilak, I just want to say that I consider it the proudest privilege and honor to be associated with his name." Mr. Tilak forged the use of passive resistance as a means of overthrowing British rule of India. He had earned the title of Lokmanya, meaning Beloved Leader of the People, when imprisoned by the British, in 1897 for seditious writings.
Mr. Tilak was a scholar of Indian history, Sanskrit, Hinduism, mathematics and astronomy. He was born on July 23, 1856, in a village near Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, into a middle class Chitpavan Brahmin family. Mr. Tilak strongly criticized the government for its brutalism in suppression of free expression, especially in face of protests against the division of Bengal in 1905, and for denigrating India's culture, its people and heritage. He demanded the British immediately give the right to self-government to India's people.
But while Mr. Gandhi admired Mr. Tilak, even considered him a hero, he had to contend with Mr. Tilak being a critic of Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of non-violent, civil disobedience. Although once considered an extremist revolutionary, in his later years Mr. Tilak had considerably mellowed. He favored political dialogue and discussions as a more effective way to obtain political freedom for India, and did not support leaving the British Empire. However, Mr. Tilak is considered in many ways to have created the nationalist movement in India, by expanding the struggle for political freedoms and self-government to the common people of India. Mr. Tilak was considered the political and spiritual leader of India by many, and Mr. Gandhi is considered his successor. When Mr. Tilak died in 1920, Mr. Gandhi paid his respects at his cremation in Bombay, along with 200,000 people. Mr. Gandhi called Mr. Tilak "The Maker of Modern India".
The British authorities charged Mr. Tilak with sedition, but rather than an Indian prison, he was imprisoned from 1908 to 1914 in Mandalay, Burma. He re-joined the Indian National Congress in 1916 and getting back in the fight, helped found the All India Home Rule League in 1916-18 . He wrote many books on Indian culture, history and Hinduism like The Orion or Researches into the Vedas (1893), Arctic Home in the Vedas, Geetarahasya and others. Mr. Tilak received Bachelor of Arts degree from The Deccan College, Pune in 1879 and L.L.B. from the Elphinston College, Mumbai in 1882. He was among the founders of the New English School, Pune (1881) of which Prof Chiplunkar became the Principal.
He had a genius for organisation. With Mr. Agarkar, the then foremost social reformist, he started the newspapers 'Kesari' and 'The Maratha' in 1881 and in 1890's. He started the annual celebration of 'ShivajiFestival' and 'Ganapati Festival' which served a platform for people to join in the nationalist movement against the British. Soon, regarded as the undisputed leader of Maharashtra he was honored with the title 'Lokamanya' in 1893 which became synonymous with him in the 1900's. As the nation fumed over the partition of Bengal (1905), Mr. Tilak assumed the national leadership, with his extremist attitude, and stated his position unequivocally as "Swarajya (self rule) is my birth right and I shall have it." This apparently became his motto.
The next three years saw meteoric rise in his stature. The British powers which had long since considered him their chief concern, had sent him to prison twice already, and decided on a firmer measure. Much has been said of his trial of 1908. He utilized his time in prison in scholarly pursuits and wrote "GitaRahasya", a commentary on the Gita. He returned to Indian political scene in 1915. The political situation was fast changing under the shadow of World War I. Mahatma Gandhi's star was on rise with Satyagraha at Sabarmati in 1914.
The British charged Tilak in 1918. He fought those charges both in India and England, and was judged guilty. Amidst rumors of yet another sentence, he headed the Home-Rule commission in England to debate India's constitutional demands. By that time, Gandhi had made preparations of the first nation wide non-cooperation movement and, perhaps, it was to make way for Gandhi that Tilak left for England. Tilak was, probably, the only leader who could have put brakes on Gandhi. Both had conflicting approaches. Gandhi had the courage to address and solve the issue of untouchability once and forever. He, unlike Tilak, was a fluent speaker in Hindi and could thus reach the masses more easily. It is no secret that he had little respect for Tilak's real politic and Tilak hated adopting means which killed self pride of the masses. Whereas Gandhi preached, "Overcome hatred with love", Tilak pooh poohed moderates saying, "There is no empire lost by a free grant of concession by the rulers to the ruled." In both world wars, Gandhi encouraged Indians to fight for the British Empire unconditionally whereas Tilak held that if Indians were to remain slaves then it mattered little whether they joined army or not. The Mahatma was modern with novel methods. His was a welcome arrival both for the Moderates who needed an answer to the Extremists and Tilak, in particular, and the British who would rather acknowledge and have a saint as the foremost adversary.
Tilak's followers, Dadasaheb Khaparde and N.C. Kelkar being the most prominent among them, supported Gandhi but none could have his say in the new order. Aurobindo Ghosh had retired to an ascetic life and Savarkar was serving two life sentences in Andaman. The Lokamanya had no worthy successor. Tilak's health continued to deteriorate rapidly at end of July 1920 and he went delirious and was unconscious for 3 days. His last words in the final momentary recovery were, "This happened in 1818 (End of Peshwai) and this in 1918. A hundred years' history - what a life of servitude...Unless Swaraj is obtained, India shall not prosper. It is necessary for our very own existence." Tilak tried to breathe life into the moribund nation through four mantras.
- Boycott of foreign goods
- National Education
- Self Government
- Swadeshi or self reliance.
He realized that mere protest against British rule was not going to help and insisted on native production and 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. It's strange that somehow the British read treason in these words.
He wrote scathing articles over inhuman punishment meted out to the nationalist youth who protested the Division of Bengal (VangaBhanga). 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. 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" At 52, a diabetic and ailing Tilak wrote his famous commentary "Geeta Rahasya" on Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred book of Hindus. He stressed that Gita taught action (karma), nothin g 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.
The following obituary was written by Gandhi after the death of Bal Gangadhar Tilak on August 1, 1920.
The following obituary was written by Gandhi after the death of Bal Gangadhar Tilak on August 1, 1920.
Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak is no more. It is difficult to believe of him as dead. He was so much part of the people. No man of our times had the hold on the masses that Mr. Tilak had. The devotion that he commanded from thousands of his countrymen was extraordinary. He was unquestionably the idol of his people. His word was law among thousands. A giant among men has fallen. The voice of the lion is hushed. What was the reason for his hold upon his countrymen? I think the answer is simple. His patriotism was a passion with him. He knew no religion but love of his country. He was a born democrat. He believed in the rule of majority with an intensity that fairly frightened me. But that gave him his hold. He had an iron will, which he used for his country. His life was an open book. His tastes were simple. His private life was spotlessly clean. He had dedicated his wonderful talents to his country. No man preached the gospel of swaraj with the consistency and the insistence of Lokamanya. His countrymen therefore implicitly believed in him. His courage never failed him. His optimism was irrepressible. He had hoped to see swaraj fully established during his lifetime. If he failed, it was not his fault. He certainly brought it nearer by many a year. It is for us, who remain behind, to put forth redoubled effort to make it a reality in the shortest possible time. Lokamanya was an implacable foe of the bureaucracy, but this is not to say that he was a hater of Englishmen or English rule. I warn Englishmen against making the mistake of thinking that he was their enemy. I had the privilege of listening to an impromptu, learned discourse by him, at the time of the last Calcutta Congress, on Hindi being the national language. He had just returned from the Congress pandal. It was a treat to listen to his calm discourse on Hindi. In the course of his address he paid a glowing tribute to the English for their care of the vernaculars. His English visit, in spite of his sad experience of English juries, made him a staunch believer in British democracy and he even seriously made the amazing suggestion that India should instruct it on the Punjab through the cinematograph. I relate this incident not because I share his belief (for I do not), but in order to show that he entertained no hatred for Englishmen. But he could not and would not put up with an inferior status for India in the Empire. He wanted immediate equality, which he believed was his country’s birthright. And in his struggle for India’s freedom he did not spare the Government. In the battle for freedom he gave no quarter and asked for none. I hope that Englishmen will recognize the worth of the man whom India has adored. For us, he will go down to the generations yet unborn as a maker of modern India. They will revere his memory as of a man who lived for them and died for them. It is blasphemy to talk of such a man as dead. The permanent essence of him abides with us forever. Let us erect for the only Lokamanya of India an im-perishable monument by weaving into our own lives his bravery, his simplicity, his wonderful industry and his love of his country. May God grant his soul peace.
Young India, 4-8-1920
This obituary appeared on the first page of Young India.