“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it!”, the powerful slogan that inculcated a political conscience among Indians regarding self-rule.His famous declaration served as an inspiration for future revolutionaries during India’s struggle for freedom.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born on July 23, 1856, at Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, in a middle-class family. Soon after his graduation, Tilak developed a serious concern for the social and political problems of his day. He wanted to reform the system of education introduced by the British and started a society to spread education in Maharashtra.
But his restless mind could not remain limited to one field. He soon ventured into journalism and started a Marathi paper, Kesari. He passionately wrote for reforming the Indian society. On the problem of untouchability he wrote, “I would not recognise even God ,if he said that untouchability was ordained by him.”
Tilak gave trisutri or three-point programme for national awakening – Swaraj, Swadeshi and Nationalist Education based on vernacular.
This helped the realisation of self-pride and activism in a nation that was culturally suppressed by the British under the narrative of Whiteman’s burden.
He was also conferred with the title of “Lokmanya“, which means “accepted by the people (as their leader)” .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’ and the British Government termed him as the “Father of Indian Unrest”. Moreover Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of Swaraj.
Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in 1890. He opposed its moderate attitude, especially towards the fight for self-government. He was one of the most-eminent radicals at the time.
Despite being personally opposed to early marriage, Tilak was against the 1891 Age of Consent bill, seeing it as interference with Hinduism and a dangerous precedent. The act raised the age at which a girl could get married from 10 to 12 years. He formed a close alliance with many Indian National Congress leaders including Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghose, and many more . Switching to Extremism Phase, The founding of the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885 was aided by the British, under the narrative of safety-value theory.
As a follow-up to that, the voice of INC was weak and subdued. Early leadership of INC was mainly focused on 3Ps: Prayer, Petition and Protest.
Along with two other congress leaders, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal (popularly known as Lal, Bal and Pal), he started the extremist phase of INC, which focused on mass mobilisation of masses.
The trio of Lal-Bal-Pal , along with Aurobindo Ghose, became popular as “extremists”, though they preferred to call themselves “nationalists”.
On June 24, 1903, an arrest warrant was served on Tilak in Bombay. The historic trial of Tilak on charges of sedition began on July 13. He was convicted and deported to Mandalay, Burma, where he was to spend the next 11 years of his life. On hearing the verdict, Tilak defiantly 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 things and it may be the will of providence that the cause which I represent may prosper more by my suffering than by my remaining free.”
In Mandalay, Tilak soon settled himself into the routine of writing and thinking. The man of action absorbed himself in reading, in learning new things and in contemplating on the true message of the Gita.
On June 8, 1914, Tilak was informed that his exile was over. He was then 58, and his health was broken, but his spirit was unbowed. On his return to India, he resumed his political activities.
Tilak started the Swadeshi movement ,which was not just about boycotting British goods, but 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. This can be termed as reminiscent of the Make in India Program, in present times.
For him, Swaraj or Home Rule meant the rule of, and the rule for, the common people of India. However, he also had a blueprint of an independent India in mind.
For him, swaraj was also linked 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. Thus, in this historical panorama, we can see one great man after another coming and performing acts of destiny and history which have cumulatively led to the achievement of India’s freedom.
Tilak was the tallest of the leaders of his generation who prepared the nation for the trials and triumphs of the Gandhian era. 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.
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 (Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat) are the features of Tilak’s strategy and they continue to be relevant even today.