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Bal Gangadhar Tilakt

Ba-l. Gan.ga-dhar T.il.ak (July 23, 1856 - August 1, 1920), was an Indian nationalist, social reformer and freedom fighter who was the first popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement and is known as "Father of the Indian unrest." Tilak was one of the first and strongest proponents for Swaraj ( complete independence) in Indian consciousness, and is considered the father of Hindu nationalism as well. His famous quote, "Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it!" is well-remembered in India even today. Reverently addressed as Lokmanya (meaning "Beloved of the people" or "Revered by the world"), Tilak was a scholar of Indian history, Sanskrit, Hinduism, mathematics, law and astronomy.

Political career

Tilak founded the Marathi daily Kesari (Lion) in 1880. In just two years 'Kesari' attracted more readers than any language news papers in India. The editorials gave a vivid picture of the people's sufferings and of actual happenings. They called upon every Indian to fight for his right. The language was so sharp as to create in the most cowardly reader the thirst for freedom. Tilak used to say to his colleagues: "You are not writing for the university students. Imagine you are talking to a villager. Be sure of your facts. Let your words be clear as day light." Tilak strongly criticized the government for its brutality in suppressing 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 that the British immediately give Indians the right to self-government.

Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in the 1890s, but soon fell into opposition of its liberal-moderate attitude towards the fight for self-government.In 1891 Tilak opposed the Age of Consent bill introduced after the death of a child bride from sexual injuries. The act raised the marriageable age of a child bride from 10 to 12 which was already 16 in Britain since 1885. This was one of the first significant reforms introduced by the British since Indian rebellion of 1857. The Congress and other liberals whole-heartedly supported it but Tilak raised a battle-cry terming it as "interference in Hindu religion." Since then he was seen as a hard-core Hindu nationalist. When, in 1897, bubonic plague spread from Bombay to Pune the Government became jittery. The Assistant Collector of Pune, Mr. Rand, and his associates employed extremely severe and brutal methods to stop the spread of the disease by destroying even "clean homes." Even people who were not infected were carried away and in some cases, the carriers even looted property of the affected people. When the authorities turned a blind eye to all these excesses, furious Tilak took up the people's cause by publishing inflammatory articles in his paper Kesari, quoting the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, to say that no blame could be attached to anyone who killed an oppressor without any thought of reward. Following this, on 27 June, Rand and his assistant were killed. Tilak was charged with incitement to murder and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment. When he emerged from prison, he had become a national hero and adopted a new slogan, "Swaraj (Self-Rule) is my birth right and I will have it."

Tilak opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and was supported by fellow Indian nationalists Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. They were referred to as the Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate. In 1907,the annual session of the Congress Party was held at Surat (Gujarat). Trouble broke out between the moderate and the extremist factions of the party over the selection of the new president of the Congress and the party split into the Garam Dal ("Hot Faction," or extremists), led by Tilak, Pal and Lajpat Rai, and the Naram Dal ("Soft Faction," or moderates). Tilak as well as Gopal Krishna Gokhale regarded this as a 'catastrophe' for the nationalist movement and Tilak did his best to avoid it. But it was too late and older moderates were glad to get rid of the troublemakers(extremists). H.A.Wadya, one of the closest associate of Sir Pherozshah Mehta, wrote ' The union of these men with the Congress is the union of a diseased limb to a healthy body and the only remedy is surgical severence '.

On 30 April 1908 two Bengali youths, Prafulla Chaki and Kudiram Bose, threw a bomb on a carriage at Muzzafurpur in order to kill a District Judge Douglass Kenford but erroneously killed some women travelling in it. While Chaki committed suicide when caught, Bose was tried and hanged. British papers screamed for vengeance and their shrill cries became even more insistent when Police raided and found a cache of arms at Calcutta. But Tilak in his paper Kesari defended the revolutionaries and called for immediate Swaraj or Self-rule. The Government swiftly arrested him for sedition. He asked a young Muhammad Ali Jinnah to represent him. But the British judge convicted him and he was imprisoned from 1908 to 1914 in Mandalay, Burma.

Upon his release, Tilak re-united with his fellow nationalists and re-joined the Indian National Congress in 1916. He also helped found the All India Home Rule League in 1916-18 with Annie Besant and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Tilak, who started his political life as a Maratha Protagonist, during his later part of life progressed into a fine nationalist after his close association with Bengal nationalists following the partition of Bengal. When asked in Calcutta whether he envisioned a Maratha type of government for Free India, Tilak replied that the Maratha dominated Governments of 16th and 17th centuries were outmoded in 20th century and he wanted a genuine federal system for Free India where every religion and race were equal partners. Only such a form of Government would be able to safe-guard India's freedom he added

Later years and legacy



Tilak was a critic of Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of non-violence, civil disobedience. Although once considered an extremist revolutionary, in his later years Tilak had considerably mellowed. He favored political dialogue and discussions as a more effective way to obtain political freedom for India. His writings on Indian culture, history and Hinduism spread a sense of heritage and pride amongst Indians for India's ancient civilization and glory as a nation. Some consider Tilak as the spiritual and political leader of Mahatma Gandhi. But Gandhi himself considered Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a contemporary of Tilak, as his political mentor. When Tilak died in 1920, Gandhi paid his respects at his cremation in Bombay, along with 200,000 people. Gandhi called Tilak "The Maker of Modern India". Tilak is also today considered the father of Hindu Nationalism. He was the idol of Indian revolutionary Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who penned the political doctrine of Hindutva.
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