75 Yrs of Independence: Lokmanya Tilak, Beloved Leader of People

“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it!” (‘स्वराज्य हा माझा जन्मसिद्ध हक्क आहे आणि तो मी मिळवणारच’). When these words reverberated across the country, they awakened the sleeping patriotism in many souls who had given up before slavery. Because they were spoken by none other than Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak – The beloved leader of the People. 

Born to a Marathi Chiptavan Brahmin Family in a rural area of Ratnagiri district, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a prominent Indian nationalist, teacher, social reformer and journalist. He completed his Bachelors education in Mathematics and Sanskrit at Deccan College and Law degree at University of Bombay. 

His three-point programme for national awakening – Swaraj, Swadeshi and Nationalist Education – lit the fire of self-pride in every Indian heart. He founded the Deccan Education Society (1884) to inculcate young minds with nationalist thoughts and educate masses about Indian culture. 

He along with friends, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai (Lal-Bal-Pal) took the route of education, culture and media to reach out to people. 

These three initiatives brought Bal Gangadhar Tilak much closer to people through social reformation and mass mobilization. 

“Tilak is at the moment probably the most powerful man in India.”

– Edwin Samuel Montagu, British Secretary of State for India between 1917 and 1922, in An Indian Diary

  1. In 1881, he started Marathi newspaper Kesari and English newspaper Maratha, which was a hit among the public.   
  2. In the year 1894, he initiated the “Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav” celebrations in Mumbai to have cultural togetherness of all caste and community people. In 1895, he initiated the celebration of “Shiv Jayanti”, the birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji.
  3. In the year 1905, he along with other nationalist started the Swadeshi movement to boycott foreign goods and start using Indian goods. Local demand started increasing and job opportunities saw an uptrend. Creativity and promoting entrepreneurship was also a result of the Swadeshi Movement.

“The greatest Indian of the day… indomitable Tilak, who would not bend though he break.”

– Jawaharlal Nehru, in An Autobiography

In 1914, he launched the Home Rule League with the rousing slogan “Swarajya is my birthright and I will have it”. He was the first Congress leader to suggest that Hindi written in the Devanagari script be accepted as the sole national language of India.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was arrested by the British thrice on sedition charges – first with incitement to murder of Assistant Collector of Pune Mr. Rand and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and second was in 1908, for six years of rigorous imprisonment in Mandalay in Burma and in 1916, for his lectures on self-rule. In 1915, he wrote the famous ‘Gita Rahasya’ – is the analysis of Karma yoga which finds its source in the Bhagavad Gita.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak breathed his last in Bombay. His funeral at Chowpatty Beach, in a guest house called Sardar Griha – was attended by over a million people. 

“No man of our times had the hold on the masses that Mr Tilak had.”

– Mahatma Gandhi, in his obituary for Lokmanya Tilak in Young India, August 4, 1920

On 28 July 1956, a portrait of Bal Gangadhar Tilak was put in the Central Hall of Parliament House.

Image sourced from internet.