Bal Gangadhar Tilak biography

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

personal details

Also known as  Lockamanya
Born  -  
July 23, 1856   
Ratnagiri, India
August 1, 1920
Mumbai, India

Spouse: Satyabhama (m. 1871–1920)
Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Parents: Paravti Bai Gangadhar, Shri Gangadhar Tilak
Education: Government Law College, Mumbai (1878–1879), Deccan College(1873–1877)


Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born on 23July 1856 at Ratnagiri in Maharashtra in a Chitpawan Brahmin family, the caste made famous by the Peshwas. His father, Gangadhar Shastri, was a school teacher who rose to become assistant deputy inspector of schools at Poona. As the only son, Tilak inherited his entire father’s property after his father’s death in 1872 and thanks to this legacy, was liberated from pecuniary anxiety during most of his life. His mother had died earlier and he was an orphan at the age of sixteen.
Tilak was educated at the Deccan College, Poona, getting his B.A. degree in 1876 with a first class with mathematics and Sanskrit as subjects and passed B.L in 1879. He chose teaching as his career in preference to legal practice. Tilak, along with Chiplunkar, Agarkar and Namjoshi, started the New English School in 1880 with nineteen students, believing that the right education was the sure panacea for the country’s ills. Within a year the school enrolment multiplied tenfold. The young teachers soon ventured into journalism and started two newspapers in January 1881, the English language weekly Mahratta, which was initially edited by Tilak and a Marathi weekly, Kesari, edited by Agarkar (1856-1895). Within a year, the fame of both the editors spread throughout Maharashtra lending them a sort of heroic trait. A lawsuit filed by the Dewan of Kolhapur for defamation sent the two editors to four months in prison in July 1882 making them martyrs in the eyes of many and thus adding to their popularity.
Encouraged by the success of the New English School, Tilak and other founders of the school decided to establish the Deccan Education Society in 1884. The aim of the society was to open a chain of schools and colleges on the lines of Christian missionaries. The most famous of the institutions started by the society was Fergusson College, named after the governor of Bombay, Sir James Fergusson, who personally laid the foundation of the college on 5 March 1885 in Poona. The college has flourished and continues to be one of the leading colleges in the country. Tilak did not favour educating girls and opposed the opening of a girl’s school in Poona in 1884 as he believed that ‘a woman’s role was to look after the house’. Tilak started teaching mathematics in Fergusson College. But soon Tilak resigned from the Deccan Education Society as well as the college due to differences with other members, especially Gokhale and Agarkar who were liberal in their thinking. After severing relations with the society, Tilak acquired the sole proprietorship of the two papers, Mahratta and Kesari and used the paper for spreading his message on various political, economic and social issues. He gained immense popularity among the masses while earning the antagonism of the government. In October 1887, Agarkar resigned as editor of Kesari due to differences with Tilak on political and social issues like child marriage and age of consent and joined the reformer group led by Ranade and Gokhale. Henceforth, Tilak took editorial charge of the Kesari also thus facing many tribulations as a result and at the same time earning fame and gratitude of the masses. In 1889, Tilak joined the Congress but found that its working was confined to a small section of the English educated elitists who lacked nationalistic spirit. “Very early in public career Tilak discovered the need for bringing a spiritual element to the politics of the country by infusing into them (sic) a religious fervor”. He also found that the Congress leaders were ignorant of the true source of popular inspiration. With that purpose in mind, Tilak started Celebrating the Ganpati festival annually from September 1893. Soon this festival became the best attended festival of western India lasting for a week; industrial and agricultural labour taking part in it in large number with enthusiasm. This gave Tilak a mass following which none of the Congress leaders Could boast of. Today this festival is celebrated throughout the country. Encouraged by the success of the Ganpati festival, Tilak and his supporters sponsored another festival, the Shivaji festival. “The integral political and religious motivation of this festival was made explicit since its inception. Its inauguration in 1896 marked the maturing and increased self-confidence of Tilak’s new party. The two festivals imparted to Hinduism a congregational character which helped to unite the masses under religious-political banner”.
Tilak’s orthodoxy came to the fore when the Age of Consent bill was moved in the Assembly by Sir Andrew Scoble. The bill proposed to raise the age for consummation of marriage from ten to twelve years for girls. Tilak vehemently opposed the Bill in an editorial in Kesari. He wrote that if the Bill was passed ‘it will damage our traditions and shastras’. By propagating such orthodox views he crossed swords with reformers like Ranade, Gokhale, Telang and the famous Sanskrit scholar R.G. Bhandarkar. Politically, also these reformers differed from Tilak. While they believed in political reforms through constitutional means, Tilak believed in militant agitation. The reformers were controlling the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha through which they were propagating their views. But in 1895, Tilak and his group seized control of the Sabha by outvoting the reformers. Tilak thus got control of a popular organization in addition to his two papers Kesari and Mahratta. The ousted reformers led by Ranade, Gokhale and their liberal allies then founded another Sabha called the Deccan Sabha,
Tilak’s next target was the National Social Conference started by Ranade in 1887 to rid the Hindu society of social evils. Its annual sessions were held along with the Congress sessions in the same venue. At the time of 1895 Congress session in Poona, Tilak opposed the holding of the Social Conference in the Congress pandal in the capacity of a secretary. “The majority of the people of Poona”, he asserted, “and I might say of the Deccan generally, are not in favour of the social reform.” He believed that social reform would distract the people from political aim _ freedom of the country. The opposition of Tilak and his men to the Social Conference compelled the reformers to erect a separate pandal on the grounds of Fergusson College. The schism between the two factions, started in 1893, kept on widening and erupted dangerously during the Surat Congress in 1907. The Congress all this time continued to be controlled by the ‘Moderates’ led by Pherozeshah Mehta and Gokhale.
Plague, the Black Death, arrived in western India in 1896 and continued its toll for over a year, affecting the business interests of the Empire. Governor Sandhurst of Bombay appointed Walter Charles Rand, the strong man, to control the epidemic in Poona. Rand acted as a dictator without any concern for the inconvenience and agony of the inhabitants. Tilak wrote against the tyrannical methods adopted by Rand in Kesari. As luck would have it, Rand was murdered in June 1897 by Damodar Chapekar. Though there was no evidence of Tilak’s hand in the murder, he was charged with seditious writings in Kesari and was sentenced to eighteen months of rigorous imprisonment. After eight months in jail, Tilak had lost twenty-five pounds and decided to appeal for clemency. He was released after one year in September 1898. After his release, he gained fame as a martyr.
The partition of Bengal in 1905 by Curzon put new life into the agitational approach for the salvation of the country. In the 1906 session of the Congress in Calcutta, Tilak, along with Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal and others succeeded in getting a resolution passed to implement a four-fold programme of Swaraj, swadeshi, boycott and national education. However, during the Surat session of 1907, the resolution was not taken up for confirmation by the moderates' led by Pherozeshah Mehta, Gokhale and others who controlled the Congress. Tilak tried to get the resolution taken up and went up the rostrum to move an amendment. All hell broke loose. Chairs and shoes were hurled at the rivals. The result was that Tilak and his followers were expelled from the Congress which proved to be a turning point in his life.
On 29 April 1908, a bomb was thrown by Khudi Ram Bose aimed at the carriage of District Judge Kingsford at Muzaffarpur. But it killed two English ladies who happened to be in the carriage. Tilak wrote an article ‘The Country’s Misfortune’ in Kesari of 12 May 1908, in which he dealt with the Muzaffarpur incident describing it as the result of exasperation of the people who were subjected to repression by the ruling power." Soon, Tilak was arrested in Bombay on charge of sedition. He was tried by the jury and was sentenced to six years imprisonment. He was shipped to Mandalay jail in Burma where he languished. The news of Tilak’s conviction spread throughout the city. The labour class who had been participating enthusiastically in Ganpati and Shivaji festivals and were his devoted followers struck work in scores of mills. The cloth, grain, freight and stock markets were closed down. This was the first mass political strike in recent Indian history and a dramatic demonstration of Tilak’s influence on the masses. While he was in jail, his name was on the lips of every Maratha in the Deccan and his portrait was hung in countless houses like a deity.
Tilak returned from Mandalay jail in June 1914 after serving a full term of his imprisonment, If in 1898 he had returned from prison a martyred hero, with his restoration to India in June 1914, he appeared to his followers as little less than the reincarnation of a deity". After a briefest, he again plunged into active politics. He started a new movement under the banner of the Home Rule League in April, 1916; Annie Besant also started a Home Rule league later in the same year. The two leagues did not merge but worked in cooperation with each other, demarcating the territory of their work; Tilak confining his activities to the Deccan and northwest while Besant operating in the rest of India. Tilak took whirlwind tour of the territory making the slogan Freedom is my birthright and I must have it' popular throughout the country.
In 1916, another sedition case was filed against Tilak for delivering speeches during his tour to explain the meaning of Home Rule. M.A. Jinnah defended him as his counsel; the case was ultimately withdrawn by the Bombay high court. Thus Jinnah earned the gratitude of Tilak which he encashed during the 1916 Congress session. The Lucknow session of the Congress in December 1916 proved to be a turning point in the history of the country as the notorious Lucknow Pact between Congress and the Muslim League was signed during the joint session. The Pact bestowed on the Muslims a separate electorate (only Muslims electing Muslim legislators for the assemblies) and weightage in councils and other bodies, thus converting an insignificant minority, into effective minority in the Muslim minority provinces. There was a strong reaction to these clauses from a section of the Congress leaders. Strangely, Tilak a person who was the father of militant Hindu nationalism, defended the Pact and silenced its critics. Tilak said, “It has been said gentlemen by some that we Hindus have yielded too much to our Mohemmedan brethren. I am sure I represent the sense of the community all over India when I say that we would not care if the rights of self-government were granted to the Mohemmedan community only -- Then the fight will be between them and other sections of the community and not as at present a triangular fight”. C.S. Ranga Iyer, who was in close touch with Tilak during the time, later observed that Tilak would not listen to any argument against the pact. The pact was drafted by Jinnah who was masquerading as a nationalist at the time. A political blunder of high magnitude was thus committed by Tilak. The British parliament recognized the Lucknow Pact as the only agreement between Hindus and Muslims and put their seal on the sinister provisions of the pact in the Acts of 1919 and 1935. Once the basis of the division of the electorates was accepted, the recognition of the division of the country was inevitable.
Before the Lucknow session, the Congress united once again. The ‘moderate’ leaders like Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta were dead by that time. Tilak and his followers were now controlling the destiny of the Congress. However, Tilak was more interested in propagating the message of Home Rule League for which he had toured the country. Now he wanted to explain it to the British people. He also wanted to file a libel case against a British author and journalist, Valentine Chirol, who in his book Indian Unrest had blamed Tilak for subversive activities. Tilak sailed for London late in September 1918 accompanied by Namjoshi, legal adviser Karandikar and Vasukaka Joshi. Tilak used his stay for meeting influential people who were considerate to Indian aspirations, especially those in the Labour Party. But the libel case dragged on and ultimately Tilak lost the case and had to pay a heavy fee to British solicitors and counsel. In addition, he had to pay the costs of Chirol’s defence. Tilak was now financially ruined for the first time in his life and had to pawn everything to raise money. He was stranded abroad, draining the reservoir of his remaining energy in a hostile environment. “Gray robed with gray shadows of death already upon him, to me Tilak in London is a tragic memory”, wrote Sarojini Naidu who was in London at the time. Tilak stayed in London for thirteen months and returned to India in December, 1919 a dejected man. He was to live only seven more months.
Immediately after returning from England, Tilak attended the Amritsar session of the Congress (December 1919). There he came to know about the Reforms Act of 1919 which gave a little more share of administration of the country to the Indians. Tilak immediately wired the government declaring his ‘responsive cooperation’ during the implementation of the Act. He seemed to have veered towards the policies advocated by the ‘moderates’ all these years. He did not live long to implement this policy. Soon, Gandhi emerged as the leader of the Congress and started the Non-Cooperation movement on 1 August 1920. The same day Tilak died of high fever caused by malaria and later pneumonia. He was cremated in Bombay’s Back Bay cremation ground. Gandhi, Lajpat Rai, Kitchlu, Shaukat Ali, N.C. Kelkar were among a crowd of leaders who walked as part of the two-mile-long procession as pallbearers.
The Tilak was short, dark, stout and remarkably physically fit. He used to shave his head except for the long tuft. He had a thick bushy moustache, ‘which stood out in his portraits’. His short stature was not the only Firing the similarity with Napoleon Bonaparte. Like Napoleon, he was a man determined to lead. His remarkable fortitude and courage would have singled him out as a mover of the masses in any country. He was, as Gokhale said of him, “the kind of man who in the days before British rule, would have carved out an Indian kingdom for himself”.
Tilak has left three important books for the generations to come. The first one was OrionResearches into the Antiquity of the Vedas published in especially 1893. In it Tilak used astronomical data recorded in the Rig Veda to establish its antiquity which he pushed back to 8000 BC. The book received praise from Max Muller and others and established Tilak as a serious Sanskrit scholar. His second book was Arctic Home in the VedasA New Key to the Interpretation of Many Texts and Legends. In this book reservoir Tilak used geology instead of astronomy to prove the Polar attributes of Vedic deities. The book was completed in 1901 but was published in 1903. Tilak’s most ambitious and important book remains Gita Rahasya (secret meaning of the Gita), which he wrote during prison life in Mandalay. Through the book, Tilak tried to teach the doctrine of karma yoga, the religion of action. It is still considered as one of the best commentaries of the Gita. Though the book was completed in 1910 it was published in 1915 in Poona. While books were-written in English, Gita Rahasya was in Marathi, and has been translated into English and many Indian languages.
Tilak had forestalled Gandhi in all the movements which Gandhi launched –no-rent campaign, boycott of government service, swadeshi, national education etc. In 1921, someone sent an anonymous letter to Gandhi praising him for toeing Tilak’s line in fighting for India’s freedom and at the same time called him an imposter for claiming that he was a disciple of Gokhale, which provoked Gandhi to write a reply in his paper Young India. In his reply Gandhi praised Tilak saying that: “Of all the men of modern times, he captivated most the imagination of his people. He breathed into us the spirit of Swaraj. And in all humility, I claim to deliver his message to the country as truly as the best of his disciples. But I am conscious that method is not Mr. Tilak’s method”. Be as it may with the death of Tilak passed away an era in Indian history. It was the turn of his disciple Gandhi to take over.

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