Born on July 23,1856 in Ratnagiri district, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was one of the most dashing leaders of political India during its pre-independence years. He came to be called 'Lokmanya'. With a graduation certificate from the Deccan College of Poona, he began his public career by setting up the New English School at Poona. As Tilak believed in the power of education to serve the masses he became the founder-editor of the journals, Mahratta in English and Kesari in Marathi. After joining the Indian National Congress in 1891 he moved an Arms Act resolution at its annual conference for modifying the resolutions governing gun prohibition and Indians' involvement in the military.
He worked to increase focus on political rather than social reforms. His agitations against the foreign rulers focused on the British divide and rule programme and their partisanship towards the Muslims, their land revenue policies and their corrupt administration. He also took over the Sarvajanik Sabha from the moderate leadership. To foster Indians' sense of pride, he began celebrating the Ganapati Pooja festival and the Shivaji festival with great pomp.
Tilak was imprisoned in 1897 for 18 months and again m 1908 for six years, during which time he penned down his thoughts on the Bhagavad Gita to produce the Gitarahasya. To advance India's cause, he founded the Home Rule League in 1916. In the same year, he helped in ushering in the Lucknow Pact between the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League. He lent support to Gandhi's programmes including the Non-Cooperation Movement. His efforts led to the passing of a resolution for responsible cooperation with the administration on the Reforms Act at the Amritsar Congress in 1919.
Tilak joined Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal to constitute the triad 'Lai, Bal, Pal' which encouraged Swadeshi, national education, boycott of foreign products and swaraj. Tilak is associated with the slogan, 'Swaraj is my birthright and I will have it'. For Tilak, the term 'swaraj' implied the people's divine right to remove bad rulers. It also implied that the people and the rulers must have a common country, race or religion. Tilak stated that swaraj further meant a well- governed system for the peoples' welfare which is set up by and accountable to them alone. According to Tilak, 'swaraj' did not possess a political meaning only; its spiritual significance was in that it represented a life centred in self and relying on self. Its significance was not limited to this life but extended in the life to follow.
Tilak's concept of nationalism stemmed from his pride in India's past and the impact of western learning and sciences on him. His realisation of the need for a political movement that would unite the country transcending all barriers and the exploitation of the Indians under the British also contributed to his nationalism. In truth, his concept put together the spiritual unity of the Vedanta ideal and nationalism as expounded by western thinkers.
He identified the driving force of nationalism as pride in the country's legacy and unity. A common religion or language furthers oneness among the people and this oneness can be strengthened by symbols such as flags, celebration of festivals, etc. Tilak aroused national feelings considerably by means of his publications, for western education had taught him to value press freedom, individual freedom and free political expression and organisation.
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