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Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak

A national leader who inspired and imbibed patriotism in the citizens of India, gave the concept of self-rule and raised the demand for Independent India

Birth: 23 July, 1856

Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a bright and impressive personality of the pre-independence period. He was born in Chikhalgaon in Ratnagiri. His development from Bal (child) to Lokmanya gave a new lease of life to the country.

Though named Keshav, officially too he was known by his pet name Bal. The incidence of groundnut shells where Bal stood up for the truth, his solution of solving maths problems orally rather than spoiling ones hands with chalk while writing on the blackboard, his bold questioning of his teachers of whether writing the word Sant (saint) in three different ways would change the meaning, all reveal his intellect and sharpness but at the same time his stubbornness too as a student.

Swarajya is my birth right, and I shall have it’ was a resolution that he made with supreme self-confidence, and so he developed as a free spirited individual. In college, along with academics, he was interested in acquiring physical fitness; this is probably why he was able to bear the physical and mental strain later in life. By acquiring his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1876, Masters of Arts with Mathematics, and then LLB (Bachelor of Law), Tilak completed his education and became a learned man.

Tilak had a major hand in the development of Maharashtra. He started the New English School along with Vishnushastri Chiplunkar and Agarkar in 1880, the first press by the name of AryaBhushan and newspapers like Kesari and Maratha. He also established the Deccan Education Society and Fergusson College, both of which continue to plan an important in shaping the State of Maharashtra even today.

He was of the firm opinion that the poor social conditions of the citizens was due to servitude, and without freedom these would never improve, an opinion that he propagated strongly through the Kesari. Agarkar was exactly of the opposite opinion; according to him the society needed to have social reforms before it could enjoy the freedom. This caused a difference of opinion between them, and the debate raged across the country. It led to Agarkar eventually leaving Kesari.

Tilak’s articles in Kesari and Maratha were inspiring and helped to form the opinions of the masses. His editorials in Kesari kept the readers up-to-date and alert on the social and political situation. The idea behind starting Maratha, an English newspaper, was to communicate his ideas to the British rulers and the non-Marathi speaking citizens. The nation matured through his speeches and writing, such as his article ‘Jaggery or Sugar’ on the Swadeshi struggle (to promote local goods as against imported), his writings defining education as ‘That which develops the national pride is national education’, etc. His editorial ‘Has the Government gone mad?’ after Rand’s murder roused the citizens in Maharashtra. His burning writing also influenced the revolutionaries. His writing influenced leaders like freedom fighter Veer Sawarkar, N.C. Kelkar and Comrade Dange.

His writing never used flowery, artificial language, but was to the point and always well researched. His editorial in 1900 on Professor Max Mueller became famous. In the article he stressed the importance of learning the good qualities of a genius, regardless of whether the individual is a foreigner. He was a sharp orator too. He was an excellent organizer of people, as he knew the importance of social participation. He initiated the collective celebration of ShivJayanti and Ganeshotsav to effectively bring together different elements in the society. This is but one example of the many initiatives he took to unite the society, yet demonstrative of his excellent organising skills and foresight.

His contribution to the Vangbhang movement that stated in 1906 is significant. He called for the unity of the Marathi and Bengali people to promote patriotism and light the flame of national unity. His criticism of Lord Curzon’s rule, the trinity of Lal-Bal-Pal (Lal Bahadur Shastri, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal) under the banner of Rashtriya Sabha, his long tour through Khamgao-Wardha-Nagpur-Solapur-Mumbai-Madras-Colombo, chairing the Congress Convention, establishment of Home Rule League, accusations made against him of being a traitor to the country, his imprisonment - all of this brightened his image and increased his popularity throughout the country. With the help of the four principles of Swadeshi (using local produce), Swarajya (self-rule), National Education and Boycott, he motivated the Indian people to fight the British. He also played a significant role in building and expanding the Congress. His spirit was indomitable, and he continued his work even after his return after 6 years from the Mandale prison in Brahmadesh (Burma), where he bore many hardships in a hostile climate (1908-14).

Tilak’s favourite spot was the Sinhagarh Fort. Yearning for privacy and reflection, he would often travel there to contemplate, reflect and write. Each one of this books displays a unique character: the book Orion contains knowledge of arithmetic and astrology, Aryanche Vasatisthan (where the Arya resided) displays research and analysis, GeetaRahasya written during his imprisonment in Mandale reveals his deeply philosophical thoughts.

The power of his personality, writing and oration reached the entire nation. His image that extended beyond Maharashtra gave strength to every patriot. The citizens honoured him with the title Lokmanya. At the same time, many believed him to be the cause of unrest (against the British) in the country. Tilak had long known that a nation must be restless if it is to advance. The work of his lifetime is a good manifestation of this dictum, and his story is tightly woven with story of India’s Independence.

Death: 1 August, 1920




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