Keshav Gangadhar Tilak was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1856 in a middle-class family. India, in those times, was under the cleverly managed British rule. Indians were unaware of the deceits and lies of the British government and the suffering that was imposed on them by the Queen’s rule.
Tilak was one of the very first generations of Indians to earn college education when he earned bachelor’s degree in mathematics and sanskrit from the Poone’s (now Pune) Deccan College. He went on to get a law degree from the University of Bombay in 1879 but instead of practising law he went on to teach mathematics at a private school.
His foray into politics started with the founding of Deccan Education Society (1984), which was aimed at providing education to masses. There weren’t many Indians in those times which considered good education as necessary and this society served to divert their attention towards education.
After finding out that many members of the society were using corrupt practices he left the society and went on to open two weekly newspapers Kesari (in Marathi) and Mahratta (in English). This was perhaps the first time that British started taking note of him as he started criticising their rule over India. He was one of the very firsts to take note of how the British were oppressing the indians and that a strong united India was necessary to repel this regime.
He sought to unite India under Hindu religion and advocate the rights of Indian individuals. There are two things to note here: 1. He was not necessarily advocating independence and 2. His act alarmed quite a few Muslims. The Muslim issue was resolved later resolved in the Lacknow Pact with Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
His exploits caught the attention of the British government which sent him to jail in 1897. It was in this period that people started calling him Lokmanya (accepted by people) Tilak.
After returning from his term he sought to persuade the National Congress Party to take bigger attempts against British government, which turned out to be largely futile. The British government later on exploited this split within the party and prosecuted Tilak again in 1907 and sent him to Mandalay (now Myanmar) for a six-year term. It was here in the prison that he wrote Bhagwat Geeta Rahasya which sold many copies and helped fund the nationalist movement.
He was released in 1914 and again took to politics but this time sought to maintain party unity. He opposed Gandhi’s non-violence policy as he was of the opinion that use of force is necessary wherever needed. His health deteriorated after a few years and on August 1, 1920 he breathed his last, giving birth to the Indian Independence movement.
The independence of India is largely credited to Gandhi’s non-violence movement but it is important to remember that Tilak was the one to foresee it, when nobody else did. One of the greatest visionaries of India, he was the one to call for boycott on Foreign goods, an idea later carried on Gandhi. Tilak relentlessly pursued the Independence agenda and looked beyond himself towards what he believed was the best for the country. He did not accept non-violence, but he never advocated violence. When started, he was largely alone in his fight but went on nevertheless.
Mahatma Gandhi called him “the Maker of Modern India” and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, called him “the Father of the Indian Revolution”.
Last but not the least, no mention of Tilak would be proper without his famous line which inspired millions: “Swarajya ha maza janmasiddha hakka ahe ani to mi milavnarach!” (“Swarajya is my birthright and I shall have it!”)
Title image: Wikimapia