As different as chalk and cheese, both Gokhale and Tilak used their own ways to approach the Britishers. While Gokhale was putting across his point in the Legislatures, Tilak was organizing the movement from among the people propagating nationalist ideas across to the people. His deep insights coupled with the revolutionary intent inspired many people to join the struggle. It all started with the fight for free Press – an essential requirement in any nation. Lets find out if Lokmanya tilak was a Hindu harliner or what is Lokmanya Tilak’s contribution in Indian Freedom struggle.
Role of Lokmanya Tilak in the Struggle for a Free Press –
The luxury of reading newspapers and discussing with our peers was not something which took place in the 19th Century. The struggle for free Press began very early since almost 1824 when Raja Ram Mohan Roy began protesting for a right to free Press. This struggle continued throughout the 19th Century. The Right to Freedom of Press is a modern civil right which had attracted the political leaders of that time. Almost all of them owned their newspapers – Hindu and Swadeshamitran under G Subramania Iyer, Kesari and Mahratta under B G Tilak, Amrit Bazar Patrika under Sisir Kumar Ghosh, Voice of India under Dadabhai Naoroji etc.
Why this struggle for a free press was necessary was because this was the binding agent at that time in the sense that it could connect the whole country. Political news was not limited to only the urban educated middle class but it also spread to the rural countryside in turn laying the groundwork to spread a nationalist ideology among the people by opposing the policies framed by the government. The Press was so important as to publish the important political developments with a thorough analysis of it. Since most of the newspapers were owned by Political leaders the readers could get their perspective spreading the growth of nationalism to small towns and villages as well and not only the urban centres.
By the 1870s, they became even more powerful voicing their thoughts on the Lytton Administration and its repressive policies – from action on famines taken place to the poor condition of the people in general. The colonizers retorted back with the Vernacular Press Act, 1878 banning the publishing of newspapers in vernacular language. Of course, this was in line with the colonial mindset but what they did not anticipate was the reaction of the political leaders. Overnight, the nationalists had changed the Amrit Bazar Patrika to an English newspaper. But this was the case of only one newspaper. For a country like India, Press was the main source of news and creating a nationalist identity. Many people came out in protests and public meetings.
The man who was frequently associated with the struggle for the freedom of press was Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The author of two newspapers – Kesari and Maharatta. His words were fierce and bold attacking the colonizers with conviction for their harsh policies and nonchalant attitude.
Through Tilak’s role, let us understand the political situation at around the same time as Gokhale and try to connect the different approaches these nationalists were taking to overthrow the British rule.
Lokmanya Tilak’s Legacy –
Radical in his approach, Tilak in his early days understood the pulse of the people and believed that it was time to include all the sections of the society for the fight against the British rule. He did not join the INC till 1890 because he was opposed to their moderate policies i.e. he believed that by merely petitioning the government, one cannot achieve freedom. What is necessary for that is demonstration, agitations and all other forms of protests that include the people. It is with this in mind that he developed the revolutionary concept of spreading nationalist ideology through patriotic songs and speeches especially in Maharashtra’s famous Ganpati Puja (Festival). He even started the Shivaji society to propagate nationalism among young Maharashtrians. One can say that this was limited to one section – the Hindus mainly but it saw a lot of participation.
In 1897, a plague broke out in Pune. Despite being a vocal critic of the government policies to the victims who were suffering from plague, he helped the government staying in Pune and organized his own measures against the plague. The officers of the Plague Commission were killed by some members due to the growing resentment against them for tax policies, famine related policies and now anti-plague policies which the government indulged in. Tilak was taken in for questioning. Since no proof could come up regarding his direct involvement, he was booked under Sedition Charges which was as controversial then as now, though in the right sense. The reason the government officials decided was incitement by one of his articles which led the murderers to kill the officers. Tilak was jailed for eighteen months despite no fault of his. Throughout his trial, he was adviced by his friends to apologise, but he firmly stood the ground saying he did not want to betray the people and wanted to stand by them as a leader would. He would soon be jailed on the same charges later. We will soon realize that another great freedom fighter – M K Gandhi was to face the same charges later feeling privileged to share the same punishment as Tilak did years earlier.
His sharp criticism of the government policies by standing among the people won him a lot of support giving him the title of ‘Lokmanya’ i.e. accepted by the people as their leader. Although he was against the concept of violence, he believed that the rulers had suppressed them for a long time and in such a situation, violence was inevitable.
Many famous leaders of that time – Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipan Chandra Pal, Aurbindo Ghosh and others who were called Extremists, too realized that the moderate policies would not be effective for long and the government could be overthrown only through violence. They detested the policies but at the same time also realized that it was only the INC which was an all-India organization which linked many regions and had a wider presence. With Bengal’s partition, it became more imperative to be a larger part of INC. But, the joint partnerships between the Extremists and the Moderates as we have seen earlier did not last long. But, let us look at the point of view of the Extremists.
The Swadeshi Movement and Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism
As we have seen earlier, despite several petitions and public meetings for the authorites to notice and stop the partition, partition took place on 16 October 1905. The Moderate methods had failed and post 1905, the Extremists became dominant in Bengal led by Aurobindo Ghosh, Lala Lajpat Rai , V O Chidambaram Pillai, Tilak etc. People too slowly had come to the conclusion that moderate methods will not win them their independence and hence joined the Swadeshi Movement in large numbers. Slowly, public meetings which pledged to boycott foreign goods came to effect in Bengal where it immediately became successful. On the day of partition, many people walked from East Bengal to West Bengal and vice versa tying rakhis (sacred thread for protection). This was the first movement where almost all sections participated – all except the elite Muslims who believed that the partition would enable them to rule in East Bengal. Through agitations, demonstrations, picketing even by women, the movement spread far. The Extremists wanted to spread this movement across the country but the Moderates wanted to contain this movement in Bengal only. In 1906, Naorji gave a call for ‘Swaraj’. But, since both the groups interpreted it in different ways, it caused a lot of tension between the two groups. The Extremists then began to spread the movement to other parts. Violence became a common norm during those days in important centres. In 1907, there occurred a split in Congress in terms of ideology between the Extremists and Moderates. The Extremists came out of the Congress. This resulted in the Swadeshi movement gaining momentum in Bengal, Maharashtra and a few other places as well. By 1908, the Movement had reached such a frenzy that there were attacks on the government as well along with other forms of protest. Once again, Tilak too was jailed on charges of sedition for supporting the terrorists in his articles. This time he was jailed for six years in Mandalay. The Indian Freedom Struggle lost six years of its prime due to the split. Neither the Moderates had succeeded fully nor had the Extremists in the quest to outdo each other. They did not realize the gravity in the split then but later it was through Tilak’s active efforts that the Congress became a unit with differing ideologies which would go on to emerge as the lead organization in helping the country attain its freedom.
The Swadeshi Movement failed in two aspects – while the masses were united, the leaders were not. Lack of clear leadership was the major cause in the fizzling out of the movement. This time though the people of all sections were united. Participation of women was low but they did participate in picketing foreign liquor shops and burning of foreign goods. Muslim elites had stayed away but the Muslim peasants were very much part of the struggle. Due to the efforts of the major leaders of that time, Surendranath Banerjee, Anand Mohan Bose, Aurbindo Ghosh in Bengal there was joint effort in making the movement successful bringing in all the sections. Others like Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab , Tilak in Maharashtra etc. tried to spread the movement in their respective states.
A lot has been said about the nature of Swadeshi Movement and if the two sides hadn’t split we would probably have got our Independence early but then we wouldn’t have learnt to be plural society tolerant towards each other, believing in the power of unity if we wanted to achieve goals and the ideas of nationalism common to all sections in different regions. To a great chance, this was envisioned by Tilak after coming back from his jail term which resulted in both the groups coming together in 1916 INC Session.
The Home Rule League –
Post the jail term, Tilak tried to reach out to the Congress for an assimilation between the two groups. Moderates led by Pherozshah Mehta were not for it. There was no political activity taking place at that time. Annie Besant, an Irish national had started the Thesophical Society in Madras and began the Home Rule Movement across the country which aimed at getting self-government for the whole country. Tilak was to head the Central Provinces except for Bombay. Through the Home Rule League Movement, they could build a base among the masses in general , spreading awareness about the struggle, India’s past glory and working for the welfare of the masses. Tilak earlier had also worked among the peasants affected by the Plague as we have seen. Slowly, the movement picked up pace and many Moderate leaders too joined the Home rule Movement as Congress was not. After the death of Mehta, in the 1916 session, the INC decided through the efforts of Tilak to get back the Extremists. The other significant event was the Lucknow Pack which was signed between INC and Muslim League for the participation of Muslims as well in the struggle for freedom provided they were given separate electorates. This though later backfired on India when the Muslim League withdrew its support from major movements later in the demand for separate electorates which went on to become a separate state after Independence.
Re-imagining Tilak’s role today –
“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it” – Tilak
It was B G Tilak who was one of the first leaders to give a call for Swaraj in the early 1900’s. A visionary and a solid strategist, he knew that the freedom movement would not be successful if not for the masses. He was an exceptional leader. He believed in fighting for his rights alongside the people in the case of any event making him one of the favourite leaders of his time unlike the Moderates who were at this time too confused about their outlook towards the freedom struggle. He was a leader who had taken the initial steps in spreading the freedom movement across the country. Through his courageous, bold and fierce writing and excellent oratory skills he connected with the audience and thus played a great role in inspiring many leaders in the future.
However, his drawback was his staunch belief in Hinduism which then translated into following even social ills like Untouchability, suppression of women etc. He was skeptical of the liberal trends which had crept into the Indian society and to contain that he realized that the only way was to unite the Hindus through their traditional beliefs and thoughts. He had become a fanatic by then in the quest to unite Hindus. He opposed significant Bills like the Age of Consent Bill etc. on the grounds that they came from the British and it was not part of self- government. Another criticism he faces even today is the Shivaji festivals he organized leaving out Muslims while spreading nationalist ideology and not including them in the crucial task of nation building.
It is because of this attitude that he is not given the importance he rightly deserves in the freedom struggle. But the strategies he used was revolutionary and once removed of all the ills it faced and used in later movements making it popular forms of resistance. For example, a not well known fact is that it was Tilak who had proposed for a Working Committee within the Congress to monitor and strategize. His idea was rejected at that time but years later M Gandhi picked up on that to give the much needed authority to Congress in future freedom struggles and changing the objectives to suit the present requirements – freedom. Thus, contribution of the Extremists especially of Tilak was significant in bringing another approach to fight the British. It was the combination of the Moderates as well as the Extremists which resulted in the Swadeshi Movement emulated by other leaders also in later years.
One thing to also note is that through these various forms of struggle, people on the whole united despite the differences of caste, region, class and gender, the people could unite with the common aim of fighting the British. It had taken many years for the masses to realize that the harsh policies of the British rule was actually choking them and slowly through the active efforts of the Moderates they had realized that. With their situations degrading due to famines, droughts and no help from the government to ease their conditions, they sought to join the movement. After the realization, the masses were charged to fight the British and the Extremists provided that gateway for the action.
The freedom movement was picking up pace after a well-known figure emerged in the scene. Stay with us to know more.
How did you find the approach of the Extremists and what do you think of Lokmanya tilak’s contribution in Indian Freedom Struggle, let us know in the comment section.