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Birth Anniversary – Bal Gangadhar Tilak – “The Maker of Modern India”

On 23rd July, 1856, a son was born to Sanskrit Scholar and teacher Gangadhar Tilak and Parvatibai at Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, who would go on to become the biggest throne to the British rule in India. He was born as Keshav Gangadhar Tilak but would later on be recognised as Bal Gangadhar Tilak or Lokmanya (accepted leader of the masses) Tilak. He went on to become the first National leader to lead the Independence movement in India.

Tilak lost his father at the age of 16. Just a few months before the death of his father, he had got married to Tapibai, whose name was later changed to Satyabhamabai. He completed his Bachelors Degree in Sanskrit and Mathematics from Deccan College, Pune in 1876 securing a First Class and went on to complete law from the University of Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1879. He started his career as a school teacher in Pune, teaching Mathematics. This place became the foundation ground for him to start his political career.

Due to ideological differences with his school colleagues, he quit the job and started work as a journalist. He was the founder of the Marathi newspaper Kesari in 1880, which became his first forum to express his opposition to the British Empire; this newspaper is still published till today. He advocated for the improvement of the educational standards of the Indians and along with few of his college friends, he started a Secondary Education School in 1880. The school was so successful that it laid the foundations for setting up the Deccan Education Society in the year 1884. This institution laid stress on educating young Indians, building an innate sense of nationalism within them and making them aware of the richness of Indian culture. Through the effort of this society, the Fergusson College was set up in Pune in 1885 for post-secondary education, where Tilak taught mathematics till 1890.

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In 1890, Tilak left the Deccan Education Society to focus on a wider nationalistic goal of raising the masses to conduct a movement for independence through religious and cultural revival. Ganesh Chaturthi, as a mass festival, was started by Tilak in 1893 – this till date is the biggest religious festival dedicated to Lord Ganesha, in not only Maharashtra but the entire country. He also restarted the celebration of Shivaji’s birthday in 1895, as the legendary warrior was an inspiration to people craving for independence.

Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in 1890 and introduced the concept of Swaraj (self-rule) against the British. His legendary line “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it” reverberated across the country and raised the spirits of every nationalist fighting the battle for independence. He co-established the Bombay Swadeshi Stores along with Jamshed Tata for promoting national products and linked it to the national movement for independence. He encouraged the boycott of British products and also of Indians, who used those products.
The Britishers were very wary of Tilak and dubbed him “The Father of Indian Unrest”. They tried to stop him multiple times by bringing in sedition charges against him thrice and jailing him – the last stint was a jail term of six years at Mandalay Jail in Burma (now Myanmar). This was where his health deteriorated severely and he even developed Diabetes.

Tilak had opinion differences with Mahatma Gandhi, he did not advocate the path of Total Non-Violence that was being propagated by Gandhi and instead wanted to seek Swarajya through all available means. However, Gandhi had huge respect for Tilak and in fact he conferred him with the title of “The Maker of Modern India”.

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Another Indian whom Tilak greatly admired and respected was Swami Vivekananda – it was a mutual admiration society. In an accidental meeting on a train in 1892, the two decided to work fervently on building Nationalism amongst Indians – Tilak would do it in the ‘Political sphere’ whereas Swami Vivekananda would do it in the “Religious arena”. On Swamiji’s premature demise in 1893, Tilak was deeply saddened and paid glowing tributes to the saint in his publication “Kesari”.

During his last years, he cofounded the All India Home Rule League with Annie Besant in the year 1916, which worked tirelessly throughout the country for establishing Home Rule. To further this cause, the Congress Democratic Party was also established by him in April 1920. However, he passed away on 1st August 1920 after contracting Pneumonia.

Let us pay our reach tributes to this legendary educationist, reformer, freedom fighter and the person who shaped Modern India, on his 164th Birth Anniversary.

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