Source: “Bal Gangadhar Tilak: A Sketch of His Life and Career”, Indian Biography: Volume II (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1918 [1922])

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born in 1856 as a Chitpavan Brahman. This identity was thought to be the predominant influence over his early activities. The force of the Chitpavan Brahmans’ animosity against their English rulers was reputed to have been more intense than that found elsewhere in India.

As a young man, he headed to Poona where he became the founder and proprietor of two journals, the Maratha and the Kesari. The latter was the first journal printed in the vernacular to achieve significant circulation amongst educated Indians. His earliest ideal was that English should occupy second place, if not be entirely superseded by, the Hindi vernacular in the field of education as well as the press. Though he attempted to put this ideal into practice by helping to found National Schools independent of government control, these were later suppressed.

His speeches in Congress sessions, particularly his demand that the attitude of “mendicancy” be abandoned spurred Congress into opposition against the established government. His reactionary attitude however stirred misgivings among many of the Moderates, who began to suspect that he spoke and acted not primarily as a man envisioning Indian unity but as a Brahman and Maratha.

He mainly spread his opinions through the Kesari, which brought him a large following that eventually gave him the name of Lokamanya “respected by the people.” In his early days, he worked ceaselessly to re-ignite in the Maratha people a sense of their erstwhile grandour with a vision of future independence. In 1893, he founded the Anti-Cow-Killing Society as a direct challenge to Muslims. Tilak’s speeches and writings during this period further reflected the policy of condoning, if not actually inspiring, assassination that was significant in his political career.

Jailed for sedition in 1897, Tilak emerged the leader of the extremist party in Congress upon his release. He often locked horns with the Moderates in Congress and this eventually culminated in a split in the Congress ranks in 1907, which dealt a severe blow to the ideal of Indian unity.

After a second imprisonment term, he formed a Home Rule League in 1915 and returned to Congress in 1916. In his later years, Tilak was a prime mover in effecting a stride towards Hindu-Muslim unity through the Lucknow Pact and has been credited with being the first Indian to bring political agitation to the masses. He died in 1920.

Source: Great Men of India, ed. L. F. Rushbrook Williams (The Home Library Club: 1939), 254-261

Works

Full and Authentic Report of the Tilak Trial (Bombay: N.C. Kelkar, 1908)

A Step in the Steamer (Bombay: National Bureau Office, 1918)

Bal Gangadhar Tilak: His Writings and Speeches, 3rd ed (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1922)

Ideas of IndiaIdeas of India