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Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was an Indian nationalist, social reformer and freedom fighter who was the first popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement. Tilak sparked the fire for complete independence in Indian consciousness, and is considered the father of Hindu nationalism as well. Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it! This famous quote of his is very popular and well-remembered in India even today. Reverently addressed as Lokmanya (meaning “Beloved of the people” or “Revered by the world”), Tilak was a scholar of Indian history, Sanskrit, Hinduism, mathematics and astronomy. He was born on July 23, 1856, in a village near Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, into a middle class Chitpavan Brahmin family. Tilak was an avid student with a special aptitude for mathematics. He was among India’s first generation of youth to receive a modern, college education. After graduation, Tilak began teaching mathematics in a private school in Pune and later became a journalist. He became a strong critic of the Western education system, feeling it demeaning to Indian students and disrespectful to India’s heritage. He organized the Deccan Education Society to improve the quality of education for India’s youth. Tilak founded the Marathi daily Kesari (The Lion) which fast became a popular reading for the common people of India. Tilak strongly criticized the government for its brutalism in suppression of free expression, especially in face of protests against the division of Bengal in 1905, and for denigrating India’s culture, its people and heritage. He demanded the British immediately give the right to self-government to India’s people. Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in the 1890s, but soon fell into opposition of its liberal-moderate attitude towards the fight for self-government. Tilak opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and was supported by fellow Indian nationalists Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. In 1907, the Congress Party split into the Garam Dal (literally, “Hot Faction”), led by Tilak, Pal and Lajpat Rai, and the Naram Dal (literally, “Soft Faction”) led by Gokhale during its convention at Surat in Gujarat. When arrested on charges of sedition in 1906, Tilak asked a young Mohammad Ali Jinnah to represent him. But the British judge convicted him and he was imprisoned from 1908 to 1914 in Mandalay, Burma. Upon his release, Tilak re-united with his fellow nationalists and re-united the Indian National Congress in 1916. He also helped found the All India Home Rule League in 1916-18 with Annie Besant and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Tilak proposed various social reforms, such as a minimum age for marriage, and was especially keen to see a prohibition placed on the sale of alcohol. His thoughts on education and Indian political life have remained highly influential – he was the first Congress leader to suggest that Hindi, written in the devanagari script, should be accepted as the sole national language of India, a policy that was later strongly endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi. However, English, which Tilak wished to remove completely from the Indian mind, remains an important means of communication in India. But the usage of Hindi (and other Indian languages) has been reinforced and widely encouraged since the days of the British Raj, and Tilak’s legacy is often credited with this resurgence. Another of the major contributions relates to the propagation of Sarvajanik (public) Ganesh festival, over 10-11 days from Bhadrapada Shukla (Ganesh) Chaturthi to (Anant) Chaturdashi (in Aug/Sept span), which contributed for people to get together and celebrate the festival and provided a good platform for leaders to inspire masses. His call for boycott of foreign goods also served to inspire patriotism among Indian masses. Tilak was a critic of Mahatma Gandhi’s strategy of non-violent, civil disobedience. Although once considered an extremist revolutionary, in his later years Tilak had considerably mellowed. He favored political dialogue and discussions as a more effective way to obtain political freedom for India, and did not support leaving the British Empire. However, Tilak is considered in many ways to have created the nationalist movement in India, by expanding the struggle for political freedoms and self-government to the common people of India. His writings on Indian culture, history and Hinduism spread a sense of heritage and pride amongst millions of Indians for India’s ancient civilization and glory as a nation. Tilak was considered the political and spiritual leader of India by many, and Gandhi is considered his successor. When Tilak died in 1920, Gandhi paid his respects at his cremation in Bombay, along with 200,000 people. Gandhi called Tilak “The Maker of Modern India”. Tilak is also today considered the father of Hindu Nationalism. He was the idol of Indian revolutionary Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who penned the political doctrine of Hindutva.
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