Dr.Vandana Arora

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Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of Swaraj (“self-rule”) and a strong radical in Indian consciousness. He is known for his quote in Marathi, “सससससससस सस सससस ससससससससस सससस ससस ससस सस सस सससससससस” (“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it!”) in India. Tilak was considered a radical Nationalist but a Social conservative. At one stage in his political life he was called “the father of Indian unrest” by the British authorities. Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in 1890. 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. They were referred to as the “Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate”. He also helped found the All India Home Rule League in 1916–18, After years of trying to reunite the moderate and radical factions, he gave up and focused on the Home Rule League, which sought self-rule.


Learning objectives :

  • This module deals with political thought of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. After going through this one should be able to understand.
  • Tilak contribution to the Indian national movement His Political Thought
  • Action of plan: Theory of Protest


Key words :






The nationalist movement was articulated differently in different phases of 1ndia’s freedom struggle. Apart from ideological shifts, there were noticeable differences in the social background of those who participated in the struggle against the British. For instance, the Gandhian phase of Indian nationalism, also known as the phase of mass nationalism, radically altered the nature of the constituencies of nationalism by incorporating the hitherto neglected sections of Indian society. It would not be an exaggeration to mention that Indian masses regardless of religion, class and caste plunged into action in response to Gandhi’s anti-British campaign. That Gandhi had inaugurated a completely new phase in Indian freedom struggle can easily be shown by contrasting it with its earlier phases, namely, the moderate and extremist phases. In contemporary historiography, ‘the Moderate’ phase begins with the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and continued till the 1907 Surat Congress ‘the Extremists’ appeared on the political scene.


The basic differences between these two groups lay in their perception of anti-British struggle and its articulation in concrete programmes. While the Moderates opposed the British in a strictly constitutional way the Extremists favoured ‘a strategy of direct action’ to harm the British economic and political interests in India. By dwelling on what caused the dissension among those who sincerely believed in the well-being of the country, the aim of this unit is to focus on the political thought of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and his theory of protest.





Bal Gangadhar Tilak, is popularly called as Lokmanya (respected by the people), was born in a middle class Chitpavan Brahman family in Ralnagiri district on 23 July 1856 . From his teacher-father he inherited his love for Sanskrit, which gave him a deep respect for the ancient religion and traditions of the country. As the Maratha rule was the last viable native regime in India to be extinguished by the British, he was roused to thinking about India’s national independence. He resolved to devote his life to the cause of education, which he felt was the best way of serving the people. After graduating from Deccan College, Poona, in 1876, he, along with some co-patriots, started his public career by launching New English School, Poona, an English-language weekly, Mahratta, and a Marathi weekly, Kesari. His editorship of these journals made Tilak deeply involved in the social and political affairs of Maharashtra and Western India. In Kesari, he developed his unique style of communicating ideas, which was both forceful and homely, and full of allusions to Sanskrit, regional lore and history.



Tilak’s main concern in life was to political emancipation of India, however neither he was realist (like Hobbs or Machiaveli) nor he was able to conceptualize his ideas in some theory. Infact his ideas remained scattered throughout his speeches and writings. His political philosophy was mainly a result of reaction to particular circumstances or condition prevalent during his time.


Political ideas of Tilak:


Tilak firmly believed that state and king must exist for the development and survival of man. He was ardent supporter of rule of law and democracy. He argued,” to give authority into people’s hand is the best principle of administration.” 1


Again, Tilak believed that king and the people had obligations toward each other. He gave the concept of Pragadroha which meant the crime of treason by the king to the people and argued that Pragadroha did not find place. 2


Philosophical foundation of Tilak’s political thought Swaraj:


Tilak was a practical politician and his political philosophy is a unique blend of Indian value system and western liberalist.


Tilak’s political ideas were formulated during his political career as a national leader of India’s freedom movement during 1885-1920. So, to understand the character of his political thought it is necessary to briefly review his political career and to trace the influences upon it.


The issues that were singled out by Tilak were Commissioner Crawford’s corrupt administration, the iniquitous system of land revenue, the British policy of divide and rule and the British partisanship towards the Muslims.


During the nineties, Tilak participated actively in the annual conferences of the Indian National Congress. At the 1891 annual conference, he moved the resolution on the Arms Act, which demanded changes in the gun prohibition regulations and called for more Indian participation in the military.


His first significant political move was to relegate the issue of social reform to the background in favour of political reform for which he led agitations against the British rulers. In order to make the Congress concentrate on political reforms (rather than on social reforms) in 1895, he succeeded in separating the annual meetings of the Social Conference and the Indian National Congress, which used to meet consecutively at the same venue and with several common delegates.


From 1898 to 1908, Tilak was at the peak of his political career as a national leader. He (along with Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab and Bipin Chandra Pal of Bengal) constituted the national leadership triad, which was referred to as ‘Lal, Bal, Pal’. Bal, (i.e., Bal Gangadhar Tilak) popularized a four-fold programme of action for the annulment of the partition of Bengal, namely,


1 Bal Gangadar Tilak, his writings and speeches page 119.


2   Samargra Lokmanya Tilak, volume 5(Poona : Kesri Parkashan, 1976) Page 157.


Swaraj   i.e    self-government,

Swadeshi  i.e  resort to the use of Indian goods,

Bahishkar i.e     boycott of foreign goods  and

rashtriya shikshan i.e national education.


In his whirlwind tour of the country, he came to be identified with his famous slogan, ‘Swaraj is my birthright and I will have it.’


Tilak wrote Gitarahasya, a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. In it he analysed the teachings of the Gita, comparing it with other Indian and Western schools of thought. He also exhorted the people to lead an activist, humanist life and to follow karmayoga, i.e., the way of work or the performance of duties in a spirit of selflessness. He started a Home Rule League, along the lines of the Irish Home Rule Movement, in order to further the cause of India’s self-rule. He also played a leading role in bringing about the 1916 Lucknow Pack between the Congress and the Muslim League.


Tilak was also an early advocate of the swadeshi movement against Britain’s economic domination. His death on 1 August 1920 closed an era in Indian national movement.




Tilak recognised four connotations of the term swaraj. First, it means that the ruler and the people are of the same country, religion or race. Second, it refers to a well-governed state or a system of rule of law. Third, it means a government promoting the well-being of the people. The fourth connotation, for which Tilak had his strongest preference, was that of a government elected by and responsible to the people.


Tilak supported the right of the people to participate in the government of their country. According to Tilak, a democratic government, by its very nature, is bound to promote the people’s welfare. He opined that the ideal of democratic polity would be better served if political science were to be re-designated rajanitishastra (theory of political morality). He maintained that as Indians were suffering from the harmful effects of British rule and had become aware of the advantages of democracy, the time was ripe for Indian nationalism and swaraj.


Swaraj, for Tilak, had not only a political connotation (i.e., Home Rule) but also a moral/spiritual connotation (i.e., self-control and inner freedom). He described swaraj in the following words:


It is a life centered in self and dependent upon self. There is swaraj in this world as well as in the world hereafter. The Rishis who laid down the law of duty took themselves to forests, because the people were already enjoying swaraj or people’s domination which was administered and defended in the first instance by the Kshatriya kings. It is my conviction, it is my thesis, that swaraj in the life to come cannot be the reward of a people who have not enjoyed it in this world.


At the Lucknow Congress of 1916, Tilak raised the now-famous slogan ‘Swaraj is the birthright of Indian.’ In the same year, he and Annie Besant started Home Rule League.


Tilak was also opposed to the utilitarian ethics as formulated in Bentham’s principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number.He considered the same to be very vague, as pointed out by Tilak, How is ‘greatest’ , happiness to be determined? Is the quantity of happiness to be preferred to its quality or vice versa? In cases of conflict over the empirical determination of the principle, whose opinion is to prevail? In place of the utilitarian formula. Tilak favoured the Good of All principle contained in the Vedas and the Bhagwad Gita. In bringing society to the latter principle, he assigned a special role to spiritual leaders or yogis. He maintained that the dichotomy between the interests of the self and those of others had to be overcome by subordinating the former to the latter. This, he believed, can be done by inculcating in the individual the virtues of kindness, prudence, foresight, bravery, fortitude, forebearance, self-control, etc. Bodily pleasures, he pointed out, are fleeting, while spiritual happiness is superior and lasting. In other words, inner happiness is superior to external happiness.


Hence, according to him, a person’s conduct is to be evaluated not merely on the basis of its outward effects but-also on the basis of the inner motives and feelings.


Like Kant, Tilak gave importance to reason. According to him, one whose reason is absolute and pure cannot sin. Pure reason and equanimity to all beings make one’s conduct morally good.


He emphasized the spiritual freedom of the individual, basing it on the Vedanta philosophy of non-dualism.


In keeping with the political thought of the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Shukraniti and Kamandaka Nitisara, Tilak asserted that it was the duty of the king to promote the welfare of the people. After tracing the term swarajm (self-rule) to the Vedas, he pointed out that since the people have the essence of God in them, they have the right to remove oppressive rulers. He firmly believed in the divine right of the people to hold their rulers accountable to themselves.


Tilak believed that Hindu philosophy was superior to other philosophies and religions.i,’ he wrote, ‘is a permanent, undauntable religion and the Blessed Lord has not felt the necessity for Hindus to rely on any other book, or religion.’ According to Vedanta philosophy, reality is ultimately non-dualistic and man’s final goal is to become one with the Paramatman, the Absolute Self. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that man can and must achieve this self-fulfilment through karmayoga, i.e., through a life dedicated to the performance of one’s duties in this world, in a self-less or disinterested manner, for loksamgraha (well-being of all). This karmayoga ethic, Tilak asserted, is superior to materialistic or hedonistic ethics. The latter justifies a model of politics centred on the pursuit of self-interest. The former entails a conception of spiritualised politics.


Tilak divided hedonistic philosophers into three categories, viz., (i) the advocates of self-interest; (ii) the advocates of enlightened self-interest; and (iii) the proponents of the compatibility of self-interest with common interests. He had the least esteem for the first category, which included Charvaka, Jabali (of the Ramayana) and Kanikaniti (of the Mahabharata).


Tilak’s conception of Indian nationalism was an amalgam of diverse strands of thought pride in the legacy of ancient India; appreciation of the role of British rule in bringing about the political and administrative unification of the country; appreciation of Western learning and science; recognition of economic exploitation by foreign rulers; and the recognition of the need to form a national political movement of the people across the barriers of race, caste, religion and sex.


Tilak thought of nationalism as operating at two levels—the regional and the national. He believed that a regional historical hero or a regional religious symbol could concretize the national sentiment in the people. As he matured as a national leader, the countrywide strand of his idea of Indian nationalism engulfed and assimilated the regional strand.


Although he remained a devout Hindu and gave priority to the political self-rule movement over social reform movement, the impact of Western education on him was impressive. From it he derived his commitment to the liberal values of constitutional government, rule of law, individual freedom, freedom of the press, scientific progress, and freedom of political expression and organization. His advocacy of national freedom and self-rule within the British Empire was also the result of his Western education.


He attacked British rule as unconstitutional and detrimental to the basic political rights of the Indians. Earlier, in 1892, he had gone to the extent of admiring the generosity, far sightedness and wisdom of the British electorate in returning Dadabhai Naoroji to the House of Commons from Central Finsbury. Tilak retained his admiration of Britain’s contribution to constitutional government and parliamentary democracy, liberal values and freedom, and the field of science and technology. He stood for the application of the principle of rationality and scientific, logical reasoning to the political and economic spheres, but not to the socio-religious sphere.


Thus, Tilak’s conception of nationalism was a combination of the Vedanta ideal of the spiritual unity of humanity and the Western notions of nationalism as propounded by Mazzini, Burke, Mill and Wilson. He was influenced by the development of nationalism in the world at large. In it, four phases may be distinguished.


In the first phase (namely, the classical phase), nationalism in Britain and France was associated with historical continuity, linguistic, racial and religious unity and the unity of political aspiration.


In the second phase, ushered in by the French Revolution, national sovereignty was identified with popular sovereignty. In the wake of the French Revolution, several nation-states emerged in Europe from out of the bewildering variety of peoples with diverse languages and traditions.


In third phase, the unity of political aspiration came to be regarded as the overriding feature of nationalism. Renan, Fichte and Herder were some of the proponents of this view.


In the fourth phase (i.e., at the close of World War I), the political map of Eastern Europe and West Asia underwent a metamorphosis in the wake of Wilson’s famous principle of national self-determination.


The bases of nationalism, Tilak knew, were both objective and subjective. Such objective factors as common language, territory and religion contribute to the psychological or subjective feeling of oneness among a people. These subjective, psychological feelings are indeed of funda-mental importance for nationalism. Tilak believed that nationalism can be promoted and strengthened if the peoples’ psychological bonds are given symbolic expressions of an objective, visible or concrete type, namely, flags, insignia and the celebration of social and religious festival Accordingly, Tilak revived the Ganapati festival and used it as a means to foster the unity of Brahmans and non-Brahmans. Similarly, he also played a leading role in organising Shivaji festivals.


In addition to the celebration of these festivals, Tilak also used social movements and he looked upon the different linguistic communities of India as sub-nationalities. He believed that the








unity that language provides to the people of a region had to be strengthened. But more than any language it was Hinduism which, according to him, was the uniting force of the whole of India.


The more important components of nationalism, according to him, were the political mobilisation of the people under a national movement and a nationalist economic ideology.


Tilak concentrated not only on the cultural or religious bases of information but also on the economic basis of it. He shared the economic ideas of the moderate nationalists like Ranade, Naroji, R.C. Dutt and Gokhale. But, unlike them, he maintained that economic issues had to be exploited to rouse the people’s political consciousness and strengthen the freedom struggle. To this end, he wrote several articles in his vernacular journal, Kesari, on such issues as land revenues, land tenure systems, the destruction of arts and crafts, the wasteful government expenditure on wars and the conspicuous living of the British officials.

He endorsed Dadabhai Naroji’s famous “drain theory’ of British rule in India. He advocated a greater role of the state in agricultural development. But while Dutt was a moderate in his political outlook, Tilak was an extremist. He had a romantic view of village self-sufficiency, and strove to mobilize the peasants, artisans, craftsmen and urban dwellers into the freedom struggle.


Tilak opposed the standpoint of the moderates that social reform was a necessary antecedent to political freedom. To him, the securing of political rights from the British rulers was of primary importance. Moreover, he feared that any emphasis on social reform would lead to social schisms and to greater bureaucratic interference by the colonial administration. He also believed that the caste system, about which so much was talked about, was actually a functional division of labour, contributing to social harmony. He subscribed to the organic theory of society and maintained that social customs, conventions and traditions had to be preserved for the sake of social unity.


Tilak urged the people to resort to direct political action. He believed that political methods and political concepts have different meanings in different socio-historical and political contexts. He maintained that what is ‘constitutional’ and ‘legal’ to the imperialist rulers and their supporters may really be unjust and immoral, not merely from the viewpoint of the people of the colonies but also from a broader humanistic standpoint. Governmental regulations and laws, he averred, should be evaluated not simply in terms of constitutionality or legality but in terms of justice and morality as well. The people, he believed, have the right and the duty to resist unjust immoral laws.


Tilak, the most prominent of the Extremists, exhorted that ‘swaraj is my birthright’ and ‘without swaraj there could be no social reform, no industrial progress, no useful education, no





fulfillment of national life. That is what we seek and that is why God has sent us into the world to fulfill it’.


Extremists and Moderates


In appreciation of this attitude, Bipin Pal, a member of the Lal-Bal-Pal group, was categorical in stating Firstly, that the principal goal of the extremist struggle was ‘the abdication of the right of England to determine the policy of the Indian Government, the relinquishment of the right of the present despotism to enact whatever law they please to govern the people of this country’.


Secondly, the Extremists were not hesitant in championing ‘violence’, if necessary, to advance the cause of the nation while the Moderates favoured constitutional and peaceful methods as most appropriate to avoid direct friction with the ruler.


In contrast with these means, the Extremists resorted to boycott and swadeshi that never evoked support from the Moderates. While defending boycott, Tilak argued that ‘it is possible to make administration deplorably difficult and to create conditions impossible for the British bureaucracy by fighting for our rights with determination and tenacity and by boycott and strike’. Urging those associated with the British bureaucracy, Tilak further argued that with the withdrawal of the Indians from the administration, ‘the entire machinery will collapse’.


Simultaneously with boycott of government offices, the Extremists also propagated for boycott of foreign goods and promotion of swadeshi or home-spun. This strategy, first ‘adopted in the context of the 1905 Bengal partition agitation, was further extended to the nationalist campaign as a whole, presumably because of its effectiveness in creating and sustaining the nationalist zeal. The economic boycott, as it was characterised in contemporary parlance, caused consternation among the British industrialists more than the other types of boycott.


Thirdly, the Moderates appeared to be happy under the British presumably because of their belief that Indians were not at all capable of self-rule. This was what prompted them to support the British rule uncritically. Views of the Extremists were, for obvious reasons, diametrically opposite. While articulating his opposition to this idea, Tilak argued that


“we recognise no teacher in the art of self government except self-government itself”.





It values freedom for its own sake and desires autonomy, immediate and unconditional regardless of any considerations of “fitness or un -fitness of the people for it”. Here too, the Moderate-Extremist distinction is based on serious ideological differences. While the former





supported a loyalist discourse, the latter simply rejected the stance in its articulation of anti-imperialism.


Fourthly, in the Extremist conceptualisation of struggle against imperialism, the ideal of self-sacrifice, including the , supreme sacrifice figured prominently while in the Moderate scheme of political struggle, this idea appeared to have received no attention.


This probably indicates two different faces of Extremism: on the one hand, there was the public appearance where the strategies of boycott, swadeshi and strike were pursued to articulate the nationalist protest; the sudden violent attack was, on the other, also encouraged to terrorise the British administration that was rattled following the incessant violent interventions by those who preferred underground militant operation. One of the preferred modes of action was assassination of ‘brutal’ British officials. Such acts would strike terror into the hearts of the rulers, arouse the patriotic instincts of the people, inspire them and remove the fear of authority from their minds. And it had propaganda value because during the trial of those involved in conducting violent attacks on the British officials, the revolutionaries, and their cause received adequate publicity not only in the pro-government but also in the nationalist media.


Finally, while the Moderates drew upon the British variety of liberalism, the Extremists were inspired by the writings of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and the teachings of Vivekananda.




Thus it could be safely concluded that Bal Gangadar Tilak played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence by contributing in all spheres be it political, social or religious. He was extremist as compared to moderates. He envisaged a significant role for religion in national movement but was against the misuse to divide the society. He was in favour of organic evolutionary and spontaneous social reform at the same time he was against thoughtless imitation of the west. Tilak was in favour of giving prior to political reform over social reform as social reform could be initiated even after independence. He was of the view that most of the evils that plagued Indian society was the result of British domination. The most difficult task before the nation therefore was attainment of Swaraj, which could be achieved through fourfold action plan: nationalism, Swaraj, boycott and national education.


Bal Gangadhar Tilak was an independence activist who was also a journalist, teacher, social reformer and lawyer. He died on August 1 in the year 1920. He is better known for the quote


“Swarajya is my birthright and I shall have it!” Here are some unknown facts about him that you should know:


Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement and led to the rise of Indian nationalism


The Britishers called Bal Gangadhar Tilak, ‘The Father of the Indian unrest’


He was also given the honorary title of ‘Lokmanya’, which means admired (or accepted) by the people


Tilak is known as the ‘Father of Swarajya’ as he was one of the first independence activists to advocate ‘Swaraj’ and make it a part of the independence movement


Bal Gangadhar Tilak joined the Indian National Congress (INC) in the year 1890 and started the fight of self-rule He was one of the first activists who came up with the concept of ‘Swaraj’


In 1880, Bal Gangadhar Tilak started his own newspaper, Kesari which is still published to this day


Bal Gangadhar Tilak started the Swadeshi movement in India. Jamshed Tata and Tilak found Bombay Swadeshi Co-op Stores to promote the movement


Tilak had a political regime with Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai and they were referred as the ‘Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate’


Bal Gangadhar Tilak was against the Age of Consent Act, 1891. He opposed and protested at every level so that the government would regulate the Act


In 2007, the Government of India released a coin to commemorate Tilak on his 150th birth anniversary


Om Raut directed the film Lokmanya: Ek Yug Purush, which was released on January 2, 2015.


you can view video on B G TILAK AND THEORY OF PROTEST



Sponsored Links

  • A K Bhagwat and G P Pradhan “Lokmanya Tilak: A Biography,” (Publisher JAICO)
  • http://www.mapsofindia.com/who-is-who/history/bal-gangadhar-tilak.html
  • //www.upscsuccess.com/sites/default/files/documents/Unit-8%20B.G.%20Tilak.pdf
  • J.P’.Suda, 1975. Main Currents of Social and Political Thought in India, Meerut Ch. 14, pp. 361-41
  • V.P. Verma, 1978. Modern lndian Politic’al Thought. Agra Ch. I I, pp. 202-260
  • D.V. Tahmankar, 1956. Lokmanya Tilak: (Father of Indian Unrest and Maker of I Modern India). John Murrary Publishers, London
  • Theodore L. Shay, 1956. The Legacy of Lokmanya : The Political Philosophy of BaI @ Gangadhar Tilak. Oxford Press, Bombay
  • V.P. Varma, “Political Philosophy of Lokmanya Tilak”, in Varinder Grover, ed., Political Thinkers of Modern India: Bal Gangadhar Tilak
  • http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/110948/9/09_chapter%204.pdf