Tilak, Nationalism and the Forgetful Prince

A week has gone past, a blip on the life of the nation which has to its credit the honour of being the cradle of civilization. A week is a very short time in the life of a nation, but many things can happen within even a shorter span of time when the nation is in a state of flux.

India has been in a state of flux ever since Congress lost power and the current Congress leadership, which always looked at the right to rule this great nation as their divine and dynastic right has not been able to come to terms with the democratic churn which threw them out of power. This has made Congress and the ecosystem they created over the decades extremely uneasy, angry and violent. Amid hugs, pretentious platitudes of moralities and half-hearted proclamation of love towards art, culture and history of this nation; Congress leadership has been lackadaisical about matters of historical importance at its best, and vile and scheming at its worst.

In an effort to keep the first family of the Congress as the last and only hope for the nation as intellectual giants destined to offer intellectual anchor to an otherwise directionless nation of pygmies, they worked systematically to reduce all great minds, all great events to a level where remembering them becomes difficult than forgetting them.

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The tribute of Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi to one of the greatest India writer of the modern time, Munshi Premchand, three days after his birthday could be a lazy oversight, but then, not being able to recollect the memories of one of the tallest socio-political intellectual of all times, and one of the founding leaders of Congress, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak cannot be innocent mistake.

When we look at how the creator of the Indian constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar has been reduced to ill-made, statues in blue themes dotting mostly the irregular colonies and slums of the nation, with his thoughts and ideas are hidden away behind rhetoric and slogans; we understand the pattern.

We can almost see how systematically the events of national importance were erased out of the minds of the masses unless they added to the political theory of hereditary right to rule of the Congress’ first family. The memories of great men cannot be conserved through idols and statues (though they may help), but the presence of past heroes in our life can only be perpetuated by the preservation of their thoughts.

Modern-day Congress with their new-found allies in the leftist, worked diligently to banish Bismil, wipe out Ashfaqullah, Ambedkar (who had to wait for a non-congress Government to come into being to be awarded Bharat Ratna, compare that with the stage in life when say, a cricketer got it) from public memory. The efforts to limit our understanding of Indian History to Nehru-Gandhi family has been disgustingly blatant.

This is not a modern design. The British did employ this technique for their own good. The only way to rule with absolute power over a large nation of several millions of people with a battery of few thousand soldiers of their own was to mess up with the sense of the history of the people of the nation. To ensure that people never seek to rule over their own nation and object to foreign rule, the first thing was to deny that there was a nation to be ruled in existence, the second was to ensure that the people lost their sense of history and heritage which went contrary to the first contention.

Haven’t we all seen the modern-day intellectuals trying to create a narrative that before the British walked in with their white man’s burden of civilizing the pagans, India never existed as a nation? “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history,” wrote George Orwell. This is what we see in action when we notice the stubborn refusal of the Congress to celebrate Indian victory in Kargil or when we find the forgetful prince of the Congress missing the death anniversary of Lokmanya Tilak on the 1st of August.

The routine guffaws of Social media team of Rahul Gandhi notwithstanding, looking at the way Congress went about reducing all non- Nehru family leaders of past into mere caricature over the years, this forgetting of Tilak is not innocent. Tilak not only represents a great freedom-fighter and the first man to proclaim independence and self-rule as a birthright, he is also one of the first among the historians and intellectuals to establish our national identity as a nation.

Our national identity which Tilak put forth through his painstakingly researched work went beyond the British and Mughal rule. His telling of our history took us back to the banks of Saraswati, to the days when the beginning of Bharat merged with the saffron strains of the Sanatana. No wonder, that the current Congress has been feeling uneasy with this since it began its post-independence journey under Nehru, an atheist socialist and thereafter with Indira who discovered her Muslim votebank after large-scale excesses against the Muslims during the emergency and later with Sonia Gandhi, who dithered for a decade before opting for Indian citizenship (Sonia Gandhi married Rajiv in 1968 and surrendered her Italian passport to obtain Indian citizenship only in 1983, year before the death of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister). The memories the tallest first leaders of the Congress, affectionately called as Lal-Bal-Pal was relegated to the past on account of this discomfiture of modern day Indian National Congress.

Attempts have been made by modern day politicians to classify leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Tilak as Hindutva leaders. This idea of our and their freedom-fighters gained much currency in the last five years, ever since a non-Congress government came into power. It is appropriate and necessary for the government of the day to celebrate our past leaders in a non-partisan manner without attempting to pigeon-hole them. It is unfortunate that instead of being happy about it, Congress calls it an attempt by the BJP to appropriate the history. Congress SM mouthpiece has gone on record comparing and denigrating Veer Savarkar, a freedom-fighter who suffered a lot at the hands of the British. In the foreword to the biography of Tilak by Shri DV Athalye, published in 1921, I came across an interesting quote by CR Das, which should be guiding principle while writing about great men who shaped our nation, whether it be Savarkar, or Bismil or Nehru. Shri CR Das wrote, “The character of a truly great man defies classification.” 

Shri Athalye writes in the preface of his book which pretty much captures the essence of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who received overwhelming affection from all the sections of society, (a particular section in the section of Autobiography of Ram Prasad Bismil refers to the episode of Lucknow Convention of Congress where there were huge protests by students who wanted counter deliberate attempt of the reception committee to sideline the event to honor the public reception of Tilak and is testimony to the huge devotion of younger lot for the great leader).

Shri Athaylye writes and I quote, “The unique feature of Mr Tilak’s career is that like a magnet, it draws all. While the populace claims him as one of their own, aristocrats recognize that he represented, in his intellectual and spiritual eminence, a nobler aristocracy than has fallen their lot.” At the age when being more British than the British were touted as the sole way of salvation, the trio of Tilak, Vishnushastri Chiplunkar and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar embarked on the idea of Indian way towards modernism and social reforms.

Tilak believed that a truly Indian social reformer ought to be a lover of Indian civilization and culture. His idea of social reform was not in contradiction to the prevalent public faith, rather derived its legitimacy from historicity and rational cultural arguments. In his speech supporting social reforms, he said in a meeting held on 1st of November, 1890, “…In reforming society, care ought to be taken to avoid the creation of any gulf between the people on one hand and the reformers on the other. We must carry public opinion with us; and this can be done, inter alia, by securing for our reforms the sanction of religion.” His reformist ideas evolved by embracing the roots of Indian spiritualism and religion, not by thwarting, maligning and ridiculing it.

Another important instance in this period which could possibly explain the antipathy of the seasonally Hindu leadership of current Congress leadership towards this great leader of Congress. Tilak, always in favour of modern education, supported Mrs Ramabhai, a Christian lady to start a resident school for Hindu Girls. His only condition was that the education was supposed to be truly secular. However, when in 1889 it came to light that four of the school students were trained on Christianity, Mrs Ramabai faced stiff opposition from Tilak. This incidence saw his earlier comrade Agarkar parting ways in support of Mrs Ramabai. They did come back to Tilak regretting their failure to notice the proselytizing and missionary nature of the organization by 1893 but by then the whole reform movement was discredited in the public eyes.

Lokmanya Tilak joined the Congress in 1889, for was largely ignored by national leadership. Shri Athalye writes that it was so because “the group of politicians who held the Congress in leading strings was rather exclusive and would not admit into the inner sanctuary an element of alien type. The qualities that then were considered to belong to a statesman were eloquence of speech, suppleness of conduct, European habits and association with the bureaucracy. Mr Tilak had none of these ‘rare’ gifts.” Not much seem to have changed between the Congress of then and the Congress of today, if at all, it seems to have gone worse.

In the backdrop of Plague in Pune, Chapekar murdered Plague Commissioner Rand in protest of excessive powers given to the British police allowing them to enter the households, stripping down people including women in public on suspicion of Plague. Tilak was picked up on the charge of promoting violence which resulted in the murder of Mr. Rand, based on one evidence being a poem by some obscure poet in which Shivaji urged the fellow Marathas to fight against the Islamic rule and another being a speech of Tilak at the end of Shivaji festival, where justifying the killing of Afzal Khan by Shivaji, Tilak had said that No copper plate was given to the Malechhas to rule over Hindustan. 

The media then and even political opponents (largely Indians) came together to call these statements as a call for political murders. Tilak was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 18 months. While his sentence was later reduced by six months at the behest of Professor Max Muller, as a fellow indologist and writer of a treatise like The Orion and Arctic Home in the Vedas. It was Tilak through his scholarly work brought us back to acknowledge our glory as world’s oldest civilization. He brought a sense of pride in the heart of an average Indian, while on the other hand he was being made to feel ashamed and embarrassed for who he was, and from where he came.

While in delirium, on his deathbed, on 28th of July, Tilak was heard murmuring- “1818- 1918- One hundred years- what a life of servitude!” On 29th of July, 1920, came is last words at around 1 PM – unless Swaraj is achieved- India shall not prosper. It is required for our very existence. One of the greatest sons of India breathed it last at 1 AM, at the midnight, 1st of August, 1920. And when the morning broke, one of Tilak’s contemporary wrote – people found that the vigilant watchman of India’s cause has disappeared from their midst…the news of his death gave a shock to the people, it stunned them, they looked at each other with blank eyes and they knew not what to do…In the funeral procession were seen Mr Gandhi, Mr Shaukat Ali, Dr Kitchlew, Mr Jamnadas and other prominent citizens of Bombay…His body was seated in a palanquin and the pall-bearers included Mr Gandhi, Mr Shaukat Ali, Dr Kitchlew and many others. 

The Tilak Swaraj Fund created by Mahatma Gandhi in the memory of Tilak, become until then the biggest fundraising campaign in three short months, collecting around One Crore in three Months. It is truly sad that the Congress of today has forgotten such a great Congressman. It is even sadder that this forgetfulness gets deeper and appears more and more evil with every passing day. Let us remember our leaders, let us learn from their wisdom on how to serve our motherland, where ever we are.

Let us not be men and women of empty rhetoric. Let us be worthy sons and daughters of this great land, for even love has to be earned. Love, of all things, is not something which your surname or accident of birth gets you, even if you go around forcefully hugging people. Not everyone is “acceptable and revered by all”; not everyone can become “Lokmanya”. It would be a pity if we are fooled by our political leadership into forgetting our great hero, our Lokmanya.

A technology worker, writer and poet, and a concerned Indian

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