“No man of our times had the hold on the masses that Mr Tilak had.”

– Mahatma Gandhi, in his obituary for Lokmanya Tilak in Young India, August 4, 1920

“The greatest Indian of the day… indomitable Tilak, who would not bend though he break.”

– Jawaharlal Nehru, in An Autobiography

“Tilak is at the moment probably the most powerful man in India.”

– Edwin Samuel Montagu, British Secretary of State for India between 1917 and 1922, in An Indian Diary

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the foremost leader of India’s freedom struggle before the advent of the Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi era, breathed his last, after a brief illness, in Bombay in the early hours of August 1, 1920. He was 64.

Destiny snatched him away at a relatively young age. Had he lived longer, this lion among Indian patriots could have changed the course of the nation’s freedom struggle for the better.

The funeral at Chowpatty Beach, not far from where he lived – in a modest rented room in a guest house called Sardar Griha – was attended by over a million people. Among the pall-bearers were Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Shaukat Ali, a prominent leader of the Khilafat Movement.

A grief-stricken Gandhi wrote in Young India on August 4, 1920: “A giant among men has fallen. The voice of the lion is hushed…His patriotism was a passion with him. He knew no religion but love of his country. He was a born democrat. …He had an iron will, which he used for his country. His life was an open book. His tastes were simple. His private life was spotlessly clean. No man preached the gospel of Swaraj with the consistency and the insistence of Lokmanya.”

Gandhi had more to write about Tilak, and he did so in his Gujarati weekly Navajivan on August 8, 1920. Someone had suggested that people should observe a three-day strike as a way of paying homage to the departed leader. Gandhi’s reply was typically Gandhian – the right tribute would be to emulate Lokmanya’s virtues.

  “He [Tilak] was a man of extreme simplicity; so in memory of him we should take to simplicity ourselves and give up using certain things to the point of being put to discomfort. He was a man of courage; let us be brave likewise, and do only that which our conscience approves and never swerve from our aim. He was a thoughtful man; we, too, must learn to think before we speak or act. He was a learned man with a wonderful command over his mother tongue and Sanskrit; let us take pains to be scholars like him. Let us give up using a foreign language in the conduct of our affairs, be proficient in our mother tongues and learn to express all our thoughts in them. Let us study Sanskrit and discover the beauties of spiritual wisdom which lie hidden in our Shastras. He was a lover of swadeshi; we too should understand the meaning of swadeshi and adopt swadeshi in practice. He had unbounded love for the country; let us, too, cultivate the same love for it in our hearts and, to the best of our ability, be daily more devoted to national service.”  

Marginalised by history

No nation attains greatness without pride in its history. And pride comes with self-knowledge. Knowledge about the great moments, great achievements and great personalities in a nation’s history. Knowledge about its cultural and spiritual traditions which give the nation its unique identity. And also knowledge about developments in the past that weakened the nation, robbed it of its freedom, fractured its unity and sapped its vitality.

Sadly, we Indians do not take our history seriously.

Many examples prove this point. Here is one of them. Lokmanya Tilak is a largely forgotten name today. With the passage of time, it is somewhat natural for young Indias not to have the same level of popular knowledge about famous personalities of the last century. But why have the political establishment, the scholarly community and the media pushed Tilak – and several other eminent names from the freedom movement – into oblivion?

Tilak’s statue near the Supreme Court in New Delhi. Credit: Pinakpani/Wikipedia

Tilak’s statue near the Supreme Court in the national capital is a desolate place, hardly attracting any attention of the busy traffic flowing from Tilak Marg to Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg and ITO. His statue is missing at Maharashtra Sadan, the opulent and scandal-scarred state government guest house in New Delhi, where only Shivaji, Jyotiba Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar have a sculptural presence.

The condition of Sardar Gruh in Mumbai, where the Lokamanya lived and also breathed his last, is pathetic. It is located right across the road from the stately building of the office of Mumbai’s police commissioner. Take one look at it, and you will be left with no doubt that Tilak is now a victim of supreme apathy.

This conclusion will be further reinforced if you visit the house in Ratnagiri where he was born on July 23, 1856. It is where he spent the first 10 years of his life. His janmasthan has been converted into a museum, but it hardly has the look of a national monument. There is not even a small bookshop selling his books, books about him, or memorabilia of the kind you find in good museums around the world. Sadly, the few visitors who happen to come to the place do not even get a flyer about the man and the museum.

The Tilak Museum in Pune, at his ancestral house, is privately managed by his descendants. It does not do much justice to his greatness. Not surprising, since neither the government of India nor the government of Maharashtra pay a single rupee to support it. Considering that the two governments are spending thousands of crores of rupees on monuments to honour other great Indians, their utter neglect of Tilak’s legacy is eloquent.

Why has Tilak been marginalised? There are many reasons. One of them is that successive Congress governments at the Centre eulogised the Nehru-Gandhi family so excessively and exclusively that other great national heroes got sidelined. However, much of the current indifference to him can be attributed to the claims by Communist historians and Ambedkarite writers that he was a “Hindu nationalist” and Brahminical opponent of social reform. When one Ambedkarite scholar, Kancha Ilaiah, wrote a fictionalised book about Tilak – Untouchable God, published by Samya in 2013 – which consists of an undisguised character assassination, he barely received any challenges.

If we want to be truthful to the history of India’s national liberation struggle, we ought to show admiration and gratitude to Lokmanya Tilak. This does not mean we should be uncritical in our admiration of him. An unbiased and unprejudiced eye alone can help us gain a balanced understanding of historical developments and historical personalities.

Sardar Griha, the guest house where Tilak rented a room, lies neglected in Mumbai. Credit: Sudheendra Kulkarni

The beloved leader

Tilak ignited patriotic consciousness among the masses during one of the most difficult periods in the freedom struggle. The defeat suffered by India’s First War of Independence in 1857, and the bloody reprisals unleashed in its aftermath by the British, had created disillusionment and darkness that continued for many decades.

The founding of the Indian National Congress in Bombay in 1885 and the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906, were natural responses of a freedom-loving nation that was trying to find its political voice. However, the voice was still weak and subdued. This is when Tilak began to quicken the growth of nationalist consciousness with the advent of the 20th century. His trisutri or three-point programme for national awakening – Swaraj, Swadeshi and Nationalist Education – lit the fire of self-pride and activism in a nation that was despairing and directionless.

Historians usually credit Gandhi with transforming the Congress into a mass movement. No doubt, he did it. And he did it on a nationwide scale. But none can deny that Gandhi followed up, and greatly expanded, on mass-oriented political work that Tilak had begun. Tilak’s two arrests by the British – first in 1897 for 18 months, which earned him the title “lokamanya” or “beloved leader of the people”, and later in 1908, for six years of rigorous imprisonment in Mandalay in Burma – galvanised workers, peasants, professionals and youth in an unprecedented manner. Tilak’s banishment to Burma witnessed the first ever political strike by the working class; the textile workers of Bombay, Hindus of all castes as well as Muslims, struck work for six days, one day for every year of the sentence.

Roaring like a lion in the Bombay High Court, where he was being tried on a sedition charge in 1908 – the charge of “sedition”, it must be noted here, has become the preferred tool of Narendra Modi’s government to silence political opponents – Tilak had asserted, “Swaraj is my birth right, and I shall have it.” When the judge, Justice Davar, asked him if he had anything to say before the sentence was pronounced, he audaciously replied: “All I wish to say is that in spite of the verdict of the jury, I maintain my innocence. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of men and nations. It may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may prosper by suffering than by remaining free.” We can read these inspiring words etched on a marble plaque outside court room no 46 in the Bombay High Court.

Tilak’s words etched on a marble plaque at Bombay High Court, where he was tried for sedition in 1908. Credit: Sudheendra Kulkarni

His superb biographer NG Jog has described this historic moment most aptly. “These words delivered on the spur of the moment have a spontaneous dignity and almost a Socratic sublimity. They breathe the spirit of dedication to freedom and of defiance against the might of the British Raj. And, they could have been uttered by only one man in India’s contemporary history – Bal Gangadhar Tilak.”

Condemning Tilak’s imprisonment, Vladimir Lenin, who would lead the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, wrote: “The infamous sentence pronounced by the British jackals on the Indian democrat Tilak…this revenge against a democrat by the lackeys of the money-bags evoked street demonstrations and a strike in Bombay. In India, too, the proletariat has already developed to conscious political mass struggle – and, that being the case, the Russian-style British regime in India is doomed!”

Nehru, who was then a student in England, writes in his An Autobiography: “From 1907 onwards for several years India was seething with unrest and trouble. For the first time since the Revolt of 1857 India was showing fight and not submitting tamely to foreign rule...Almost all of us were Tilakites or Extremists, as the new party was called in India.”

Among Tilak’s countless admirers was Maulana Hasrat Mohani, an eminent freedom fighter and an equally eminent Urdu poet. After Tilak’s imprisonment in July 1908, he penned a ghazal in praise of Lokamanya. The English translation does not have the same evocative power as the original poem in Urdu, but here it is.

“O Tilak, O pride of patriotismThe knower, the follower, the believer and articulator of righteousness
The foundation of openly expressed Freedom rests on you
The assembly of Sincerity and Loyalty is illuminated by you
You were the fiesta to hear O Son of India
Imprisonment in the Service of India
Your being became the beacon light of freedom
Otherwise our friends were shackled in slavery
You have cast such a spell of self-respect
With one stroke, it cancelled all rituals of flattery
The free Hasrat prides himself on following you
May the Great God keep you for long.”

Academia, spirituality, politics

Tilak was a man of many facets. He was, first and foremost, a committed scholar. He was a Jnana Yogi who later became a Karma Yogi. It was his burning patriotism that made him a militant advocate of India’s freedom from British rule. Those foreigners who knew him only as a scholar were astonished when they discovered his political activism.

There are two revealing letters in India Office Records in London showing how Max Muller, the famous German Orientalist, was surprised to know that Tilak – whom “I know chiefly as a Sanskrit scholar” – was involved in India’s freedom struggle. In a letter written to British authorities on May 17, 1898, Muller expressed the view that “I think that it was quite right that he should have been punished”, but then naively said that if he was shown mercy “Tilak is not likely to repeat his offence, particularly if he is able to resume his Sanskrit studies.”

In another letter to British authorities on June 23, 1998, Muller writes, “I certainly did not know that Mr Tilak had been convicted before for defamatory matter of a quasi-seditious character published by him. My interest in him is purely academic. I had been in correspondence with him about the question whether the constellation Orion was mentioned in Sanskrit literature…I certainly regard that a man devoted to antiquarian research would not waste his time in political agitation.”

Muller is referring here to Tilak’s book Orion: A Search into the Ancientness of Aryan-Vedic Culture (An Ignored Historical Research), published in 1893. In this book, Tilak, who was also a mathematician, examined astronomical data in Vedic hymns to attempt to calculate the age of Vedas. He surmised the origin of the Vedas to be 4000 BC (and also placed the antiquity of the Aryan race in the Arctic region).

Tilak’s birthplace in Ratnagiri, which has been converted into a museum. Credit: Aniket Konkar/Wikipedia

Tilak wrote his magnum opus Shrimad Bhagvad Gita Rahasya, popularly also known as Gita Rahasya, while serving his six-year prison term in Burma from 1908 to 1914. It must rank very high in the body of prison literature created anywhere in the world. The book is Tilak’s heroic attempt to show that the Gita – and Indian spiritual tradition in general – was not a call for renunciation and inaction, but essentially a guide that preached Karma Yoga, a path to desireless action to achieve a lofty goal.

“The conclusion I have come to,” he writes in the book, “is that the Gita advocates the performance of action in this world even after the actor has achieved the highest union with the supreme Deity by Jnana (knowledge) or Bhakti (devotion). This action must be done to keep the world going by the right path of evolution which the Creator has destined the world to follow. In order that the action may not bind the actor it must be done with the aim of helping his purpose and without any attachment to the coming result. This I hold is the lesson of Gita. Jnana Yoga there is. Yes. Bhakti Yoga there is. Yes. Who says not? But they are both subservient to the Karma Yoga preached in the Gita.”

Scholar Tilak adds, with the same boldness he displayed as a freedom fighter:

“I differ from almost all commentators when I say that the Gita enjoins action even after the perfection in Jnana and Bhakti is attained and the Deity is reached through these media. There is a fundamental unity underlying the Logos (Ishvara), Man and the world.

The world is in existence because the Logos has willed it so. It is His will that holds it together. Man strives to gain union with God; and when this union is achieved the individual Will merges in the Mighty Universal Will. When this is achieved, will the individual say “I shall do no action and I shall not help the world”? It does not stand to reason. It is not I who say so; the Gita says so. Sri Krishna himself says that there is nothing in all the three worlds that He need acquire and still He acts. He acts because if he did not, the world’s Will will be ruined. If man seeks unity with the Deity he must necessarily seeks unity with the (interests of) the world also, and work for it. If he does not, then the unity is not perfect, because there is union between two elements (man and Deity) out of the three, and the third (the world) is left out. Serving the world and thus serving His Will is the surest way of salvation and this way can be followed by remaining in the world and not going away from it.”

“The doctrine taught by our forefathers,” Tilak once wrote, “was such that they never intended that the goal of life should be meditation alone.”

Tilak’s philosophy of Karma Yoga closely aligned with that of many Indian freedom fighters who were inspired by the Bhagvad Gita.

For example, Gandhi ceaselessly tried to experience the “flights of the soul” through the path of Bhakti Yoga. Yet, he did not opt for the life of a monk living in the Himalayas. “The Himalayas of my penance,” he said in 1947, “are where there is misery to be alleviated, oppression to be relieved. There can be no rest for me so long as there is a single person in India…lacking the necessaries of life, by which I mean a sense of security, a lifestyle worthy of human beings – that is, clothing, education, food and shelter of a decent standard. My Himalayas are here.” Gandhi remained a man of action in the din of politics and the drama of life until his last breath.

Tilak too practiced what he philosophised. After he was released from prison in Mandalay in June 1914, he immediately plunged once again into the vortex of freedom struggle. The next, and last, six years of his life were filled with ceaseless action, which ended only when his tired and ailing body yielded to death in Bombay.

Books written by Tilak.

Mass appeal

Great scholars often lack the ability – and even the inclination – to connect with the masses. Tilak was a glorious exception. He was a man of oceanic intellect, towering character and unflinching courage, all of which were reflected in his oratory and his writings that touched the minds and hearts of millions of people. Even though the number of people who read his fiery articles, mainly through his Marathi newspaper Kesari and its English sibling Mahratta, was geographically and linguistically limited, the news of his valiant advocacy of Swaraj spread far and wide because of his travels, his political activities and, above all, the regularity with which he confronted the British, risking arrests and imprisonments.

A staunch internationalist, Tilak hailed the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, led by Lenin, and commended the goals of socialism. His politics was not of, and for, the elitist class. He was one of those early freedom fighters who publicly espoused the cause of workers and farmers. He regularly addressed meetings of trade unions in Bombay and elsewhere. He wrote about the plight of ryots, or farmers, and the callousness of the British bureaucracy in mitigating the suffering of rural people and cattle during droughts.

For him, Swaraj or Home Rule meant the rule of, and the rule for, the common people of India. Addressing an audience of farmers, he once said:

“I am myself a poor man like you and I have no greater privileges whatsoever. I earn my livelihood by doing some business as you do. I do not see any difference between what is done on behalf of the rich and what is done on behalf of the poor. I have long been thinking as to what the grievances of the ryots are, what difficulties are ahead of them, what help they require, and what things are necessary to be done. I have been doing this as a poor ryot myself and on that account not only do I feel sympathy for you but I feel proud that I am one of you. Do not be afraid of speaking out things which are plain in themselves. There might be some trouble but nothing can be had without any trouble. Home Rule is not going to be dropped into your hands from the sky.”  

Evolving views on Muslims

Tilak was also an innovative mobiliser of common people in the anti-British movement. As mentioned earlier, he has been criticised by leftist historians for being a Hindu communalist. In support of this criticism, they cite the fact he introduced “religious revivalism” into the national movement by bringing the Ganesh and Shivaji Jayanti festivals into the public sphere in Maharashtra.

What they conveniently ignore is that he also participated in Moharram processions with his Muslim compatriots in Pune, just as many Muslims took part in Ganesh and Shivaji festivities. He made it clear in his writings that his call for public celebration of these festivals was not meant to rouse sentiments against any other community. Its sole purpose was cultural self-assertion of his people then living the yoke of foreign rule.

It is true that in his earlier writings, Tilak minced no words in flaying what he regarded as the fanaticism of Muslim invaders and their acts of bigotry against their Hindu subjects. He blamed Muslims for being the first to take to violence in Hindu-Muslim riots. But it is also true that Tilak’s views on Indian Muslims changed over the course the freedom struggle, and he became convinced that reconciliation and unity between the two communities was absolutely necessary for India’s liberation and future progress. Tilak wrote in Kesari: “When Hindus and Muslims jointly ask for Swarajya from a common platform, the British bureaucracy has to realise that its days are numbered.”

Tilak (centre, bottom row) at a Moharram procession in Pune in 1892. Credit: Sudheendra Kulkarni

Delivering a lecture in Satara on “Swaraj” on October 17, 1917, Tilak said, “Attempts are being made to create dissensions among us, perhaps at the instigation of the government…These persons allege that the Swaraj sought for would mean the concentration of power in the hands of the Brahmins or the Muhamamdans who would tyrannise other communities of the society. Such arguments create misapprehensions in the minds of the people. I consider it unfortunate. This is no time for dissensions or disunion.”

The allegation that “Swaraj” would lead to establishment of “Brahmin Raj” came from the anti-Brahmin movement in Maharashtra. The other allegation that “Swaraj” would lead to “Muslim Raj” came, ironically, from ultra-Hindu nationalists who had opposed the Tilak-Jinnah Pact in Lucknow in 1916.

But Tilak countered this criticism. In the same lecture in Satara, he said: “We ought to tell them [critics of Swaraj] that we would prefer a Brahmin or Muhammadan bureaucracy to the present European bureaucracy; and that we would tolerate the tyranny of the Brahmin or Muhammadan bureaucracy for three years [the period of the office of the honourable members in the Council] rather than endure the tyranny of the British bureaucracy forever. We would say that the Brahmin or Muhammadan representatives who would tyrannise us during their period of office will not get our vote at the succeeding election. Attempts to disunite us at this juncture are being made by interested persons who do not wish to part with power.”

What do these two allegations mean? At the very least, they mean that the charge of Tilak being a Hindu communalist simply does not stick.

For more proof that Muslims of the time saw him as an Indian nationalist and not as a Hindu nationalist, let us look at what his biographer DV Tahmankar writes in Lokamanya Tilak Father of Indian Unrest and Maker of Modern India. When the British government arrested and imprisoned Tilak in a sedition case in 1897, his friends in Calcutta collected Rs 16,000 for his defence. Out of this, Rs 7,000 was donated by the Muslim business firm Hirjee Ahmaed & Hajee Hossain Hajee Abdel. What Hajee Abdel wrote in a covering letter is revealing.

“The moment the Government arrested him, Mr Tilak ceased to be a leader of the Hindu community. He is now above all castes, creeds, and religions. He is going to be prosecuted for his fight for India, the common motherland of the Muslims and Hindus.”

For further proof, read the following account, contained in British government records of April 3, 1920.

“A meeting of the citizens of Ajmer was held on 24th ultimo in Idgah here. About 10,000 people attended including Hindus, Mahomedans and a few ladies. Mr Tilak said in his speech:

  ‘Hindu-Muslim unity is a matter for rejoicing. Before the English came to India, the Hindu and the Muslims lived together as brethren. The British rulers felt that if the unity between the two communities will continue it would be impossible for the British to rule. They helped, the Hindus against Muslims, and the Muslims against the Hindus. Their policy has been to divide and rule. Now the people have realised that they must live together and fall together. Hindus and Muslims are brothers. India is their mother. If we are all united the bureaucracy cannot play any mischief. If we are divided the bureaucracy will act as likes…The British are sure to try many tricks to create friction between Hindus and Muslims with a view to retain power of ruling over India.’”  

Both Shaukat Ali and his brother Mohammed Ali Jauhar held Tilak in high esteem because of his support to Muslim concerns, including his sympathy for their anti-imperialist Khilafat cause. Shaukat Ali even said: “I would like to mention again for the hundredth time that both Mohammed Ali and myself belonged to, and still belong to, Lokamanya Tilak’s political party.”

Furthermore, their mother, Abadi Bano Begum, popularly known as Bi Amma, was also a Tilak supporter. She addressed meetings urging people to donate to Tilak Swaraj Fund, which Gandhi had created in Tilak’s memory.

Those were truly sunny days for Hindu-Muslim fraternity. Consider this: When, some days after Tilak’s cremation in Bombay, his ashes were brought to his native city Pune by a special train, the procession stopped near a mosque and the people honoured their beloved leader with the slogan “Hindu-Muslim Ekta Ki Jai”.

Tilak with his family. Credit: lokmanyatilak.org

On caste and Brahmin Raj

About the other allegation of Tilak being an anti-Dalit and anti-Bahujan casteist leader, he has partly countered it in the above-cited speech in Satara. The “Swaraj” that he was seeking envisaged an immediate end to colonial rule and handing over the reins of administration to Indians – Brahmins, Muslims or others, it did not matter to him. If Brahmin or Muslim representatives did not rule well, if they failed to live up to the expectations of the people, the voters would have the right to vote them out of power in subsequent elections. Thus, “Swaraj” of Tilak’s conception was a Democratic Raj.

Was Tilak a pro-untouchability casteist leader? It is true that some of his early writings on caste were highly conservative and hence, problematic. However, both as an intellectual and as a political leader, he evolved with the times. His words speak for themselves.

Writing in 1905, he warned the so-called upper caste people in Hindu society against continued neglect of the “untouchable castes”, and asked, “How long can the proponents of Hindu religion turn a blind eye to this?” He urged upper caste Hindus to protect this inseparable part of the body of Hindu society. Saying that he “heartily praised” the rise of awareness about education among “untouchable castes” and said that the “upper castes should not only empathise with them but also help them directly so that this goal can accomplished fully”.

In March 1918, the Depressed Classes Mission held an Asprushyata Nivaran Parishad, or Conference for the Abolition of Untouchability, in Bombay under the presidency of Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the Maharaja of Baroda. The maharaja, incidentally, had granted a scholarship to BR Ambedkar to study at Columbia University in New York in 1913.

Among those present were Congress leaders Tilak, Sir Narayanrao Chandavarkar, Bipin Chandra Pal, Vithalbhai Patel and Bhulabhai Desai – all of them belonging to the so-called “upper castes”. Here is an account of what Tilak said at the conference, as given in Ambedkar: Life and Mission, a biography authored by Dhananjay Keer.

“Tilak said that if God were to tolerate Untouchability, he would not recognise Him as God at all and added that he did not deny that in some old days the autocracy of Brahmins had created that usage. He concluded his speech by saying that Untouchability was a disease and it must be removed.”

And here is an account of the conference as reported in Mahratta, an English newspaper founded by Tilak, on March 31, 1918.


“Mr. Tilak who moved one of the resolutions at the Conference pointed out that the Dharma Shastras – the Scriptures – of the Hindus do not support the notion of treating any class of human beings as untouchables…Mr. Tilak said that, whatever the genesis of untouchability, the notion was a sinful beyond all doubts. The Bhagavad Gita looks upon all as equals and for anyone to arrogate superiority and to look upon his brother as an untouchable was nothing less than breaking the Commandment of God. The untouchability must go, said Mr. Tilak. The cause of the uplift of the Nation, the cause Religious Reform, also required that the stigma untouchability should go. Mr. Tilak referred to the treatment of the Negroes by the present-day Americans and to the treatment of Indians by the bureaucracy in India and remarked that similar blunders were made by the Brahmin bureaucracy of old and that all such blunders required to be rectified.”

Education for all, a goal espoused by progressive thinkers and leaders all over the world, was very dear to Tilak. “If we get Swaraj, our first duty will be to education everybody in the country,” he said in 1917. He further warned, “Swaraj will not last forever without the spread of education.”

Tilak’s economic philosophy was radically pro-poor. “India means these workers and peasants,” he wrote in Kesari as far back as in 1881. “It cannot be said therefore that a particular country has, economically speaking, improved so long as the conditions of the toiling majority in that country have improved.”

However, his philosophy was not anti-business. As a proponent of atma-nirbharata or self-reliance, he strongly supported Indian industrialists, especially small entrepreneurs. He became the treasurer of what came to be called the “paisa fund” to finance local industries and village enterprises. The fund was also used to send bright Indian students abroad for technical study.

With the help of Sir Ratan Tata and other businessmen, he promoted the Bombay Swadeshi Store, which was inaugurated by Dadabhai Naoroji in 1906. Ironically, this up-market store has now dropped “Swadeshi” from its name.

Tilak also assisted VO Chidambaram Pillai, a great patriotic entrepreneur and freedom fighter from Tamil Nadu, in establishing the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company that broke the monopoly of British shipping. Among the prominent Indian industrialists who were inspired by his call for Swadeshi was Ardeshir Godrej, who, along with his brother Pirojsha, founded the great manufacturing company that bears their family name.

Those who accuse Tilak of being an opponent of social justice and a proponent of a Brahminical social order should answer this question: Can someone who publicly declared that “if God were to tolerate Untouchability, he would not recognise Him as God”; who advocated “education for all” as one of the prime goals of Swaraj; and who repeatedly spoke for the human dignity and uplift of workers and farmers, a vast majority of them belonged to the lower rungs of the caste hierarchy, be called casteist?

This is the first of a three-part series on Tilak’s legacy. Read the series here.

Sudheendra Kulkarni was an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Prime Minister’s Office between 1998 and 2004. As the founder of Forum for a New South Asia, he is actively engaged in efforts to strengthen communal harmony in India and also to promote India-Pakistan and India-China friendship. His Twitter handle is @SudheenKulkarni. He welcomes comments at sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com.