Born a year before the First War of Independence, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak Died 27 years before India became free. His life thus spans the major part of our struggle for freedom. Tilak made his countrymen conscious of their salavery and created in them the urge for freedom. He was described by Sir Valentine Chirol, Special Correspondent of the Times, London as “the father of Indian unrest”. But Tilak did much more than that. He made it vocal; he gave it shape; he directed it into constructive channels.
Tilak did not merely coin the slogan Swarajya is my birthright and I will have it. He blazed the trail for it through life-long struggle and sacrifice, persecution and imprisonment, dynamic and multifarious activities. N.G. jog, the author has lucidly compressed and compiled a personality without sacrificing any details.
The objective of the series is to record, for the present and future generations, the story of the struggles and achievements of the eminent sons and daughters of India who were instrumental in our national renaissance and the attainment of independence. Except in a few cases, such authoritative biographies are not available.
The series is planned as handy volumes written by knowledgeable people, giving a brief account, in simple words, of the life, time and activities of these eminent leaders. The volumes do not intend either to be comprehensive studies or to replace the more elaborate biographies.
Justice is proverbially blind and day or night should make little difference to it. But the scene in the cavernous Gothic Structure of the Bombay High Court on the night of July 22, 1908, seemed to bode ill for justice. Indian courts do not normally function at night. When, therefore, the Judge told the Advocate- General that afternoon that he would sit as late as necessary to finish the case against the accused charged on three counts of sedition, he as good as indicated what the outcome of the case was going to be.
Gloomy premonition hung in the air as the Judge finished his summing-up to the jury. It was unmistakably slanted against the accused despite the customary direction to give the benefit of doubt-if any-to him. The Jury, composed of seven Europeans and two Indians, returned at 9.20 p.m. after eighty minutes’ deliberation. In pindrop silence the foreman announced the majority verdict of guilty-seven to two. The Judge readily agreed with it and asked the accused if he had anything to say before the sentence was pronounced.
Looking serene and composed despite the ordeal of his month-long trial, the accused rose in the dock and without a moment’s hesitation said in a firm tone:
“All I wish to say is that, in spite of the verdict of the jury, I maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of men and nations, and it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may prosper more by my suffering than by my remaining free.”
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.
It is this image of dedication, dignity and defiance which rises to one’s mind as one thinks of Lokmanya Tilak standing not before the bar of the Bombay High Court but the bar of history. All the earlier years of his life seem to lead to that historic moment, and the decades that have passed since then have only vindicated the cause for which Tilak struggled and suffered all his life-the cause of Swaraj, freedom.
Tilak was sentenced to six years’ transportation-a light sentence, said the Judge, in view of his earlier conviction on a similar charge. But in the eyes of his countrymen, he was given a monstrous punishment because “he loved his country more than his life or liberty”. That was “the inevitable verdict of history” passed through the mouth of Chief Justice M. C. Chagla 48 years later while unveiling in the self-same court a plaque on which Tilak’s memorable words are inscribed.
“In this very room on two occasions within the space of twelve years”, declared Mr. Chagla while paying the centenary tribute to the Lokamanya, “Tilak sat in the dock as an accused and on both the occasions he was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. He was sentenced because he loved his country more than his life or liberty. The verdict that our contemporaries pass on us and verdict that our times pass on us are not of much value. We must always await the inevitable verdict of history and it is that these two convictions are condemned as having been intended to suppress the voice of freedom and patriotism. The action of Tilak has been justified as •the right of every individual to fight for his country. Those two convictions have gone into oblivion -oblivion reserved by history for all unworthy deeds.”
The convictions might have gone into oblivion, but the image of the Lokamanya to which they provided a somber setting remains indelibly etched on the national consciousness. That image is associated with the picture of Swaraj, which he held to be his birthright. Succeeding generations, which enjoy that birthright, cannot but cherish Tilak’s memory with respect and gratitude.
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