Bal Gangadhar Tilak – The Agricultural Economist

‘As we observe the death centenary of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, this account celebrates his views on Indian Agriculture & Economy – pertinent even a century later.’

For someone born in Generation Y, it is almost impossible to comprehend what life in colonial India must be like. A country plagued by its own problems, at the mercy of unjust foreign rule only meant, that opportunities for the common man were lesser than ordinary. But 19th Century India saw hope rise in the form of a leader, whose relevance of vision is a subject of marvel even to this day. Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and his thoughts need neither a presentation nor a foreword. Self-luminous, Straight Forward, Lucid and above all Non-Conforming. Tilak’s indomitable will and unwavering commitment towards his people, transcends generations of Indians, and maintains a strong hold on minds even a century later.

A celebrated mathematician & astronomer, an acute legal mind, a great Sanskrit scholar, writer, nationalistic leader and above all a thinker par excellence – these are the celebrated facts about Lokmanya.

While these facets fortunately formed part of my school’s history curriculum, what makes me admire Tilak even more is his passion and vision for Indian Agriculture & Economy. To add to it is the utmost relevance and importance even a century after his passing. Tilak was an agricultural economist like none other of his time.

Today, global race for data paces at speeds faster than light, but providing food for an average earthly being – still remains to be an unsolved problem. The world as they say, has never been more peaceful or prosperous. In India, where agriculture which contributes to 60% of its GDP, the farmer still struggles to make ends meet. Even as we aspire to take a seat at the table of the top 5 economies of the world, an India with its farmer hungry isn’t an India its founding fathers imagined it to be. Neither is it an India we all should dream of. 

“The country’s emancipation can only be achieved by removing the clouds of lethargy and indifference which have been hanging over the peasant, who is the soul of India. We must remove these clouds and for that purpose we must completely identify ourselves with the peasant first – we must feel he is ours, and that we are his.”  – Lokmanya Tilak as he put forth his thoughts on farmers in one of his speeches. 

It is indeed baffling to begin with, how in an era of limited information channels, Tilak caught the pulse of India’s problems and ensured to play an active role while he was alive and a century later through the relevance of his thoughts. ‘Poverty & Knowledge together hold the potential to cause unrest.’ – he believed. He leveraged his thoughts by educating the common man the very reason for his problems – the unfair practices of the British Administration. A significant amount of editorials and special editions of the Kesari & Marhatta with Tilak as its editor discussed the idea of an economically independent India. The roots of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ can be traced to Tilak’s call for Swadeshi / Self-Reliance. For a nation as big as ours, he believed – it was a pity that our farmers or ‘ryots’ (as they were referred to) should be left lurking for prosperity. At a time when our country was still struggling to find a flag of its own, Tilak’s thoughts can be seen as visionary – with his explicit espousal of use of latest agricultural machinery, modern seeds, agricultural loans to farmers, the need to establish (Swadeshi) Indian Banks. 

TIlak’s editorials in Kesari  play a significant role towards educating and encouraging the Indian masses to look at a modern Indian Agriculture. Tilak lead from the front, and shunned armchair critics. He actively urged the Indian Sugarcane & Cotton Farmers to maximize their outputs to produce enough for domestic consumption. While some of us were still not familiar with our international borders, Tilak was looking at attracting global expertise to India. In his articles in Kesari, in 1906 Tilak urged Indian Sugarcane farmers to collaborate with Sugar Producing countries like Java, the Philippines, Cuba to train domestic farmers into surplus production of Sugar. Tilak’s thoughts on co-operatives in farming can today serve as a rule book for sugar industries. 

Lokmanya Tilak’s nationalistic thoughts did not limit him to be identified to, or worshipped by a cult or a particular group of humanfolk. His idea was as inclusive as it could be, without risking to sound frivolous or utopian. Today, while looking back we will have to give credit where it is due. Lokmanya Tilak successfully organized a freedom movement which included every Indian and which brought awareness about the unethical and unjust economical & political policies of the Foreign Rule in the minds of the common people. His idea of ‘Swaraj’ was born out of a studied approach which sensed pulse of the masses. The ‘Swadeshi Movement’ – was decades ahead of its time and was a culmination of Tilak’s analysis of the British Policies at micro level, and an effort to bring about a change upward from the ground.

We must not forget the sheer brilliance of the Journalist in Tilak, when he availed himself of the media at his disposal – not to merely spew venom, but discuss and generate consciousness about issues that should matter to the common Indian. He is seen as a radical thinker who brought about fundamental changes in crucial legislations, through his relentless pursual. Tilak believed in ‘changes led by action’, than merely ‘good intentions’ in contrast to some of his contemporaries. He can be called as one of the few torchbearers of ‘Courageous but Responsible Journalism.’ While today’s media seems to have lost its focus – struggling between tabloid contents, news, editorials and above all marketing revenue, Tilak as the editor and head of Kesari & Mahratta concentrated on discussing questions and matters that concerned land, agriculture, peasantry and economics between 1892 – 1903, with unparalleled earnestness and authority.

To aid his campaign in salvaging the average Indian Peasant from crisis, Tilak strongly put forth his concerns in the plenary of the Indian National Congress of which we was an integral part of. In Karachi he said,“ We must make the ryots understand their rights in regards to land revenue, forests, salt etc. The Ryots must come as delegates to our conferences and tell us about their grievances. Thy should be witness to what we demand in their name. The more we penetrate them, the better it is for the good of all. We must feel that they are ours and we are theirs.” “The Congress movement, which was more occidental in nature for a very long time became more Indianised thanks to Lokmanya Tilak.” says Babu Aurobindo Ghose in his book ‘Bal Gangadhar Tilak – his writings and speeches’. Tilak developed a language and spirit which sought to bring together masses from all over India into the freedom struggle.

There are several reasons, today that we must understand and inform ourselves the importance of Lokmanya Tilak’s role as an Agricultural Economuist. He firmly looked at Modern Indian Agriculture as the backbone of the Indian Economy, but never looked at it unilaterally. He looked at overlapping Agriculture with allied businesses to maximize prosperity of farmers. He strongly advocated the role modern mechanical Industries can play to complement a labour intensive agriculture. While fighting for soverneighty and total freedom Tilak pragmatically brought about some fundamental changes in Indian Legislations that till date owe credit to his foresight. He strongly stood up for a fair and just land revenue system, capital for farmers in the form of easy credit facilities as well as doing away with the unscrupulous and heartless money lenders. He pioneered some of the futuristic economic policies like setting up Swadeshi Banks & Credit Societies as an effort to eradicate rural poverty and restore justice.

These voices were equally echoed through his articles in the Kesari. Interesting to note is the establishment of Bank of India in 1906 inspired from these very thoughts. Tilak’s pioneering ideas led to the setting up of initial co-operatives – like the ‘Paisa Fund’ in Pune – which aimed at setting up capital for New Industries in the region. It is simply unfathomable how Tilak was able to strike just the right balance in his approaches towards Agricultural & Industrial Economics. Perhaps because he wasn’t an armchair economist, but an informed one! While seeking to remove the cobwebs of medieval Indian Agriculture, Tilak spoke about capitalism and entrepreneurship with an open mind. It is heartening to find a lead article of Kesari on 28th February 1893, congratulating the founders of Raja Bahadur Shivlal Motilal Mills in Pune – the first cotton mill out of Mumbai. Tilak’s vision to decentralize industries saw the light of day after independence, with Pune becoming the hub of Indian Industries. 

We shall be observing the death centenary of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak this year. His vision, his ideas and his thoughts continue to guide and correct us towards the path of a balanced economic progress. In an era of information explosion, Lokmanya Tilak’s life journey teaches us the importance of a learned approach and knowledge worship. Tilak stands for true patriotism, which continues serve his people and his motherland for centuries beyond his existence. As someone who saw the presence of God in his people, it will only be fitting that India’s Economic Progress is linked to the prosperity of the last man standing. 

Saleel Sanjay Savarkar

Saleel is an Architect & Urban Designer from Pune. An avid history buff, Saleel’s maternal family traces its roots to N.C. Kelkar, one of Lokmanya Tilak’s closest aides, and the erstwhile editor of Kesari. His interest in Indian Culture, Indian History and Architecture is reflected through his writing on blogs and other fora. With a strong agricultural family background, he feels deeply connected to the subject and wishes to explore relevant readings in greater detail.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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