Relevance of Socio-Political Ideas of Tilak in the Present Context

Every person is the representative of his own age, but there are some people who not only represent their own age, but also become torchbearers for the future. Lokmanya Tilak was one among them.

The uncritical admiration of some contemporary biographers of Tilak is as outmoded as the outright condemnation of his political opponents. In the period of agitation before 1920, no political figure had been so widely discussed by his contemporaries as was Tilak. Indians called him an Avatar, an incarnation of God’s spirit; in contrast, his Anglo-Indian critics called him a genius of destruction. In his lifetime, Tilak was at once the object of unlimited veneration and unreasoning hatred, a man worshipped by the millions and detested by not a few. He evoked the most contradictory and mutually hostile emotions among his countrymen and the British rulers of the time. This extraordinary situation has its roots in his extraordinary achievements. 

Tilak was a great visionary who believed in action. He attempted to prove two contentions: first, that the Gitaadvocated primarily a philosophy of action rather than renunciation or devotion: secondly, that social or political action is the duty of all citizens when the nation is threatened by internal decay or external oppression.

According to Tilak, action must be taken to keep the world going on 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.

According to D.V. Tahmankar, the key to Tilak’s power over the masses was to be found in his realization of the central and vital teaching of the ancient philosophy of India; the complete absence of an anti-thesis between the ideal and the real. There was no difference in Tilak’s saying and deeds. Society could never progress unless there was oneness in saying and deeds.  It can be argued that Tilak was a real karmayogi who served the society selflessly.

Tilak talked about dharma. When he used the word ‘dharma’, he did not imply religion, but human duty, morality and right action. That is why he argued that swaraj was not only our right, but dharma, because it was the duty of every Indian to make effort for the attainment of swaraj, and thus, swaraj ultimately became the dharma of the people of India.

Tilak gave more importance to duties than rights. He tried to harmonise the interest of individual with the interest of society. He argued that it was necessary that every individual should follow his duty for the welfare of the society. It is true that rights and duties are co-related and in return of every right, we must discharge some duties. If we do not discharge our duties properly, our rights become meaningless. They are the two sides of the same coin and always go together as two lines of railway track or two banks of a canal. They are closely related as man and his shadow or body and soul.

Mahatma Gandhi opined that there was no need to give rights to individuals; they should be given duties and rights would come to them automatically. Every citizen had only one right which was supreme, and that was the right to fulfil his duties. As far as contemporary society is concerned, Tilak’s ideas on interrelationship between rights and duties seem much relevant. 

Tilak was a leader of masses; he wanted every group and class of the society to participate in the national movement, whether they were students or peasants or workers. Undoubtedly, Tilak was the first Indian leader who planned to take the movement to the masses. He himself went to people dwelling in remote villages and informed them of their rights and implications of freedom. One can say that Tilak did not speak in terms of conflict of interests of workers and capitalists. However, from what Tilak said and did, he clearly initiated the idea of consensus and harmony of interests of all people and sections of the society which Gandhi and Nehru then carried forward.

Tilak promoted a spirit of nationalism which could enable people to transcend the limits of caste and religion and stand as one unit against foreign dominance. 

He tried to unify people to promote the national cause. At present our leaders are trying to divide the masses based on caste, culture, region, religion, creed and gender for their vested interests. We have so many social and political problems before us. These problems can only be solved if we rise above petty differences. It is the duty of our leaders to show people the right path and to unify them to fight against the problems.

Tilak was always ready to serve people, physically and economically, whenever they were in distress. He appeared like a legend for the people during the time of plague and famine. During famine, he himself went from shop to shop in the grain market of Poona, requesting shopkeepers not to sell grain at too high a price to the poor. Tilak’s humanitarian activities were significant and showed him to be a constructive political genius of the highest order. 

Tilak opposed governmental interference in bringing about social reforms. He stressed on education to reform the society, because motivation, not legislation, is the means to solve most of our social issues. Conversion must precede legislation. Legislation in the absence of conversion remains a dead letter. Today, we have the power to enforce rules of sanitation, but we can do nothing with them because the public is not ready. When we see our society, it seems that Tilak’s views are of paramount importance. We have so many laws to ‘fix’ our social problems, but we are unable to change or reform our society properly. People are still grappling with these problems. Of all the social inequalities in the context of our social reality, none is more dehumanizing than that imposed by the caste system, which intertwined with a long continuing period of feudalism, strengthening the enslavement of those who stood at the lower rungs of the hierarchical order. The GoI, through various enactments including the Removal of Untouchability Act, 1955, has tried to end this evil, but has failed. Similarly, many legal structures,  penal laws, etc. are available to check the dowry system, but the practice continues.

Moreover, our leaders today have double standards. They preach noble ideas and ideals to people, but in their personal life, they have nothing to do with what they preach. Our leaders first themselves need to practice these reforms and thus set an example for the society, as suggested by Tilak. It is also true that education is a must to enlighten the masses. Education will make people aware of social problems. They will certainly realise the need to change themselves for the betterment of themselves and of society.All these points indicate that Tilak was ahead of his times. He was a clear-sighted man. He wanted to put his ideas towards the society strongly and clearly. He was very strict with his principles and was never ready to compromise on them. Individuals like Tilak are the pride of our society. He was a great scholar, leader, a practical reformer, a real politician and over all a supreme karmayogi. His social and political ideas are very much relevant in the present context. Only through such leaders shall the country advance on the path of peace and prosperity.

Dr S Krishnan

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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