Bal Gangadhar Tilak on nationalism and patriotism

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was perhaps the first among equals when it came to defining Indian nationalism. The concept of nationhood never existed prior to British rule in India. The challenges faced in uniting disparate regions for this cause that was alien to most commoners was expertly handled by Tilak. The effectiveness of this idea, planted using his incisive speeches is there for all to see. Modern Indian patriotism is a distinct offspring of Tilak’s efforts. Even though other greats like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore have all extolled the virtues of universalism it is Tilak’s idea that has taken root in popular culture.

In this particular speech, Tilak explains the change in responsibilities of the common man in adapting to altering circumstances. The unification of various regions by British for easier administration, he suggests, should be accepted as a part of changing history. The subjects of this new empire has newer responsibilities. A broader perspective must be developed by each in order to fulfill their purpose in society. He urged folks to think beyond their regions, something that was never needed before as their rulers were the ones brokering alliances and allegiances.

As is his style, the language is quite candid in places. It is also flavoured with a brand of sarcasm that is typical of a Punekari as is evident in the following section:

\"The first duty of an Indian patriot is to ask if the people of India are of one nation. The answer that came to the lips of everyone is that India was one nation. This answer might be prompted by self-love or self-deception. Perhaps the wish is the father to the thought. Hope being the very salt of patriotism, it is not for the patriot to be disappointed."

These two attributes of his, combined with his ability to explain subliminal concepts using simplest of words and analogies, was what appealed him to the common folk. Hence the title of लोकमान्य (‘Lokmanya’, best translated as one who is respected by all peoples).

Personal differences in opinions with his brand of nationalism aside, his impact on modern India can never be overstated.

16th September, 2010. Mumbai.

Empires: Old and new

[Speech by Bal Gangadhar Tilak on 5th May 1905 in Bellary, Karnataka.]

In India we have to consider what are the duties of a patriot. Formerly, India was what the present-day writers called a congeries of nations. Patriotism was a non egoistic virtue and altruistic in it’s operations. We have to find out from ancient history whether the administrators of petty states placed before themselves an ideal higher than the family or the individual ideal. Empires meant in those days quite a different thing from what they mean today – an empire now means a country ruled from the Himalayas to Comorin with the subject races under the same laws and regulations. An empire of this kind never existed before. There was a complete autonomy in each different province in olden days, but a tribute was levied from the minor provinces only as a mark of subordination. An Empire did not mean the assumption of the internal administration of a province by the suzerain power. The idea that a country of so many provinces has a single interest and a single ideal to look to, was not conceived because it was not necessary. This was not the intellectual fault of their ancestors. There was a kind of unity and there were ties, but those were not national, because the country was then differently circumstanced. Looking at the ideal which, to a certain extent, inspired the Marathas about 250 years ago, it was plain that the ancient ideals were more or less provincial. When Shivaji made his conquests, it was for the Maratha nation only. Such an ideal would be considered narrow now; but we should look to the spirit of the ideal which laid down a policy by which one Province of India at least assumed an importance which was felt throughout the land.

Such provincial and racial ideals would not serve the purposes of a modern patriot, the limits should be made broader and more liberal, and as Lord Curzon said the ideal should be composite as circumstances are now entirely altered after the establishment of the British rule in India. India which was a geographical expression once, became a single administration in the hands of the English. A nation is constituted of many elements, the element of ethnology, of language, of literature, of religion and tradition. The first duty of an Indian patriot is to ask if the people of India are of one nation. The answer that came to the lips of everyone is that India was one nation. This answer might be prompted by self-love or self-deception. Perhaps the wish is the father to the thought. Hope being the very salt of patriotism, it is not for the patriot to be disappointed.

In considering the question whether India can be a nation, various questions crop up. One man says that from the heterogeneous communities of India one nation cannot arise; another wants the Indian social customs to be done away with; another industrial friend wants the industries to be first revived, for the country can then only accumulate wealth, and wealth is power. The question of nationality should not be looked at from only one point of view but progress must be looked for all along the line, and the mutual relation of the different parts should be understood. There is not a doctrine in the world which has not its opponents; there are no doubt differences in language, climate and religious faith; even if all these differences are obliterated for the time being, yet the vastness of the country is such that differences would again arise soon.

There are certain factors which, if properly developed and cultivated, would eventually lead to one nationality. The Hindus are governed by the Sahstras, held sacred all over the country; they have the same history, they live in the same land, they are under the same government which is a new factor contributed by the British rule. The task of an Indian Patriot is not easy; he should not be daunted by difficulties, for the development of character consisted in conquering difficulties which are after all of human creation. There is no conflict between Vedantic ideals and patriotic ideals. Progress means adapting to the changed circumstances at each time. Society being a living organization, it was unnatural if it could not adapt itself to altered circumstances. The social organization in India is not surely dead, it is probably slumbering and sleep is no death, and there is sure to be a waking sooner or later. Patriotism in India involves nationality and wielding of races. The limits should be widened, the ideal of a composite patriotism should be attained and the goal of the Indians should be to become worthy members of the British Empire having the same rights and privileges as the other members, helping each other and cooperating with each other, towards the same goal and for the glorification of one empire.

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