The Lokmanya and the Mahatma

As we pay homage to Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak on his 75th death anniversary, it would be an apt occasion to recall how, and at what point, the paths of these two colossal figures of the national movement - Tilak and Gandhi - crossed each other.

It was the night of 31st July, 1920. At the Sardargriha in Bombay, the Lokmanya's illness had taken a serious turn and all the prominent doctors of Bombay had gathered around his bed in an effort to save him, knowing full well that these were practically his last moments. That night he breathed his last.

On hearing the news, Bapu was lost in serious thought. He spent the whole night sitting on his bed, thinking. A lamp was burning by his side. He remained with his eyes fixed on it. Mahadevbhai awoke from his sleep in the latter part of the night and saw Bapu sitting up. He went to Bapu, who spoke, almost involuntarily: "To whom shall I go for advice now in moments of difficulty? And when the time comes to seek help from the whole of Maharashtra to whom shall I turn?" He continued, "I have been working for Swaraj all along, but I have avoided uttering that word. But now it devolves upon me to keep Lokmanya's slogan alive and effective. It must not be allowed to sink into silence. The banner of Swaraj which this brave warrior raised must not be lowered for a moment."

In 1916 when the Lokmanya returned from deportation at Mandalay, he decided to rejoin the Congress. Gandhiji had not yet entered the political arena, nor had he become a Mahatma. At that time the Lokmanya was a much respected and popular leader. The masses reposed immense faith in him.

The Congress Provincial Conference was to meet in Ahmedabad in the same year. In those days this Conference was run by the Moderates. The Reception Committee had sent an invitation to Lokmanya Tilak which he accepted. Some young men wanted to have a procession in his honour but the idea was rejected by the men at the top who argued that if there was a procession for Lokmanya, they must have a procession for other leaders. As a result, a public welcome could not be arranged, and the young men were greatly disappointed. When Gandhiji who was not yet a member of the conference heard that there was going to be no public welcome, for the Lokmanya, he had a leaflet printed with his own signature, and thousands of copies were distributed to the citizens of Ahmedabad. It said, "We are being honoured by the visit of such a great leader as Lokmanya, so I am going to the station to receive him. It is the duty of the citizens of Ahmedabad to be present there to welcome him. The effect of the leaflet was magical. Tremendous crowds at the station and on the roads ensured that the Lokmanya received a magnificent welcome.

Tilak was born in 1856. He was thirteen years senior to Gandhiji. Their goal was the same - namely, attainment of Swaraj and resurgence of India as a great nation. It was only after Gandhiji finally entered Indian politics and public affairs in 1915 that Tilak and Gandhi became contemporaries in the real sense of the term, although they remained that way only for a brief period.

At the instance of friends, a meeting had been arranged between him and Bapu, during which they were left alone. After the meeting the Lokmanya remarked to a friend Gangadhar Rao, "This man is not one of us. He follows a different path altogether but he is true in every sense of the term. No harm can ever come to Bharat through him. We must be careful to avoid any conflict with him-on the contrary we must help him whenever we can."

It was an open secret that they differed and both of them expressed this fact without any reserve. But their real greatness lay in not allowing the conflict of ideas to lead to a split between them. Each realised the importance of joint efforts for the common goal. Despite their differences they held each other in high esteem. Gandhiji referred to him as Tilak Maharaj. Both drew their inspiration from Indian culture and the spiritual basis of Indian life.

It was Tilak who had given us the dream of Swaraj. Gandhiji worked and lived to see that dream fulfilled. In fact Gandhiji himself had once remarked, "If there is any man who meditates night and day, with untiring fervour, on how to achieve freedom for Hind, it is he... I am perfectly sure that, if Lokmanya is not asleep at this moment, he must be thinking of something or the other in connection with Swaraj; or he must be with someone. His loyalty to the ideal of Swaraj is something wonderful."

Adapted from stray Glimpses of Bapu by Kaka kalelkar