The extremist ideology created a leadership trio of Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Ganghadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandr Pal, who altered the nationalist vocabulary by incorporating swadeshi, boycott and national education. These reformers played a huge role in awakening Indian Society and bringing them closer to today's Modern India. These were prominent part of  India Freedom Struggle which is part of UPSC mains GS paper 1.


  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak


  1. Bal Gangadhar, Tilak, rooted in Maharashtra, was perhaps the most articulate militant leader of this phase of freedom struggle.
  2. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, born as Keshav Gangadhar Tilak (23 July 1856-1 August 1920), was an Indian nationalist, journalist, teacher, social reformer, lawyer and an independence activist.
  3. He was the first popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement. The British colonial authorities called him "Father of the Indian unrest." He was also conferred with the honorary title of "Lokmanya", which literally means "Accepted by the  people  (as  their leader)".
  4. Tilak was one of the first  and strongest advocates of "Swaraj" (self-rule) and a strong radical in Indian consciousness. His famous quote, "Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it!" is well-remembered in India even today.


  1. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born in a middle class family in the Ratnagiri district of Konkan on the west coast of India on 23rd Juy, 1856. The family was noted for its piety, learning and adherence to ancient traditions and rituals.
  2. His father, Gangadhar Pant was a teacher by profession and a Sanskrit scholar. This instilled in him a love for Sanskrit and respect for ancient Indian religion and culture.
  3. Believing that the best way to serve the country was to educate the people, he and his friend Gopal Gancsh Agarkar decided to-devote their lives to the cause of education.
  4. They started the New English School at Pune in 1876 and started their career as school teachers. However, Tilak started feeling that educating young children was not enough and that the elderly people also needed to be exposed to the socio political reality.
  5. Hence, in 1881 he started two weeklies, 'Maratha' in English and 'Kesari' in Marathi. In 1885 they set up the Deccan Education Society in order to start a college which was later named after the then Governor of Bombay as the Ferguson College.
  6. He was the founder member of the All India Home Rule League (1916–18) with G. S. Khaparde and Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Annie Besant.
  7. Through his writings in the Kesari, he tried to make the people conscious of their rights. In his writings, Tilak very often invoked the tradition and history of Maharashtra.
  8. These writings made him very popular among his people. It however, antagonized the government and he was imprisoned because of it on several occasions.
  9. Tilak believed that the world is the field of God and is real. It is not an illusion or Maya.
  10. The individual has to live and strive in the world; it is here where he has to perform his duties. The individual will, in this way, attain spiritual freedom and promote the welfare .of his fellow creatures.


  1. Nationalism basically refers to a feeling of unity, a sense of belonging and solidarity within a group of people.
  2. Tilak also accepted the significance of certain objective factors like common language, habitation on common territory, in promoting and strengthening the subjective feeling of unity and solidarity.
  3. Tilak’s nationalism was also influenced by the western theories of national independence and self determination.
  4. In the famous trial speech of 1908, he quotes with approval of John Stuart Mill’s definition of nationality. In 1919 and 1920 he accepted the Wilsonian concept of self determination and pleaded for its application to India. Hence, Tilak’s philosophy of nationalism was a synthesis of the vedantic ideal of the spirit as supreme freedom and the western conceptions of Mazzini, Edmund Burke, J.S. Mill and Woodrow Wilson.
  5. Because of his spiritual approach, Tilak regarded that swarajya was not only a right but dharma. According to Tilak, a feeling of oneness and solidarity among a people arising mainly from their common heritage was the vital force of nationalism.
  6. Knowledge of a common heritage and pride in it fosters psychological unity. It was to arouse this pride among the people that Tilak referred to Shivaji and Akbar in his speeches.
  7. Besides, he felt that by developing a feeling of common interest, a common destiny which can be realised by united political action, the feeling of nationalism could be strengthened. Culture and religion had been the' main basis of Tilak's nationalism.
  8. Although the seeds of patriotism in modern Maharashtra were sown by Chiploonkar, Tilak was the real founder of a vigorous and valiant nationalism there. Through the Kesari he spread for nearly forty years the gospel of natural rights, political liberty and justice.
  9. He taught the people of Maharashtra the value of organised self help by deciding to serve the plague victims in Poona during the 1897, Tilak become a leader of the people who auto matically were drawn to him for humanism.
  10. Apart from his role in serving the victims, he wrote several pieces in Kesari condemning the arrangement and the steps, the government undertook in combating this deadly disease.
  11. The cult of Ganapati and Shivaji gave to the Maratha people a renewed sense of patriotism, vitalism, and the capacity of political self assertiveness.
  12. He revived the concept of swarajya which was used to designate the polity of Shivaji. The people of Maharashtra thoroughly understood the meaning and message of Tilak.
  13. Majority of the Indians regarded Tilak as an invincible hero and as the antagonist of the British power in India.


  1. Militant nationalism represented a distinct phase in the anti-colonial struggle. It introduced new methods of political agitation, involved popular symbols for mobilisation and thus tried to broad base the movement.
  2. The militant nationalists' attitude was entirely different. To them, the alien government was a total evil. It was the cause of political, economic, cultural and spiritual ruin of the country.
  3. The foreign ruler could never be trusted to vacate the country that he has gained by conquest. In militant nationalism, each one of the factors of nationalism named earlier territory, population, religion; race, etc. acquire an added emotional emphasis.
  4. For example, the territory of a nation is much more than geographical entity. It is a sacred land.
  5. The motherland is considered as greater than heaven. It is a divinity in physical form and the embodiment of its philosophy of life and dharma. The mountains and rivers of the country are also more than physical objects.
  6. The militant nationalists established close relation between tradition and national consciousness. They appealed to glory and greatness of the Indians' past. Militant nationalists were also profoundly influenced by the Bhagavadgita. They drew from it the legson of duty.
  7. The performance of duty was to be selfless and free from egoism. Personal consideratjons and sentiments of love, attachment, dislike or hatred must be set aside.
  8. Our duty is to be performed as an offering to God without expecting fruit or reward in return. In this connection, B.G. Tilak's interpretation of the Gita needs special mention.
  9. He derived a philosophy of 'activism' which essentially implied the carrying out of one's duty /with devotion instead of abandoning it out of laziness and sloth.
  10. Tilak believed that religion, which had powerful emotional appeal, should be harnessed for the dormant spirit of nationalism.
  11. Tilak recognized the tremendous symbolic significance of historical and religious festivals, flags and slogans in arousing a spirit of nationalism. Tilak was nationalist par excellence of Vedanta philosophy and orthodox Hindu rituals and practices.
  12. Tilak was accused of being sectarian in multi-religious India. That he upheld the most reactionary form of Hindu orthodoxy was evident in his opposition to the 1890 Age of Consent Bill that sought to raise the age of consummation of marriage of girls from 10 to 12 years.
  13. While the moderate spokesman Ranade hailed the bill for its progressive social role, Tilak found in this legislation an unwarranted intervention in Hindu social life.
  14. Similarly, his involvement in the cow protection society alienated the Muslims to a large extent from the extremist campaign. Tilak’s argument in favour of law protection drew upon the sacredness of cow in Hindu belief, completely disregarding the importance of beef in Muslim diet.
  15. Tilak’s nationalism had to some extent, a revivalist orientation. He wanted to bring to the front the message of the Vedas and the Gita for providing spiritual energy and moral enthusiasm to the nation.
  16. A revival of the strong and vital traditions of the old culture of India was essential. He said: ‘A true nationalist desires to build on old foundations. Reform on utter disrespect for the old does not appeal to him as constructive work.
  17. We do not want to anglicize our institutions and so denationalise them in the name of social and political reforms’. He pointed out that the Shivaji and the Ganapati festivals had been encouraged by in because they served to link contemporary events and movements with historical traditions.
  18. Nationalism is essentially a psychological and spiritual conception. It is the modern version of the old deep sentiments of tribal patriotism which we find since prehistoric and ancient times. It is true that nationalism flourished best when there are objective entities which create sentiments of unity.A common language, belief in common descent from an actual or a mythical race habitation on the same territory and profession of a common religion are very important objective factors which generate the feelings of nationalism.
  19. There must be the presence of a psychological unity fostered by the heritage of historical tradition. In spite of racial and linguistic diversities, this psychological bond of nationalism has been important in India.
  20. The overflowing continuity of the steam of India culture since olden times has contributed to produce this fundamental psychological unity in India.
  21. Besides the subjective experience of this psychological unity, another feature of nationalism also has been upper most in India namely spiritual nationalism. In India the spiritual side of nationalism has been stressed by Bankim Chandra, Vivekananda, Aurobindo Gosh and Tilak .


  1. Tilak presented the nation with a threefold programme or techniques for effective practical and political action. The three principles were boycott, swadshi and national education.
  2. Boycott initially involved the refusal of the people to purchase British manufactured goods. It was started as a measure designed to bring economic pressure on the British business interests, both in India and abroad.
  3. Boycott gradually moved from the economic into the political sphere. At the Calcutta Congress of 1906, Tilak supported the swadeshi resolution and spelled out the economic foundations of Indian nationalism.
  4. The swadeshi movement quickly became a movement of national regeneration: swadeshi was a practical application of love of country.


Economic Ideas

  1. In the economic field, he accepted Dadabhai Naoroji's 'Economic Drain Theory' and criticised the British Government for ruthlessly exploiting the resources of the country. British rule had impoverished the country.
  2. The Britishers' reckless policies had destroyed the indigenous industries, trade and art. The alien rulers had allowed a free inflow of European products and the Indian handicrafts etc. were forced to face unequal competition with them.
  3. But Tilak realized that a foreign government cannot be expected to accord protection to the indigenous industries.
  4. The twin political programmes of 'Boycott' and 'Swadeshi' suggested by Tilak were aimed at generating indigenous and independent economic development.

Political Ideas

  1. Swaraj, according to him, was full self-government-political, social, economic and spiritual. Thus, Swaraj was something more than mere home rule. For the realisation of this Swaraj, Tilak accepted the suitability of the western liberal institutions and concepts like constitutional government, rule of law, individual freedom, dignity of the person. and so on.
  2. To Tilak, the ultimate goal of the national movement was Swaraj. In order to involve pepple in the movement, he interpreted the goal of Swaraj in religious terms and insisted that Swaraj is our religious necessity.
  3. Tilak’s role in the Indian National Congress was that of an agitator. He wanted that the Congress should have its roots in the life of the people. From 1905 to 1907 and from 1917 to 1920 he played a decisive role in the congress.
  4. He taught the gospel of self reliance and self-help at a time when some of the other leaders were mainly looking to British sympathy and support. He introduced extremist national sentiments in the Congress.
  5. The Congress so for was mainly middle class organisation. Tilak attempted to bring it to the Congress the lower middle-classes and the ordinary masses.
  6. As one of the greatest makers of the Indian Nation, Tilak has won undying fame. He was not merely an agitator but was a statesman whose life work is the creation of the foundations of a strong nation.
  7. Tilak was a great politician and an all pervasive and exalted patriotism was the dominant theme of his life. The mission of his life was to rouse patriotic self- consciousness among Indians.
  8. But he was not merely the prophet of an aggressive nationalism. He was also a leader who made great efforts to execute his ideas into concrete action.
  9. Hence, Tilak did not remain a mere political intellectual but was a practical statesman of a high order, Tilak is a unique figure in several respects and for generations his memories will inspire the people of India and freedom lover all over the world. In political life, Tilak was the Bhisma of Indian nationalism. He was an intellectual giant, a statesman and a moral hero.
  10. Foreign imperialism kills the soul of a nation and hence Tilak fought against the British empire. Swaraj became the reason and justification for the entire programme and movement led by Tilak and other nationalists.
  11. He held that the attainment of swaraj would be great victory for Indian nationalism. He gave to Indian the mantra:’ swaraj is the birth right of Indians. He defined swaraj as people’s rule instead of that of bureaucracy.
  12. For pushing his ideal of swaraj forward he started Home Rule League in 1916 with the co-operation of Annie Besant. Tilak contemplated federal type of political structure under swaraj.
  13. He referred to the example of the American Congress and said that the government of India should keep it hands similar powers to exercise them through an impartial council for the correct implementation of his programme.
  14. Tilak urged the method of nonviolent passive resistance’. Thus Tilak’s method of action was democratic and constitutional. He had constructed practical objective.
  15. The swadeshi boycotted movement was an attempt at vindicating the rights of the people to self government and hence it used several techniques of political agitation as mass processions, big public meetings, strikes, picketing etc, which have been followed by later Indian leaders in their political movements.

Religious Ideas

  1. The religion and the philosophy of Vedanta emphasise equal spiritual status and destiny of each individual.
  2. This is against bondage of any kind and Swaraj is therefore, not only a political but natural and spiritual necessity Tilak held that Swaraj was a moral and religious necessity for every man and group.
  3. For his moral fulfilment and for the performance of religious duties, man needs to be free. Without political freedom higher freedom is impossible. Thus Swaraj is our Dharma. To endeavour to attain it is our Karma- Yoga.
  4. Tilak was a believer in the Advaita philosophy. He had a very comprehensive conception of Hinduism in his mind.
  5. He said in a speech of January 3, 1906 thus ; ‘The term Sanatan Dharma shows that our religion is very old, as old as the history of human race itself. Vedic religion was the religion of the Aryans from a very early time.
  6. Hindu religion as a whole is made up of different parts correlated to each other as so many sons and daughters of one great  religion. If this idea is kept in view and if we try to unite the various sections it will be consolidated in a mighty force. Religion is an element in nationality.
  7. The word Dharma means a tie and comes from the root dhri, to bear or hold ‘what is there to hold together’.
  8. To connect the soul with god, and man with man, dharma means our duties towards God and duties towards man. Hindu religion as such provides for a moral as well as social tie. …..’ Tilak has given a broad definition of Hindu.
  9. According to him, a Hindu is one who accepts the authoritativeness of Vedas. A Hindu moulds his conduct according to the injunctions of the Vedas the smritis and the puranas.
  10. The metaphysical assumptions of Tilak influenced his political ideas. According to him, the metaphysics of non-dualism of the Vedanta implied the political conception of natural right.
  11. Advaita taught him the supremacy of the concept of freedom. Freedom is the very life of the individual soul which Vedanta declares to be not separate from God but identical with him.
  12. Freedom, according to Tilak, was a divine attribute. Freedom may be equated with the autonomous power of creativism. Without freedom no moral and spiritual life is possible.

Tilak was one of the dominant political figures who gave to the people of India the first lessons in the consciousness of the right of swaraj. He enlightened the population of India into a political recognition of the general will of the nation. He has given us a theory of nationalism. His theory of nationalism was synthesis of the teachings of both eastern and western thinkers. Tilak was not merely a nationalist leader with tremendous political acumen. He himself represented a new wave of nationalist movement that created an automatic space for it by providing the most powerful and persuasive critique of moderate philosophy and articulating his nationalist ideology in language that was meaningful to those it was addressed.

Tilak was the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement. The British colonial authorities called him "The father of the Indian unrest." To read more articles on Modern India History click here