“Freedom is my birthright. So long as it is awake within me, I am not old,” said Lokmanya Tilak.
“Swarajya is my birth-right and I shall have it!” roared Bal Gangadhar Tilak as he emerged from the prison in present-day Mumbai. India found a new slogan which paved the way for India’s Independence struggle and Tilak became the first Lokmanya leader of it. While for the most part of his contribution to Indian Freedom Struggle, he advocated radical approach, however, later in his last years he took up the task of taking the message of Swarajya to rural India. On the lines of Swarajya (Self-Rule) Tilak advocated a Home Rule (Self-governance) for India. He launched Home Rule League in April 1916 to work in Maharashtra (primarily in Bombay Presidency), Karnataka, the Central Provinces and Berar. The objectives of Tilak’s League were: 1) Establishment of self-government for India in British Empire and 2) Working for national education and social and political reforms.
The Membership for the Home Rule League skyrocketed from 1000 in November 1916 to 14,000 in April 1917 and to 32,000 in 1918. This was primarily due to the fiery speeches delivered by Tilak. The Home Rule League organized discussions and lectures and set up reading rooms. It distributed newspapers and pamphlets in English and vernacular languages, educating people about objectives of the movement. Members of the league were powerful orators and petitions of thousands of Indians were submitted to the British authorities.
The Home Rule League was inspired by Irish Home Rule movements. While Tilak focused on Western Parts of India, Irish Theosophical leader Annie Besant helped set up Home Rule League in the different parts of the country. She herself was very active in Madras Presidency. Though the Home Rule Movements of Tilak and Besant functioned separately, they worked in close cooperation with each other. The fiery speech by Bal Gangadhar Tilak soon gave massive popularity to the league.
Here’s one of the most popular speech by Bal Gangadhar Tilak on the first anniversary of the formation of the Home Rule League, in 1917, at Nasik.
“I am young in spirit. Even if my body has grown old, the young spirit inside me is still alive. Whatever I am saying today is deeply felt by this young spirit inside me. The body can wilt, it can decrepit or even perish but the soul residing in the body is forever young. Similarly, if our Home Rule activities slow down, the freedom of our inner spirit cannot sustain and no longer will it be indestructible. Then, we ourselves will start believing that we are slaves.
“Freedom is my birthright. I will not be old as long as it is alive within me. This feeling of freedom, no weapon can cut this, no fire can burn it, no water can drown it and no wind can blow it. We are asking for home rule and we will get it. The science of politics teaches us that we cannot achieve through Slavery what we can through Home Rule. The political progress is the pillar of a nation. I want to invoke your soul that yearns for freedom which will only happen through the political progress.”
“I want to destroy this superstition of slavery that has blinded your spirit. This superstition is the reason why you are being let down by ignorant, conniving and selfish people. There are two sides to the science of politics. While one is celestial, another is demonic. The slavery of any nation is the demonic side. There cannot be a moral justification for this. A nation which might justify this is sinful in the sight of God. Some bravely oppose this demonic side of oppression while some who cannot never be able to declare what is harmful to them.
“These people are capable of giving political and religious teaching, but they do not educate the common people about it. Religious and political teachings are not separate, though they appear to be so on account of foreign rule. All philosophies are included in the science of politics.”
“Who doesn’t understand the meaning of home rule? Who doesn’t desire it? If I enter your house as a guest, reside there forever and if I don’t pay heed when you oppose; would you like it? According to some people we don’t have the right to home rule. The British are ruling over us for the past century and they say we are not fit for home rule.”
“If the century of British Rule hasn’t been able to make us competent enough for Home Rule, then we will make ourselves fit for it. They find it shameful that we are making efforts to save our country. On the other hand, England itself is trying to protect the small state of Belgium with India’s help; isn’t that shameful for them? Those who find a selfish motive behind our demands or Home Rule can even find fault in the all-merciful God.”
“We all must save the soul of our nation from this custody of foreign rule. We have to toil for it but it is our birthright to protect our nation. The Congress has passed this home rule resolution.”
“Some selfish interests oppose India’s demand for Home Rule in practical politics on the pretext of several issues ridding our country. One such issue is illiteracy. But together we all can eradicate it. Remember, such issues can only be solved with co-operation. It would be sufficient for us that even the illiterate in our country have a dire desire for Swaraj, let it be the strength of all. Those who can easily complete their work can be illiterate but are not foolish. They can be as intelligent as any literate person. Literacy cannot be the parameter for intelligence.”
“It is not that difficult to attain Swaraj. Thus, illiteracy can never be the obstacle in the way. Our uneducated brethren are equally important for this country’s Home Rule. They have equal rights.”
“The circumstances change in no time. Today, only once voice echoes, ‘Now or Never’. Therefore, we must take advantage of this opportunity given to us by God and should put our maximum efforts in the struggle for Home Rule. Turn not back, and confidently leave the ultimate issue to the benevolence of the Almighty.”