THE WILL TO BE FREE
The teachings of the great men you have just read about spread in India and many people began to think “Can we not make our country, which was once known for its wealth and learning, once again strong, wise and free?”
The British thought themselves better than the Indians. Most of them looked down upon our people. They refused to be tried by Indian judges, had special carriages in trains and did not allow Indians to mix with them as equals. Very few Indians were selected for the higher jobs in Government. The British did a hundred other things to show their sense of superiority. All this hurt our people deeply. But they were weak and afraid. Only a few people had the courage to speak out in protest.
On the surface everything seemed to be calm, but underneath there was much restlessness. The foremost leaders of the country thought it was time to form an organization for telling the British what India felt. The organization they founded was called the Indian National Congress. The first President of the Congress was Woomesh Chandra Bonnerji. It might interest you to know that the first secretary of the Congress was an Englishman called Allan Octavian Hume. He was one of the many Britons who truly loved India. He worked for its good, and believed that Indians should have more say in their own affairs.
The Congress demanded that less money should be spent on police and more on schools and hospitals. It insisted that the members of the local councils should be elected by the people and not appointed by the Government. They were convinced that India would always remain poor unless the decisions were taken by those whom the people trusted.
The most important leader of the Congress was Dadabhai Naoroji of Bombay. He was greatly respected because his thoughts were always for the country and never for himself. Through books and speeches he described how poor our country was. The cause of this poverty, he said, was foreign rule. He was so truthful and kindly a man that even Englishmen regarded him as a friend, and he was elected to the British Parliament. In Parliament he demanded that Indians should be given more power. The people of India, whom he served for seventy years, loved him and called him the Grand Old Man. He lived to be 92 years of age, and was thrice president of the Congress. It was he who declared, as president of the Congress, that India's goal was Swaraj.
We have seen that after the Government of India was taken over by the British sovereign, the Governor-General also became the Viceroy. Normally a Viceroy remained in India for a term of five years. The first Viceroy was Lord Canning. All parts of India had by then come under the British. There was nothing more to conquer inside the country.
There was hardly any fighting, except to guard the frontiers of the empire. As you know, most invaders of India had come through the Khyber Pass. The British wanted this Pass to be under their control. Since the Khyber Pass is in Afghanistan the British wanted the ruler of Afghanistan to be under their control also. In this attempt, they fought three wars, which are known as the Afghan Wars.
The Government was becoming stronger, but it was mainly run for the good of England. There were several famines and thousands of people died of hunger every year. To make matters worse, plague broke out as an epidemic tor the first time in India and spread over large parts of the country.
Among the Viceroys, there were some who are remembered as good friends of India. Lord Ripon is one of them. He allowed Indians to have a voice in running their own towns and cities. He also did not like the idea that there should be special courts with English judges to try Englishmen in India and tried to stop this practice.
Another well-known Viceroy was Lord Curzon. He was greatly interested in India's ancient history and in historical monuments. But he became unpopular because he split the province of Bengal into two. In one part there were more Muslims than Hindus and in the other more Hindus than Muslims. Most Bengalis did not like Bengal to be divided. They started a fight for a United Bengal. One of the ways in which they protested against the British was to boycott British goods. They told people to use only swadeshi things or things which were made in their own country. A leader of this fight was Aurobindo Ghose, who later became a sannyasi.
The British later agreed that Lord Curzon was wrong, and Bengal was made one again. Another thing that happened at the time was that the capital of India was moved from Calcutta to Delhi, which had been the capital of kings for hundreds of years.
The British also had to bow to the Indian demand that the people of the country should have more say in the Government. More Indians could go into the Legislative Assemblies of the various provinces. These new concessions were called the Minto-Morley Reforms because they were drawn up by Lord Minto, who was then the Viceroy, and Lord Morley, who was the British secretary in charge of Indian affairs. Many people in the Congress, however, thought that these reforms did not go far enough. In order to get real self-government, they felt that requests and appeals would not do, and that some vigorous action should be taken. The most famous of these men who wanted firm action was Balgangadhar Tilak.
TWO MEN FROM POONA
TILAK AND GOKHALE
Even as a child Balgangadhar Tilak had little patience. When he was given a sum to do in class, he used to shout out the answer at once. This habit annoyed his teachers, but secretly they were proud of his quick mind and cleverness. He was bright, truthful and loyal to his friends. Many times he was scolded for things he had not done, but he never gave away his friends and classmates.
Tilak grew up to be a great scholar. He knew Sanskrit very well and was a good mathematician. But most of all he loved his country. He joined the Congress and decided that he would not rest until India was free.
At the same time, there was another equally learned man called Gopal Krishna Gokhale who also deeply loved his country. As a child he once rode to one of the Congress meetings on the rear-board of the horse carriage in which Dadabhai Naoroji was travelling. Like Tilak, he also wanted to see India happy and the two became great friends. They both lived in Poona. They taught in the same college and used to discuss things as they strolled about on the banks of a river near their college. Although they were close friends they disagreed on the ways in which India could get her freedom. Tilak was impatient and wanted action. Gokhale advised patience. He believed that the British could be persuaded to see the Indian; point of view, and that it was not necessary to fight them.
Some people agreed with Tilak, others with Gokhale. The Congress was divided into two groups, both wanting the same thing but believing in different ways to get it. With Tilak were Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal. They were popularly called the Lal-Bal-Pal Group. Dadabhai Naoroji, Phirozeshah Mehta, Surendranath Bannerjea and Gokhale were in the other group. You must know the names of all these people, because they were all great patriots, however different their ways.
Tilak was the first to demand that India must be free. "Swaraj is my birthright, and I will have it", he said. He was a fiery speaker and thousands of people who heard him demanded Swaraj. Tilak was put in jail many times for this. But he never once cared for himself. He ran a journal called Kesari through which he spoke to the whole country.
Tilak did not believe that a handful of men, however wise, could do much. He set himself the task of rousing masses of people to action. In his own town, he started the Shivaji festival, at which great number of people gathered and recalled the brave deeds of the heroic Shivaji. He also started the practice of celebrating Ganesh Puja on a mass scale. These celebrations went on for many days and thousands of people attended them. At these gatherings learned men and political leaders told the common people about the past greatness of the country and of the need to be free once again.
Tilak was once sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for preaching that the British should go. The British were afraid to let him remain in India, even though he was in jail, and they sent him to Burma. The hard life in jail broke his health and made him a weak, old man; but nothing could break his spirit. He had to live absolutely alone in a cell for six years in Burma. He was not even allowed to see his friends. But he had his books which had always been his close friend. While he was in jail, he wrote a very fine book called Gita Rahasya. It explains the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. Tilak is remembered as much for this book as for his heroic fight for freedom.
Gokhale was quite a different type of man from Tilak. He believed in quiet action. He founded a body called the Servants of India Society. Only people who vowed to devote their whole lives to social reform could join this society. Gokhale was a great patriot and wanted freedom as much as anyone else, but he felt that we should first make ourselves fit to receive freedom. We should educate our people and improve the state of our society.
Gandhiji had something interesting to say about Tilak and Gokhale. He said that meeting Gokhale was like having a dip in the Ganga while Tilak was like the ocean.