Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a frontline fighter, intimately involved with the Indian national movement. This book explores Tilak’s engagements, not just with the Indian movement, but also the nuanced diversities associated with a context that preceded the mass movements. Based on a variety of sources, the contributors attempt to historicize a nationalist icon. In the process, the reader is presented with a holistic picture of a leading nationalist personality, including his contradictions and ambiguities. In this sense, the different contributions in this book question the ‘received wisdom’ associated with Tilak.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak: Popular readings would be of use of to those interested in the manner in which it intersected with a range of social, cultural and political issues. The ‘non-specialist’ reader, too, will be interested in the way in which the book makes both Tilak and his context accessible.
Biswamoy Pati is Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi. Among his many publications on diverse aspects of colonial/postcolonial Indian history, are two collections
Published by Primus Books: The Social History of Health and Medicine in Colonial India (coedited with Mark Harrison, 2011) and Indi’s Princely State: People, Princes and Colonialism (coedited with Waltraud Ernst, 2010). His recent publications also include two edited voumes Adivasis in Colonial India (2011) and The Great Rebellion of 1857 in India (2010).
This book draws its inspiration from a ‘Special Symposium’ on Bal Gangadhar Tilak, held at the 67th Session of the Indian History Congress (Calicut, 10-14 March 2007) to commemorate his 150th Birth Anniversary. The iconic figure of Bal Gal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920)-a frontline figainst British colonialism-has indeed inspired freedom fighters and stirred the imagination of many generations of people in our country. It has also enthused historians, who have tried to study Tilak and his political role in the anti-imperialist struggle. These have resulted in studies that have sought to focus to Tilak in the context of the development in a the Indian National Movement. This trend has been reinforced in a recent work that clearly illustrates the possibilities of researching aspects of Tilak’s political career and interventions on the basis of few sources and questions.
Mainstream historiography has been usually critical of Tilak, dismissing him as a ‘reactionary’, a ‘conservative extremist’. One has to bear in mind here that Tilak’s political career and engagements with the ‘public sphere’ relate to certain condition and specificities. One of the significant features of the essays in collection is that they locate both Tilak and the historical context wherein he ‘acted’ as well as the diversities that he negotiated. After all, Tilak did not choose the circumstances with which he interacted. Thus, the contribution weave in features that were in may symptomatic of the processes related Indian nationalism in its nascent stage, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century: After all, this was phase wherein the Indian National Movement was ye to become a mass movement. All this perhaps explain many of the shifts, changes, and contradictions that influenced Tilak’s political career.
The contributions to this book examine Tilak and his context holistically in a fresh manner, instead of attempting to articulate a final ‘conclusion’. Besides questioning some ‘established truths’ they re-examine and re-interpret some aspects of Tilak and his times. These range from questioning whether Tilak was a Congressman in the first place, to locating Tilak as a conservative leader, to the question whether he inspired the Indian communists and the Communist Movement. In fact, what is presented to the reader will make her/him realize the Pluralities of interpretation associated with the very discipline of history.
On behalf of all the contributors I thank Professor J.V. Naik. Not only did he chair the ‘Special Symposium’ some of the present contributions were presented, he was also instrumental in inspiring this project.
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