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British view of the Ganapati Festival

British view of the Ganapati festival as that of the Shivaji festival was essentially their view of Lokmanya Tilak. Valentine Chirol, who rightly though mischievously called Tilak as the "father of Indian Unrest", was the first Englishman to propagate openly and willfully the view that Tilak's main purpose in reviving the Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav, was to regain the Brahmin predominance on the one hand, and to foment the anti-Muslim, anti-reformers and anti - British unrest, on the other. This distorted view of the festival, which chirol presented through his articles in The Times (subsequently collected and published in a volume entitled, Indian Unrest). was, in fact, " a systematic exposition of the theories contained in the confidential papers of the Government concerning Mr. Tilak." Such a view suited the bureaucracy very well in their policy of divide and rule.

There is no denying the fact that the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1893 served as the immediate cause for the revival of the old institution, Ganesh Festival, which, as rightly pointed out by S. M. Edwardes, the then Police Commissioner of Bombay (1909-1916), "Subsequently developed into one of the chief features of the anti-British revolutionary movement in India." But the festival was never intended to be anti - Muslim. Tilak, in his several articles in the Kesari, had made it quiet clear that the object of the festival was not to foster enmity against the Muslims, though it certainly aimed at achieving the Hindu social solidarity and promoting patriotism. He wanted amicable and peaceful relations between the two communities and would have like them to make a common cause against the foreign rule as indicated in his article "Is not a Shivaji a National Hero? " published in the Mahratta of June 24, 1906, and against amply demonstrated by his magnanimous gesture at the Lucknow Congress. Unfortunately, due to several reasons, especially the British machinations, that was not to be.

The British perceptions of, and perspectives on, the Ganapati festival were deeply influenced by their appraisal of Lokmanya Tilak as an irreconcilable foe of the Raj. Tilak was one of the few nationalists who clearly saw the central contradiction between the alien rule and the interest of the Indian people. Unlike some other well-known national leaders, he never accepted the British rule as " Divine Providence ". He was not unaware of certain positive features of British rule, but he firmly held the view that there is no such thing as beneficent imperialism and that there cannot be anything altruistic about the colonial rule. He, therefore, made the attainment of Swaraj, by mobilising and channelising all the extent forces into one patriotic current, the sole mission of his life. It was this fixity of purpose that made him subordinate everything else, including social reform, to an all-powerful urge for "freedom first".

Utterly dissatisfied with the Moderates' policy of "Political mendicancy" which hardly had any effect on the obstinate bureaucracy, Tilak wanted to galvanise the national movement by involving masses into it. And one way, he thought, to take the movement to grass- root level was to appeal to the people's religious instinct. "Religion", he said, "is an element in nationality". He knew that religion played a crucial role in the rise and growth of the 19th century Indian renaissance. He, however, did not approve of the West - inspired socio - religious reform movement like the Brahmo Samaj and the Prathana Samaj, for he regarded them alien to Indian religious tradition, and therefore, more divisive than unifying. He had a broad and lofty conception of the Hindu Dharma. "Hindu Religion". He said, "tolerates all religions. Our religion says that all religions are based on truth. 'You follow yours I mine." This was precisely the religious philosophy of Ramkrishna Paramahansa, so ably propounded by Swami Vivekananda whom Tilak greatly admired. Tilak believed that "the true religion of Hinduism in its simple, all embracing popular expression was an important instrument for breaking down the class and caste barriers and achieving national unity."



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