Why Jinnah-Tilak comradeship is relevant for peace between Pakistan and India

Both Tilak and Jinnah, if they were alive today, would have been deeply distressed at the current state of India-Pakistan ties.

India-Pakistan relations have once again entered a dark tunnel, with not even a flicker of light to give us hope that we are approaching its end. Within India, a Hindu supremacist government has been systematically moving towards the goal of converting plural and secular India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (Hindu Nation). Our Muslim brethren, to whom the ‘Indian Rashtra’ belongs as much as it does to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others, have never felt more insecure and despondent since the birth of Free India in 1947 as they do now.

History tells us that Hindu-Muslim discord and India-Pakistan hostility are inter-connected. Indeed, India’s blood-soaked partition in 1947, and the establishment of Pakistan as a separate “Muslim Nation”, was the culmination of the failure of our anti-British struggle to find a common and acceptable constitutional framework, which could accommodate the concerns and aspirations of the two major communities that resided in this ancient land for centuries.

But history also tells us that wise and valorous efforts were made by farsighted leaders belonging to both communities for reconciliation of differences and construction of a future of amicable co-existence. It is by revisiting their inspiring legacies and learning the right lessons from those chapters of history that we can find pathways to Hindu-Muslim amity and India-Pakistan good-neighbourliness.

One such important chapter presents the tale of a close comradeship between Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920). August 1 marks the death centenary of Tilak, who was the tallest Congress leader before the advent of the Mahatma Gandhi era. In the history of India’s freedom movement, we see two milestones when Hindu-Muslim cooperation reached its zenith. One was the 1857 War of Independence, when Hindus and Muslims fought shoulder-to-shoulder — from Peshawar to Dhaka — against the rapacious rule of the East India Company. The other was the Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the Muslim League in December 1916. The principal architects of this pact were Tilak and Jinnah. Had the spirit of that pact endured, the outcome of the freedom struggle would have been different — and better.

Such was Tilak’s standing in India’s political life that Edwin Samuel Montagu, British Secretary of State for India between 1917 and 1922, said, “Tilak is at the moment probably the most powerful man in India”. Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol, a British journalist who passionately defended the British empire, and had maliciously attacked Tilak, had called him the “father of Indian unrest”.

Caption as translated from Marathi script shown in the photograph: Lokmanya Tilak (centre), Mahatma Gandhi (standing, in white turban) and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (to Tilak’s right, in a western suit) at a public meeting in Bombay’s Shantaram Chawl. — Source: An illustrated biography of Tilak by Lokmanya Tilak Vichar Manch, Pune.
Tilak breathed his last, after a brief illness, in Bombay on August 1, 1920. He was 64. The funeral at Chowpatty Beach was attended by over a million people. Among the pall-bearers were Gandhi, Nehru and Shaukat Ali, a prominent leader of the Khilafat Movement. Gandhi wrote in his newspaper *Young India*: “A giant among men has fallen. The voice of the lion is hushed… he knew no religion but love of his country.…he had an iron will, which he used for his country. His life was an open book. His private life was spotlessly clean. No man preached the gospel of swaraj (freedom) with the consistency and the insistence of the Lokamanya (an honorific which means ‘a leader respected by the people’).”

In a heartfelt tribute, Jinnah wrote: “Mr Tilak rendered yeoman services to the country and played a very important part in bringing about the Hindu-Moslem unity, which ultimately resulted in the Lucknow Pact in 1916.”

An authentic account of Jinnah’s admiration for Tilak has been penned by Mohammedali Currim Chagla, the great jurist who served as chief justice of the Bombay High Court from 1948 to 1958. As a young lawyer, Chagla worked in the chamber of Jinnah, whom he idolised. Under Jinnah’s influence, he became a member of the Muslim League but quit the party after it started espousing the cause of Pakistan as a separate Muslim nation. Tilak was his childhood hero. This is what Chagla wrote in his autobiography Roses in December: “During my long association with Jinnah, I found that he always showed the greatest respect and regard for Tilak. Two persons in public life for whom Jinnah showed the greatest respect were [Gopal Krishna] Gokhale and Tilak. … [T]he regard Jinnah had for Tilak was reciprocated by Tilak.”

When the lion roared: “Freedom is my birth right, and I shall have it”
Tilak was born on July 23, 1856 in the coastal town of Ratnagiri in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. Konkan, incidentally, had close contacts with Karachi in pre-Partition times. He studied in Pune, where he co-founded Fergusson College, one of India’s most prestigious educational institutions. He became a renowned scholar in law, mathematics and Sanskrit. Later in his life, he wrote one of the most admired treatises on the Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita, extolling Karma Yoga or the philosophy of action for a noble cause. However, his passion was politics. To popularise his mission for India’s complete independence from British rule, he established two newspapers, Kesari (in Marathi, the native language of Maharashtra) and Mahratta (in English), which soon earned him the ire of the colonial administration.

The second half of the 19th century was an extremely difficult period in the freedom struggle. The defeat suffered by the uprising in 1857, and the bloody reprisals unleashed in its aftermath by the British, had created utter disillusionment that continued for many decades. The founding of the Indian National Congress in Bombay in 1885, and of the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906, were natural responses of a freedom-loving nation that was trying to find its political voice. However, the voice was still weak and subdued. This is when Tilak began to quicken the growth of nationalist consciousness. Nehru, who was then a student in England, writes in his autobiography: “From 1907 onwards for several years India was seething with unrest and trouble. For the first time, since the Revolt of 1857, India was showing fight and not submitting tamely to foreign rule…Almost all of us were Tilakites or Extremists, as the new party was called in India”.

Historians credit Gandhi with transforming the Congress into a mass movement. No doubt, he did so on a nationwide scale. But none can deny that Gandhi followed up, and greatly expanded, on the mass-oriented political work that Tilak had begun. Tilak’s two arrests by the British on charges of sedition — first in 1897, when he was jailed for 18 months, and, especially, later in 1908, when he was sent to Mandalay in Burma for six years of rigorous imprisonment — galvanised the nation in an unprecedented manner (Jinnah successfully defended Tilak in the latter’s third sedition trial in 1916). Tilak’s banishment to Burma provoked the first ever political strike by the working class; the textile workers of Bombay (Hindus of all castes as well as Muslims) struck work for six days, one day for every year of the sentence.

Roaring like a lion in the Bombay High Court, Tilak asserted, “Swaraj is my birth right, and I shall have it”. When the judge asked him if he had anything to say before the sentence was pronounced, he audaciously replied: “All I wish to say is that in spite of the verdict of the jury, I maintain my innocence. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of men and nations. It may be the will of providence that the cause I represent may prosper by suffering than by remaining free.” These inspiring words were subsequently etched in a marble plaque in court room no. 46 in Bombay High Court, where he was tried.

The plaque with Tilak’s words, in courtroom no. 46 at the Bombay High Court.
Condemning Tilak’s imprisonment, Vladimir Lenin, who would lead the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, wrote, “The infamous sentence pronounced by the British jackals on the Indian democrat Tilak…this revenge against a democrat by the lackeys of the money-bags evoked street demonstrations and a strike in Bombay. In India, too, the proletariat has already developed to conscious political mass struggle — and, that being the case, the Russian-style British regime in India is doomed!”

Among Tilak’s countless admirers was Maulana Hasrat Mohani, an eminent freedom fighter and Urdu poet, who coined the slogan Inquilab Zindabad (“long live the revolution”). After Tilak’s imprisonment in 1908, he wrote a ghazal in praise of Lokamanya. Here are a few lines from it translated in English.

O Tilak, o pride of patriotism
The knower, the follower, the believer and articulator of righteousness
The foundation of openly expressed freedom rests on you
The assembly of sincerity and loyalty is illuminated by you
You were the fiesta to hear O Son of India
Imprisonment in the service of India
Your being became the beacon light of freedom
Otherwise our friends were shackled in slavery
You have cast such a spell of self-respect
With one stroke, it cancelled all rituals of flattery
The free Hasrat prides himself on following you
May the Great God keep you for long.

In his book Jinnah and Tilak — Comrades in the Freedom Struggle, prolific scholar A G Noorani quotes Kanji Dwarkadas, a close Hindu friend of Jinnah in Bombay: “The two great political centres in Bombay at that time were Sardar Grih (a modest guest house in which Tilak lived in a single room) and Jinnah’s chambers in the High Court. All political roads led to these two places for organisation, consultation and decision.”