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Father of the Idea of ‘Swadeshi’: Reminiscing Lokmanya Tilak on his Centenary Death Anniversary

‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, a jargon that has been discussed for a while since Prime Minister Modi spoke about it during the announcement of revival package of COVID-19 for Indian economy.

Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, according to Prime Minister Modi is making Indian economy both self-reliant and a self-generating. In the era of globalization we live in, India plans to develop its manufacturing sector for domestic purposes as well as boosting international trade based on it. ‘Make in India’ campaign, started in the year 2014 by Modi government would be helpful to support the abhiyan. As the campaign also aimed at expanding India’s manufacturing base, encouraging production in India.

However, the term is definitely not a new one in India’s paradigm because 100 years back a visionary legend, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak suggested the same. He used the terminology ‘Swadeshi’ which meant self- reliance in the sense that production of goods by a local manufacturer in an indigenous way.

This relevance of Lokmanya Tilak’s thoughts and ideology after a century is what made Mahatma Gandhi called him ‘The Maker of Modern India’, while Jawaharlal Nehru described Tilak as ‘The Father of the Indian Revolution’.

There could be no better occasion than his Centenary Death Anniversary to perceive and appreciate his unforgettable contribution, and instil his passion to work for the betterment of India.

During his fight against the British government ruling India at that time, he stressed on four guiding principles which were Swarajya, Boycott, Swadeshi, and National Education.

For attaining the ‘Swarajya’ i.e. Self-ruled India, he suggested using the economy as a tool. To adversely impact England’s economy he suggested boycotting products made in England. Meanwhile, the demand gap created could be filled by ‘Swadeshi’ or locally produced goods, he said.

Moving ahead to promote locally manufactured goods he established The Bombay Swadeshi Co-operative Stores Company on 11th December 1905 along with Ratanji J Tata (s/o Jamsedji Tata), G. Khattau (Khatau business family), Sirdar Balwant Ramchandra Natu (a wealthy Sirdar), Dwarkadas Dharamsey (former Sheriff of Bombay) and Manmohandas Ramji (a prominent banker). The Bombay Swadeshi Stores were opened in Mumbai and Pune during that time. Today, the establishment bears the name The Bombay Store.

To support the Swadeshi policy he encouraged trade and also suggested reforms such as a Swadeshi banks to finance the Indian companies involved in trade and business. In today’s world, these reforms for facilitation of trade and business together are found in the index of ‘Ease of Doing Business’. It is based on ten parameters such as ‘getting credit or trading across borders’ to name a few to propel the economy. By undertaking various reforms to encourage business, India could attain the 63rd position out of 190 countries as per World Bank’s Ease of doing Business report 2020.

Further, India has re-witnessed the boycott policy once again as a challenge to the economy, but not the British this time but the Chinese economy, when Government of India banned 59 Chinese apps. There are

300 million users of these Chinese internet apps in India. Impact of this move can be seen in the loss of the Chinese-owners of these apps. For example, ByteDance – the parent company of the TikTok and Helo apps could lose up to $6 billion( ₹45k crore).

To hit the Chinese economy harder, India has initiated to develop apps by its own people (the way Tilak suggested that boycott of foreign goods to be replaced with indigenously produced goods and services).

The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), Government of India is encouraging Indians to develop computer & mobile applications to replace the Chinese ones. Demonstrating their will and ability to create, 2,353 Indian companies have submitted the entries under the Atmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge. The response was such inspiring that the Government of India had to extend the date of entry submission.

Evidently, the roots of ‘Vocal for Local’ can be found in the ideas of Lokmanya Tilak.

Prime Minister Modi has reiterated Tilak’s thoughts of self-reliance in the manufacturing sector which would work as a self-generating mechanism and work in tune with the global supply chains.

To be self-reliant in the manufacturing sector, Tilak emphasized on the undeniable role of national education. It would create literate and skilled workforce for self-ruled India and thus can be identified as the fourth guiding principle, Tilak thought.

“To remain globally competitive with a well-assured future, we need to focus on ‘skills, scale and speed’.

India has the potential to emerge as the global hub for providing skilled manpower to other nations. We can prove to the world that the 21st century belongs to India through self-belief, dedication and discipline”, wrote M Venkaiah Naidu, Vice-President of India in his article ‘Skill India for Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

Moreover, the roots of National Education Policy, 2019 (draft) can be found in the ideas and thoughts of Lokmanya Tilak. Vocational education is necessary to foster the growth of industries was another significant point made by Lokmanya Tilak. As per NEP recommendations on vocational education, all school students must receive education in at least one vocation in grades 9-12.

He started his own school and an education society in Pune to promote and provide quality education.

He championed education in vernacular languages, vocational education, and a focus on traditional Indian knowledge with the aim of changing people’s mindset, and creating good citizenry that would work for the betterment of India. The NEP too underlines the importance of providing education in our vernacular languages.

He strongly believed in education in vernacular languages, but also understood and accepted the importance of learning English, then for India’s political movement. The NEP too has a similar aim, of inculcating global standards, encouraging scientific temper and maintaining traditional knowledge at the same time in the changed curriculum.

From politics to economy and education, Tilak and his thoughts were definitely ahead of their time. Thus, from understanding the relevance of his thoughts and ideologies in today’s world and from India’s perspective, they should be re-visited and studied in detail. In his words, “We must raise a nation on his own soil. Love of nation is one’s first duty; Swadeshi and National Education are the two methods to perform it”.

(Article was published by The Tilak Chronicle on August 1, 2020.)

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