Chat At the ripe old age of 90, K.S. Tilak still has the fire in his eyes and likes to exhibit the oratory skills that he once possessed, writes Sumit Bhattacharjee
O n August 15 in 1986, when speed post was first dedicated to the nation, one person in a remote village in East Godavari sulked, while the nation rejoiced over the new postal delivery system. Brooding over the delivery system, he mentioned to his associates, a bunch of social workers in their late teens, “From today the rich will receive their letters faster, while the poor will receive them late. The gap of disparity between the rich and the poor is enhanced.”
The profound statement was from the veteran socialist leader, freedom fighter and Member of Parliament of the first Lok Sabha (1952) from Vizianagaram, Kandala Subrahmanya Tilak.The nonagenarian was born on July 15, 1920 in Visakhapatnam, and from the age of ten was actively involved in the freedom struggle. He followed his uncle, Kandala Sarveswar Sastry, a noted freedom fighter, for about five miles to participate in the Salt Satyagraha march from Vizianagaram to Visakhapatnam, only to be reprimanded and sent back home mid-way in 1930.
“Having been brought up in a nationalist environment, as my father and my uncles were all hardcore nationalists, the idea of joining the freedom movement was sown early in me,” says veteran leader.
He plunged actively into the movement while pursuing B.Sc. at Banaras Hindu University. At the age of 18 years, he was elected as the student leader in the campus. “Being a student leader, I was part of the organising committee for public meetings of stalwarts like Subhas Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana and Gandhiji. The speeches made by them not only inspired me but also strengthened my resolve. Though I was inspired by many leaders in the Congress, the people who made a difference in my life were JP (Jayaprakash Narayan), Jonnalagadda Ramalingaiah, Vinoba Bhave and Ram Manohar Lohia,” says K.S. Tilak.
Though he revered Gandhiji, he was drawn towards the socialist ideas very early in life. He believed that individual satyagraha was not the right tool to attain freedom and voiced for mass movement.
“Taking JP's advice: Being in the socialist party, I worked for the Congress. The clarion call given by Gandhiji for Quit India in 1942 and the slogan ‘Do or die' gave huge boost to my nationalist ideas and I returned to Vizianagaram to organise the student movement,” says he.
From August 9 to 27 in 1942, he led a strike involving the students in the local colleges in Vizianagaram and was arrested on August 27 and sent to rigorous imprisonment for four months. In the jail, he was inflicted upon severe humiliation and beatings by the Superintendent Mr. How. After his release, he worked with noted leaders from Andhra like Pattabhi Seetharamayya, Konda Venkatappaiah and Duggirala Gopala Krishnayya.
Post independence, he served as Member of Parliament for the first Lok Sabha (1952-57). He was elected from Vizianagaram. “During my tenure as MP, I advised Panditji to take a quick decision on the separation of Andhra from Madras, and make Potti Sreeramulu break his fast. I also cautioned him of the outcome, if something happened to Sreeramulu.
But he gave me a deaf ear and the outcome we all know,” informs he. From 1959 to 1977, he served as Chief Executive Officer of MANSAS- Vizianagaram and was Chairman of Railway Service Commission from 1977 to 1981.
To quench his thirst of serving the poor and the downtrodden, at the age of 64 he initiated an NGO by name Spandana in 1984. He adopted 50 tribal villages at Shankavaram mandal in East Godavari district. “The idea was to set up basic infrastructure in the villages, settle land alienation claims and clear false cases against the innocent girijans,” says the socialist leader.
Even at the ripe age of 90, he still maintains a clear idea on socialism. “Political freedom from the British regime was important, but equally important was the socio-economic equality, post independence. The Congress party did play a stellar role in obtaining independence from the colonial rule, but it seems that the entire ideology had derailed once they had come to power.”
He believes that the future of the country lies in the hands of the younger generation who rely on non-violence, democracy, secularism and socialism.
An advocate of smaller provinces on the basis of economic status, K.S. Tilak points out, “The right to property is to be abolished and the right to work is to be given a constitutional guarantee.”
K.S. Tilak now lives in Adivivaram, behind Simhachalam Hill, with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. He now spends his time reading and serving his visually impaired wife.