Importance of Home Rule Movement
The Home Rule Movement was India’s less heated but more successful response to the First World War than Indians living overseas, which took the shape of the romantic Ghadr experience. Two Indian Home Rule Leagues were formed in the style of the Irish Home Rule Leagues, signaling the beginning of a new era of militant politics in India. Tilak and Annie Besant were the forerunners of this new movement.
Factors that Caused the Movement
The following are some of the factors that led to the development of the Home Rule Movement.
(I) Some nationalists believed that popular pressure was necessary to persuade the administration to make concessions.
(ii) The Morley-Minto reforms had disillusioned the Moderates.
(iii) People were feeling the strain of wartime hardships brought on by high taxes and rising prices, and were willing to join any forceful protest campaign.
(iv) The war, which was fought between the major imperialist powers of the day and was fueled by open propaganda, revealed the fiction of white superiority.
(v) After his release in June 1914, Tilak was poised to take over as Prime Minister and had made conciliatory overtures to the government, assuring it of his devotion, and to the Moderates, assuring them that, like the Irish Home Rulers, he wished to improve the administration rather than topple it. He also agreed that the acts of violence in India have only slowed the country’s political growth. In a time of crisis, he asked all Indians to help the British government.
(vi) Annie Besant, an Irish theosophist who had been stationed in India since 1896, had decided to broaden the scope of her work to include the formation of a home rule movement modeled after the Irish Home Rule Leagues.
Role of Annie Besant and the Bal Gangadhar Tilak
- Both Tilak and Besant realized that the movement needed the support of a Moderate-dominated Congress as well as the full collaboration of the Extremists to succeed.
- Tilak and Besant resolved to restart political activities on their own after the Congress failed to find an agreement between moderates and extremists in 1914.
- Annie Besant began a campaign in early 1915 to urge that India be given self-government after the war, similar to that of white colonies. She used her newspapers, New India and Commonweal, as well as public forums and conferences, to promote her cause.
- Tilak and Besant’s efforts were partially successful at the Congress’s annual session in 1915. The Extremists were decided to be invited to the Congress.
- Although Besant’s idea of Home Rule Leagues was not approved by the Congress, the Congress did commit to a program of educational propaganda and the resurrection of local-level Congress committees.
- Not wanting to wait too long, Besant stipulated that if the Congress did not follow through on its promises, she would be free to form her own league—which she eventually had to do because the Congress had failed to respond. To avoid any squabbles, Tilak and Besant established their own leagues.
- In April 1916, Tilak formed his Home Rule League, which was limited to Maharashtra (excluding Bombay city), Karnataka, the Central Provinces, and Berar. It had six branches, with demands such as swarajya, the development of linguistic states, and vernacular education.
- Annie Besant founded her league in Madras in September 1916, and it spanned the rest of India (including Bombay city). It had 200 branches, was less organized than Tilak’s League, and George Arundale served as the organizing secretary. B.W. Wadia and C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, in addition to Arundale, were responsible for the majority of the effort.
Aim of Home Rule Movement
- The League’s campaign attempted to spread the message of home rule as self-government to the general public. It had a much broader appeal than previous mobilizations, attracting people from Gujarat and Sindh who had previously been considered “politically backward”.
- Promoting political education and discussion through public meetings, organizing libraries and reading rooms with books on national politics, holding conferences, organizing classes for students on politics, propagandizing through newspapers, pamphlets, posters, illustrated post-cards, plays, religious songs, and other means, collecting funds, organizing social work, and participating in local government activities were all part of the plan.
- The 1917 Russian Revolution provided a significant boost to the Home Rule campaign. Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Chittaranjan Das, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Tej Bahadur Sapru, and Lala Lajpat Rai later joined the Home Rule movement. Some of these figures went on to run local branches.
- Many Moderate Congressmen, as well as some members of Gokhale’s Servants of India Society, joined the movement after becoming disillusioned with Congress’ inaction. Anglo-Indians, the bulk of Muslims, and non-brahmins in the South, on the other hand, refused to join because they believed that Home Rule would mean Hindu majority rule, dominated by the high caste.
Attitude of the Government
The government repressed the students, particularly in Madras, where they were forbidden from attending political assemblies. A case was filed against Tilak, however it was later dismissed by the supreme court. Tilak was denied entry into Punjab and Delhi. Annie Besant and her associates B.P. Wadia and George Arundale were arrested in June 1917.
This sparked widespread outrage. Sir S. Subramaniya Aiyar relinquished his knighthood in a theatrical gesture, while Tilak argued for a passive resistance strategy. The crackdown merely strengthened the agitators’ commitment to defy the government by hardening their mindset. “Shiva…cut his bride into fifty-two pieces only to learn that he had fifty-two wives,” said Montagu, India’s Secretary of State. This is what happens when the Indian government interns Mrs. Besant.” In September 1917, Annie Besant was published.
Decline of the Home Rule Movement
The movement for Home Rule was short-lived. It had died extinct by 1919. The following were the reasons behind the decline:
(I) There was an ineffective organizational structure.
ii) During 1917-18, there were communal disturbances.
(iii) Talk of reforms (included in Montagu’s declaration of August 1917, which held self-government as the long-term goal of British administration in India) and Besant’s release pacified the Moderates who had joined the Congress after Annie Besant’s incarceration.
(iv) From September 1918 forward, the Extremists’ talk of passive resistance held the Moderates at bay.
(v) The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, which were announced in July 1918, further polarized nationalists.
(vi) Tilak was forced to travel overseas in connection with a case in September 1918, while Annie Besant was undecided about her reaction to the reforms and passive resistance strategies. The movement was left without a leader when Besant was unable to provide a positive lead and Tilak was away in England.
Results of the Home Rule League
The Home Rule Leagues and related activities had some good consequences and helped to shape the new course that the liberation movement would take in the coming years.
(I) The movement transferred the focus from the educated elite to the masses, irreversibly deflecting the movement away from the Moderates’ path.
(ii) It established an organizational link between the town and the country, which would prove vital in later years when the national movement reached a truly mass phase.
(iii) It bred a generation of zealous patriots.
(iii) It primed the masses for Gandhian-style politics.
(v) The Home Rule agitation impacted Montagu’s August 1917 proclamation and the Montford reforms.
(vi) Tilak and Annie Besant’s efforts to bring the Moderate-Extremists together in Lucknow in 1916 resurrected the Congress as an effective tool of Indian nationalism.
(vii) The home rule movement gave the national movement a new dimension and a sense of urgency.