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The Home Rule Movement

The Home Rule Movement

  • The Home Rule Movement was the Indian response to the First World War in a less charged but a more effective way than the response of Indians living abroad which took the form of the Ghadar adventure.
  • The All India Home Rule League was a national political organization founded in 1916 and organised on the lines of the Irish Home Rule Leagues to lead the national demand for self-government, termed Home Rule, and to obtain the status of a Dominion within the British Empire as enjoyed by Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Newfoundland at the time.
  • It represented the emergence of a new trend of aggressive politics.
  • Annie Besant and Tilak were the pioneers of this new trend.
  • Two Home Rule Leagues were established, one by B.G. Tilak at Poona in April 1916 and the other by Mrs. Annie Besant at Madras in September 1916.
  • Main aim of the Movement was to get self-government for India within the British Empire.

Factors leading to the Movement were the followings:

  • Many Indian revolutionaries opposed the war, while moderates and liberals backed the war. The issue divided India’s political classes and left the increasing demand for self-government going nowhere. A section of nationalists felt that popular pressure was required to attain concessions from the Government.
  • The Moderates were disillusioned with the Morley- Minto reforms.
  • People were feeling the burden of wartime miseries caused by high taxation and a rise in prices, and were ready to participate in any aggressive movement of protest.
  • The War, being fought among the major imperialist powers of the day and backed by naked propaganda against each other, exposed the myth of white superiority.
  • Tilak was ready to assume leadership after his release in June 1914, and had made conciliatory gestures to reassure the Government of his loyalty and to the Moderates that he wanted, like the Irish Home Rulers, a reform of the administration and not an overthrow of the Government.
    • He also said that the acts of violence had only served to retard the pace of political progress in India. He urged all Indians to assist the British Government in its hour of crisis.
  • Annie Besant, the Irish theosophist based in India since 1896, had decided to enlarge the sphere of her activities to include the building of a movement for Home Rule on the lines of the Irish Home Rule Leagues.

The Leagues:

  • Both Tilak and Besant realised that the sanction of a Moderate-dominated Congress as well as full cooperation of the Extremists was essential for the movement to succeed.
    • Having failed at the 1914 session of the Congress to reach a Moderate-Extremist rapprochement, Tilak and Besant decided to revive political activity on their own.
  • By early 1915, Annie Besant had launched a campaign to demand self-government for India after the war on the lines of white colonies.
    • She campaigned through her newspapers, New India and Commonweal, and through public meetings and conferences.
  • At the annual session of the Congress in 1915 the efforts of Tilak and Besant met with some success.
  • It was decided that the Extremists be admitted to the Congress.
    • Although Besant failed to get the Congress to approve her scheme of Home Rule Leagues, the Congress did commit itself to a programme of educative propaganda and to a revival of local-level Congress committees.
  • Not willing to wait for too long, Besant laid the condition that if the Congress did not implement its commitments, she would be free to set up her own League—which she finally had to, as there was no response from the Congress.
  • Tilak and Besant set up their separate leagues to avoid any friction.
  • Tilak’s League was set up in April 1916 and was restricted to Maharashtra (excluding Bombay city), Karnataka, Central Provinces and Berar with the League’s national headquarters in Delhi.
    • The first League was founded in the city of Poona, Maharashtra.
    • It had six branches and the demands included swarajya, formation of linguistic states and education in the vernacular.
  • Besant’s League was set up in September 1916 in Madras and covered the rest of India (including Bombay city).
    • It had 200 branches, was loosely organised as compared to Tilak’s League and had George Arundale as the organising secretary. Besides Arundale, the main work was done by B.W. Wadia and C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar.
  • The move created considerable excitement at the time, and attracted many members of the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League, who had been allied since the 1916 Lucknow Pact.
  • The Home Rule agitation was later joined by Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Chittaranjan Das, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Lala Lajpat Rai. Some of these leaders became heads of local branches.
  • Many of the Moderate Congressmen who were disillusioned with Congress inactivity, and some members of Gokhale’s Servants of India Society also joined the agitation.
  • However, Anglo-Indians, most of the Muslims and non- brahmins from South did not join as they felt Home Rule would mean rule of the Hindu majority, mainly the high caste.

The Home Rule League Programme:

  • The League campaign aimed to convey to the common man the message of Home Rule as self-government. It carried a much wider appeal than the earlier mobilisations did and also attracted the hitherto ‘politically backward’ regions of Gujarat and Sindh.
  • The aim was to be achieved by promoting political education and discussion through public meetings, organising libraries and reading rooms containing books on national politics, holding conferences, organising classes for students on politics, propaganda through newspapers, pamphlets, posters, illustrated post-cards, plays, religious songs, etc., collecting funds, organising social work, and participating in local government activities.
  • The Russian Revolution of 1917 proved to be an added advantage for the Home Rule campaign.

Government Attitude:

  • The Government came down with severe repression, especially in Madras where the students were prohibited from attending political meetings. A case was instituted against Tilak which was rescinded by the High Court. Tilak was barred from entering the Punjab and Delhi.
  • In June 1917, Annie Besant and her associates, B.P. Wadia and George Arundale, were arrested.
  • This invited nationwide protest. In a dramatic gesture, Sir S. Subramaniya Aiyar renounced his knighthood while Tilak advocated a programme of passive resistance. The repression only served to harden the attitude of the agitators and strengthen their resolve to resist the Government.
  • Montagu, the secretary of state, commented that “Shiva …cut his wife into fifty-two pieces only to discover that he had fifty-two wives. This is what happens to the Government of India when it interns Mrs Besant.” The Government released Besant in September 1917.

Why the Agitation Faded Out by 1919:

The movement, instead of going forward after its great advance in 1917, gradually dissolved. During 1918, however, various factors combined to diffuse the energies that had concentrated in the agitation for Home Rule.

  • Although their impact fell on a much wider community outside its direct membership, the Home Rule Leagues ultimately could not bring in mass agitational politics in India.
    • Apart from firing up college students, educated Indians and people in the cities, the Leagues elicited little response or enthusiasm from India’s masses and the British government.
    • It was often divided upon whether to follow up with public demonstrations, or compromise by contesting elections to the legislative councils.
  • In Madras, Maharashtra and Karnataka, despite some untouchable support, the Leagues being under Brahman domination, invited the opposition of the non-Brahmans.
  • The Moderates who had joined the movement after Besant’s arrest were pacified by the promise of reforms and by Besant’s release. They were also put off by the talk of civil disobedience and did not attend the Congress from September 1918 onwards.
  • The publication of the scheme of Government reforms in July 1918 (Montagu-Chelmsford reforms) further divided the nationalist ranks. Some wanted to accept it outright and others to reject it outright, while many felt that, though inadequate, they should be given a trial.
  • Annie Besant, who was made the Congress President in 1917, began to take a conciliatory attitude towards the moderates, particularly after the announcement of the Montagu-Chelmsford reform proposals, and put the passive resistance programme on hold.
    • This frustrated the young extremist leaders who provided her main support base and the Home Rule Leagues soon became defunct.
  • Montagu-Chelmsford reforms which became known in July 1918 divided the nationalist ranks.
  • Tilak was more consistent in his approach, but given Besant’s vacillations, and the change in the Moderate stance, there was little that he could do to sustain the movement on his own.
    • Also, towards the end of the year, he decided to go to England to pursue the libel case that he had filed against Valentine Chirol, the author of Indian Unrest, and was away for many critical months.
    • With Annie Besant unable to give a firm lead, and Tilak away in England, the movement was left leaderless.
  • Its further growth and activity were stalled by the rise of Mohandas Gandhi and his Satyagraha art of revolution: non-violent, but mass-based civil disobedience.
  • Communal riots were witnessed during 1917-18.
  • There was a lack of effective organisation.
  • Its further growth and activity were stalled by the rise of Mohandas Gandhi and his Satyagraha art of revolution: non-violent, but mass-based civil disobedience.
  • Talk of passive resistance by the Extremists kept the Moderates off from activity from September 1918 onwards.

Positive Gains:

In spite of all these, the Home Rule Movement cannot be said a failure:

  • The tremendous achievement of the Home Rule Movement and its legacy was that it created a generation of ardent nationalists who formed the backbone of the national movement in the coming years when, under the leadership of the Mahatma, it entered its truly mass phase.
    • It was the Home Rule League that marked the transitional phase between the deliberative and dormant phase of the INC to the mass-based politics of the Gandhian agitation.
  • The Home Rule Leagues created organizational links between town and country which were to prove invaluable in later years.
  • By popularizing the idea of Home Rule or self-government, and making it a commonplace thing, it generated a widespread pronationalist atmosphere in the country.
  • In 1920, the All India Home Rule League elected Mahatma Gandhi as its President. In a year, the body would merge into the Indian National Congress to form a united Indian political front.
    • In 1921 All India Home Rule League changed its name to Swarajya Sabha.
  • The movement shifted the emphasis from the educated elite to the masses and permanently deflected the movement from the course mapped by the Moderates.
  • The League spread political awareness in new areas like Sindh, Punjab, Gujarat, United Provinces, Central provinces, Bihar, Orissa as well as Madras, which all sought an active political movement.
  • The August 1917 declaration of Montagu and the Montford reforms were influenced by the Home Rule agitation.
  • Tilak’s and Besant’s efforts in the Moderate-Extremist reunion revived the Congress as an effective instrument of Indian nationalism.
  • It lent a new dimension and a sense of urgency to the national movement.
  • It created a generation of ardent nationalists.
  • It prepared the masses for politics of the Gandhian style.

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