The Home Rule League, 1916

Home Rule League:

The Radicals failed to be allowed re-entry into the congress at its session in 1914, but consistent efforts throughout 1915, including the campaigns launched separately by Annie Beasant and Tilak through newspapers and local associations, secured them their re-entry in December 1915. The opposition to the Radicals was also considerably lowered by the death of Pherozshah Mehta who had been the most recalcitrant in his opposition. The congress, still dominated as it was by the Moderates, however, failed to keep its promise of reviving local level congress committees and of starting a programme of educative propaganda by September 1916. Therefore, Annie Besant and Tilak launched their own organizations, the Home Rule Leagues, in 1916. The two leagues demarcated their areas of operation: Tilak’s League worked in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Central Provinces, and Berar while Annie Besant’s League worked in the rest of India. These Leagues infused new life in the National Movement.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak founded the Indian Home Rule League on April 28, 1916, with its headquarters at Poona and on September 15, 1916, Mrs. Annie Besant started the Home Rule League with its headquarters at Adyar near Madras with George Arundale as Organization Secretary, C.C.Rama Swamy Ayyar as General Secretary, and B.P.Wadia as Treasurer, and she herself as President. There was an informal understanding between the two leagues that Mrs. Beasant’s field of work would cover the whole of India except Maharashtra and Central Provinces, where Tilak’s League would carry on the work. Both launched propaganda in favor of Home Rule through their respective papers- Mrs. Besant’s Commonweal and New India and Tilak’s Mahratta and Kesari.

The aim of the Home Rule Movement was to get self-government for India within the British Empire. It believed freedom was the natural right of all nations. Moreover, the leaders of the home Movement thought that India’s resources were not being used for her needs

To mobilize the people, especially the young generation, Home Rule of Annie Besant organized discussion groups, reading rooms in cities, sale of pamphlets in large numbers, lecture tours, organized classes for students on politics, organized social work, took part in local government and collected funds. Though her Home Rule League had 200 local branches she had little control over them and managed to make only 27000 people its members, as compared to Tilak’s 32000 members.

Tilak’s Home Rule League had six branches, one each in Central Provinces, Bombay city, Karnataka and central Maharashtra, and two in Berar. It was during Home Rule Movement that Tilak declared that – ‘Swaraj is My Birth Right and I will have it’. He toured different parts of Maharashtra and raised the issue of Swaraj with a greater force, and demanded the formation of linguistic states and vernacular education in various parts of India. He demanded home rule on a secular basis. Home Rule League also raised the issues of Akbari tax, salt tax, and land revenue to attract rural folk.

Government Response:

The Government soon realized the intensity of the movement. It stated that there should be reform providing for more Indian members to the local bodies and the legislature as well, to keep the Moderates happy and the Home Rule leaders in check.

Repressive measures, however, also came into force. The government of Bombay prohibited Besant from entering the city. Tilak was prohibited entry by the governments of Punjab and Delhi. The government of Madras also ordered the internment of Besant and her two co-workers, Arundale and Wadia. The government’s hostility against the Home Rule Leagues and the desire to declare them as illegal associations stirred the whole country. More than two thousand people, including many eminent Indians, pledged themselves to stand by the Home Rule League were it to be declared illegal.

Even those nationalist leaders who had been aloof, joined the Home Rule Leagues and actively participated in the campaign.

Prominent leaders like Sir Subramaniya Aiyer, Lajpat Rai, KD Shastri, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah joined the movement. At a time when the congress had become ineffective, the Home Rule League provided a new direction to the national movement.

Imapct of the Home Rule Movement:

  • The Home Rule Movement intensified the demand for the grant of self-government.
  • The Home Rule Movement was started in 1916, during the First World War. Congress then had become weak. Tilak and Mrs. Annie Besant infused new life in the National Movement. Their clear thinking gave concrete shape and direction to the movement for Home Rule.
  • The Home Rule Movement encouraged the participation of women in large numbers for the revival of the Swadeshi spirit and the spread of the movement far beyond the frontiers of India. Home Rule leagues for India were established in London and New York.
  • Common people became a part of the movement and spread it to the villages.
  • Mrs. Besant was elected as President of the Congress in 1917 when she declared: “India is no longer on her knees for boons: she is on her feet for rights”. Her election to the postmarked a new era in the history of the congress.
  • The British Government was forced to change its attitude towards India.
  • To control the situation, the secretary of state Montague made the historic August Declaration (August 20, 1917) in the House of Commons that the policy of the British Government was to develop gradually self-governing institutions in India.
  • The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by Indians. In 1919, the Government of India Act was passed which introduced several significant changes in the administration of the provinces.

Decline of the Home Rule Movement:

Home Rule Movement declined after Besant accepted the proposed Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms and Tilak went to Britain in September 1918 to pursue the libel case that he had filed against Valentine Chirol, the author of Indian Unrest.

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