The First World War broke out in August 1914. The Allied powers claimed to be waging the war of freedom and democracy. Early in the war, some of the Indian nationalists took the British statesmen at their word.
They offered the greatest support to the government’s war efforts. Their hope was that grateful Britain would soon reward India’s loyalty. Those hopes were then shattered to pieces. The Congress was still divided between moderates like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and extremists like Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
Surendra Nath Banerjee feared that the government’s long delay in introducing reforms would weaken the moderates’ hold on the people. It happened. Annie Besant has given hope to the country. “England’s moment of difficulty is India’s moment of opportunity.”
She started the Home Rule League Movement only to be later fully supported by Tilak. It aimed for India’s autonomy within the British Commonwealth. She was more Indian than most Indians, a woman of deep courage and determination. The movement soon had a great impact on the people.
The New India newspaper, edited by her from Madras, was eagerly awaited by the people and read with great enthusiasm. Annie Besant was Irish by birth. She came to India in 1893. She founded the Central Hindu College in Benaras.
It then became a full-fledged university. She passionately loved our country. She worked hard with the utmost zeal and dedication for the social and educational upliftment of people, but gradually realized that until the nation was free, much could not be achieved.
This plunged him into politics. She championed the cause of transforming India into a powerful self-governing community. For this, it launched the publication of a weekly review entitled The Commonweal on January 2, 1914, with its cardinal program of “religious liberty, national education, social reform and political reform”. She traveled to England with the aim of forming an Indian party in Parliament but had no success.
Her visit, however, aroused sympathy for India as she gave many speeches there in support of the cause of Indian freedom. She said that “the price of India’s loyalty is India’s freedom”.
Back in India, she launched a daily New India on July 14, 1915, July 14 being the historic date of the storming of the Bastille. Two months later, she presented her concept of self-government to the nation in a speech delivered in Bombay (now Mumbai): “By self-government I mean that the country should have government by councils, elected by the people and leaders of the house.”
On September 28, 1915, Besant made a formal declaration that she would establish the Home Rule League with the aim of the “Home Rule League Movement for India”. She also declared that the League would be an auxiliary body of the Indian National Congress.
Moderates didn’t like the idea of establishing another separate organization for a purpose that Congress stood for. They thought it would weaken the cause both organizationally and emotionally. Finding the lack of support from them, she herself officially inaugurated the Home Rule League in Madras (now Chennai) in September 1916. It quickly gained great momentum.
Its branches have been established in Bombay, Kanpur, Allahabad, Benaras, Mathura, Calicut and Ahmednagar. She continued her campaign through New India and Commonweal. She also toured the country extensively. She gave very moving speeches.
She also distributed large amounts of literature about her Movement. It was to have an impact on the nation. She not only won many adherents to her cause, but also captured the hearts of her opponents. Many prominent leaders like Motilal Nehru and Tej Bahadur Sapru thus joined his Home Rule League movement.
In 1916, two autonomous movements were launched in the country: one under the leadership of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the other under Annie Besant.
Tilak Home Rule League: Tilak established the Home Rule League at the Bombay Provincial Conference held at Belgaum in April 1916. The Tilak’s League which was to work in Maharashtra (including Bombay City), Karnataka, Central Provinces and Berar. The Tilak League was organized into six branches.
Tilak popularized the demand for Home Rule through his lectures. He said: “India was like a son who had grown up and was associated with the majority. Now was not the time for the administrator or the father to give him his due. Indian people must be affected. right to do so.”
Objectives: The objectives of the Home Rule League were:
1. Establishment of Indian self-government within the British Empire
2. Work for national education and social and political reforms
The Home Rule movement created public opinion in favor of Home Rule through public meetings, discussions, reading rooms, propaganda, newspapers and pamphlets.
Annie Besant’s Home Rule League: Annie Besant came to India in 1893 to work for the Theosophical Society. In 1914 it decided to expand its activities to include buildings for a Home Rule movement in India on the lines of the Irish Home Rule League.
In September 1916, Besant announced the formation of the Home Role League, with George Arundale, his theosophical disciple, as organizing secretary. Jamnadas Dwarkadas, Shankarlal Banker, Indulal Yagnik, George Arundale, LP Ramaswamy Lyer were among the prominent members of Besant’s League.
Arrest of Besant: In June 1917, the Madras government decided to place Mrs. Besant and her associates, BP Wadia and George Arundale under arrest. Their internment became the occasion for a national protest. In a dramatic move, Sir S. Subramania Aiyar has renounced his knighthood.
Government repression only hardened the attitude of the agitators and strengthened their determination to resist the government. The British government decided to make a change of policy and to adopt a conciliatory attitude.
Decline of the Autonomous Movement: The Autonomous Movement declined after Besant accepted Montagu-Chelmsford’s proposed reforms and the Tilaks traveled to Britain to pursue the libel case he had filed against Valentine Chirol, l author of India Unrest.