Home Rule League, either of two short-lived organizations of the same name in India established in April and September 1916, respectively, by Indian nationalist Bal Gangadhar Tilak and British social reformer and Indian independence leader Annie Besant. These movements were prominent part of India Freedom Struggle which is part of UPSC mains GS paper 1.
- Failure and Decline
- The Government of India Act 1909 was dissatisfactory to the aspirations of Indians.
- The Congress Party’s split in 1907 and fiery leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s imprisonment from 1908 to 1914 meant that there was a lull in the national movement.
- But Tilak’s release and the advent of Annie Besant brought about a revival of the national movement.
- Annie Besant was an Irish socialist, writer and orator who supported the Irish and Indian home rule movements. She arrived in India in 1893.
- The leaders in India were divided on whether to support Britain in the war or not. Annie Besant however, declared, “England’s need is India’s opportunity”.
- Having returned from exile in Mandalay, Tilak understood the need for a revival of nationalist movement in the country.
- He also understood the growing importance of the Congress Party in India’s political scene. So, his first task was to get readmitted into the party. (The extremists led by Tilak had separated from the Congress).
- In the Congress session of December 1915, it was decided to let the extremists re-join the party largely due to Annie Besant’s persuasion. Besant had also recognised the need for Congress approval and the active participation of the extremists in the national struggle.
- However, Besant and Tilak were not able to convince the Congress to support their decision to set up home rule leagues.
- Besant managed to convince the Congress to pledge to an educative propaganda and the establishing of local-level committees. It was also agreed upon that if these conditions were not satisfied by September 1916, she would be free to set up a home rule league.
- Accordingly, she set up her Home Rule League in September 1916.
- Tilak, however, was not bound by any such condition and so had set up his league in April 1916.
- There were two home rule leagues launched.
- Tilak launched the Indian Home Rule League in April 1916 at Belgaum.
- Annie Besant launched the Home Rule League in September 1916 at Madras.
- They had the common objective of achieving self-government in India.
- There was an informal understanding between both the leagues wherein Tilak’s league worked in Maharashtra (except Bombay), Karnataka, Berar and the Central Provinces. Besant’s league worked in the rest of the country.
- Tilak’s league had its headquarters in Delhi. It had 6 branches. Besant’s league had 200 branches and was a looser organisation compared to Tilak’s.
- The two leagues worked closely with one another. However, they did not merge to avoid friction between both the leaders.
- To achieve self-government in India.
- To promote political education and discussion to set up an agitation for self-government.
- To build confidence among Indians to speak against the government’s suppression.
- To demand for a larger political representation for Indians from the British government.
- To revive political activity in India while maintaining the principles of the Congress Party.
- The leagues organised demonstrations and agitations.
- There were public meetings in which the leaders gave fiery speeches.
- They were able to create a stir within the country and alarm the British to such an extent that Annie Besant was arrested in June 1917.
- This move by the British created a nation-wide protest and now even moderate leaders joined the league. Besant was released in September 1917.
- The Home Rule League functioned throughout the year as opposed to the Congress Party whose activities were confined to once a year.
- The movement was able to garner a huge support from a lot of educated Indians. In 1917, the two leagues combined had around 40,000 members.
- Many members of the Congress and the Muslim League joined the league. Many prominent leaders like Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Joseph Baptista, G S Kharpade and Sir S Subramanya Iyer were among its members.
- The moderates, extremists and the Muslim League were briefly united through this movement.
- The movement was able to spread political consciousness to more regions in the country.
- This movement led to the Montague Declaration of 1917 in which it was declared that there would be more Indians in the government leading to the development of self-governing institutions ultimately realising responsible governments in India. This Declaration (also known as August Declaration) implied that the demand for home rule would no longer be considered seditious. This was the biggest significance of the movement.
VIVEKANADA ON NATIONALISM
- Swami Vivekananda was a true nationalist in heart and spirit. He believed that there is one all dominating principle manifesting itself in the life of each nation.
- He said, “in each nation, as in music, there is a main note, a central theme, upon which all others turn. Each nation has a theme, everything else is secondary India’s theme is religion.
- Social reform and everything else are secondary. Vivekananda felt that Indian nationalism had to be built on the stable foundation of the post historical heritage.
- In the past, the creativity of India expressed itself mainly and dominantly in the sphere of religion. Religion in India has been a creative force of integration and stability.
- When the political authority had become loose and weak in India, it imparted event to that a force of rehabilitation. Hence, he declared that the national life should be organized on the basis of the religions idea.
- As supporter of this idea, he revived the eternal things of the Vedas and Upanishads to strengthen nation’s growth and faith in its individuality.
- Vivekananda was a keen student of History. Analyzing the historical facts available he comes to the conclusion that four fundamental social forces are ruling society in succession: Knowledge, military power, wealth and physical labour.
- These forces are in the hand of four classes, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra. He point out the importance of each of the varna in social history and maintained that each will rule one after the other.
- After analysing the merits and defects of the three different kinds of rules Vivekananda prophesied that Sudra rule is bound to come in the near future: nobody can resist it.
- At the same time he predicted that during the Sudra rule, there will be spread of general education but the number of geniuses on talented people will be few.
- History shows that Sudras were condemned in society in different periods. They were deprived of all opportunities to receive education. If a Sudra is absorbed in a higher class he will be lost to his own community and may not feel any urge necessary uplift of his own community.
FAILURE & DECLINE
- The movement was not a mass movement. It was restricted to educated people and college students.
- The leagues did not find a lot of support among Muslims, Anglo-Indians and non-Brahmins from Southern India as they thought home rule would mean a rule of the upper caste Hindu majority.
- Many of the moderates were satisfied with the government’s assurance of reforms (as preluded in the Montague Declaration). They did not take the movement further.
- Annie Besant kept oscillating between being satisfied with the government talk of reforms and pushing the home rule movement forward. She was not able to provide a firm leadership to her followers. (Although ultimately she did call the reforms ‘unworthy of Indian acceptance’).
- In September 1918, Tilak went to England to pursue a libel case against Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol, British journalist and author of the book ‘Indian Unrest’. The book contained deprecatory comments and had called Tilak the ‘Father of Indian Unrest.’ (Tilak lost the case).
- Tilak’s absence and Besant’s inability to lead the people led to the movement’s fizzing out.
- After the war, Mahatma Gandhi gained prominence as a leader of the masses and the Home Rule Leagues merged with the Congress Party in 1920.
Annie Besant launched the Home Rule League in September 1916 at Madras. They had the common objective of achieving self-government in India. There was an informal understanding between both the leagues wherein Tilak's league worked in Maharashtra (except Bombay), Karnataka, Berar and the Central Provinces.To read more articles on Modern India History click here