Annie Besant’s Home Rule League Movement

The Home Rule Movement came into being as an Indian response to the First World War. There were two separate Home Rule movements, one under the leadership of Annie Besant and the other under Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The objectives of the League were to secure self-government for India and promote national education and also social and political reforms.

Annie Besant came to India in 1893 to work for the Theosophical Society which was headquartered in Adyar, Madras (now Chennai) India. In 1914, she decided to expand the sphere of her activities to include the building of a movement for Home Rule on the lines of the Irish Home Rule League. Besant realised that for the movement to succeed she would need to get the sanction of the Congress as well as the active cooperation of the Extremists. For this, she put all efforts to persuade the Congress to allow Tilak and his fellow Extremists back into Congress. However, the 1914 session of the Congress proved to be a failure as Pherozeshah Metha and his moderate group succeeded in the Extremists out. Thereupon Tilak and Besant decided to revive a political party of their own.

Annie Besant spread the message of the Home League through her publications, New India and Commonweal, and also through public meetings and conferences. She demanded self-government for India on the lines of white colonies. At the 1915 Congress session, Tilak and Besant saw some success when it was decided to readmit the Extremists to the Congress. Although the Congress rejected Besant’s proposal, it was greatly influenced by her political work and agreed to commit itself to educative propaganda and revive local self-government. Besant, however, was not ready to wait for more time and so laid a condition where she would be free to set up her own league if the Congress did not implement its commitments. Since there was no response from the Congress she finally went and started of her own. Besant finally launched the Home Rule League in September 1916 along with George Arundale, who was her Theosophical follower. She set up her league in Madras (now Chennai) which later branched out to Bombay (Mumbai), Kanpur, Allahabad, Benaras, Mathura, Calicut and Ahmednagar. Prominent members of this League are George Arundale, B. W. Wadia, Jamnadas Dwarkadas, Shankarlal Banker, Indulal Yagnik and C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer. This movement was different and more effective from the method adopted by the revolutionaries of that time. It adopted a less violent path unlike the revolutionaries in Punjab and Bengal who practised militant nationalism.

In June 1917, Annie and two of her associates, B. P. Wadia and George Arundale were arrested. The arrest marked the downfall of the British Empire and gathered nationwide protest. She was however released in September that same year and was elected president of the Congress. At her presidential speech, she said, “democracy is not foreign to India. Panchayats, the ‘village republics’ had been the most stable institution of India, and only vanished during the last century under the pressure of the East India Company’s domination.”

In the later period, the movement was joined by Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Chittaranjan Das, Madan Mohan Malviya, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Lala Lajpat Rai. Some of whom went on to become future leaders in Indian politics while some became heads of local branches. The Anglo-Indians, most of the Muslims and non-Brahmins from South did not join the Home Rule as they felt that this would mean the rule of Hindus, especially the higher caste.

Reasons for the fade out of the Home Rule League Movement

By 1919, the popularity of the Home Rule League began to decline. It ended in 1920 when it elected Mahatma Gandhi as its President and then finally merging with the Indian National Congress making it a political front. The growing popularity of Gandhi’s Satyagrah Movement, his non-violence and civil disobedience too contributed to the decline of the League. The League also lacked effective organisation. Communal riots which happened during 1917-1918 too led to its decline. The League further got divided after Besant accepted the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. The Moderates too started to stay away once there were talks of passive resistance by the Extremists. The Movement was left without a leader when Tilak had to go to Britain in connection with a case while Besant was undecided of her response to the reforms and thus was unable to give a positive lead.


Reference:

Rath, Dr. Lingaraj; A Prelude to Gandhian Era: The Home Rule Movement, Odisha Review

Anitha.N; Role of Annie Besant in the Home Rule Movement 1914-1918, Assistant Professor of History, V.V. Vanniaperumal College for Women Virudhunagar: International Multidisciplinary Innovative Research Journal

Banerjee, Debashri R; Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, Academia


External links:

ImportantIndia – Home Rule League Movement

MapsofIndia – 1 August 1916: Annie Besant starts the Home Rule League

GKToday – All India Home Rule League 1915-1920

History Discussion – How Dr. Annie Besant was Responsible for the Home Rule Movement in India?


Last Updated: Jan 13, 2019


Questions:

Annie Besant’s Home Rule League Movement

  1. When did Annie Besant start the Home Rule Movement?
    a) April 1916
    b) March 1917
    c) June 1920
    d) December 1929
  2. Annie Besant belonged to the __________
    a) Theosophical Society
    b) Arya Samaj
    c) Gadar Party
    d) Brahmo Samaj
  3. What was the main purpose of the Home Rule League?
  4. In Which year did Tilak start the Home Rule Movement?
    a) March 1919
    b) April 1916
    c) May 1916
    d) December 1920
  5. Where did Annie Besant start the Home Rule Movement?
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