“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers…

An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.
06/12/2022 10:37 AM

“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers……….
An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.

The Knowledge Library


Surat split and impact

The home rule league movement was led by Lokmanya Tilak and Annie Besant.

Tilak was released from prison in 1914 and he came back to a very different India. The moderates were disillusioned with the constitutional reforms of 1909. Congress was yet to recover from the Surat split. The firebrand leaders of the extremists had either taken sanyas or left for abroad.

Initially, he spent his energy trying to get admission to the INC a body that was now the representative of the Indian national movement. He also assured the crown that he was a loyalist. He dissociated himself from the revolutionary terrorist movements in Bengal and urged all to support the British in this hour of crisis i.e. during World War I.

The congress which had lapsed into inactivity after the Surat split too wanted them back. There was considerable pressure for this from Annie Besant who had joined the congress.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant had come to India for her work with the theosophical society. She stayed close to madras and spread her message of theosophy amongst the people. She had gained a large number of followers.

In 1914 she wanted to enlarge her sphere of activity to build a movement of home rule league but she knew she would need the sanction of the congress and the support of the extremists for this.

However, the 1914 session was a disappointment as the moderates refused to let them enter. So she and Tilak decided to revive political activity on their own and at the same time continue to convince congress to let extremists enter.

However, the death of Pherozshah Mehta had weakened their opposition and the moderates decided to allow extremists to re-enter the Congress. However, the congress or Muslim league did not agree with her idea of starting a home rule league. So she put a condition that if by September 1916 congress did nothing then she was free to start her own.

Home Rule League

Tilak meanwhile had already started the home rule league in Bombay province. Besant waited till 1916 September and when congress showed no sign of activity she too started with her own league. Tilak home rule movement was based in Maharashtra [excluding Bombay], Karnataka, central province and Berar. Besant’s movement was in the rest of India.

Tilak wasn’t a Marathi chauvinist or a casteist or pro-religion. He appealed to all on a wholly secular basis.

He said, “If god tolerates untouchability I wouldn’t recognize him as god”.

The home rule league was popular with the moderates as it confined itself to political discussions and education. Many moderates who were dissatisfied with the congress for inactivity joined the home rule workers.

In 1916 Tilak and the extremists were welcomed back to congress by the president Ambika Mazumdar in Lucknow. The Lucknow session was also famous for Congress – league pact which was engineered by Tilak and Besant with the support of Jinnah. Congress accepted the league’s demand for separate electorates, and reservation for minorities in legislatures but apart from this, the pact was necessary to dispel minority fears about majority domination.

Congress and the Muslim league then confronted the colonial government together on the demand for self-government after the war. The negative thing about the pact was that it tacitly accepted that India had different communities with separate interests of their own. This opened the door for future communalism.

In 1917 the government of madras took harsh measures against the home rule league to stop its popularity. The leaders like Besant, Arundale, and Wadia were placed under arrest. However, this had the reverse effects and its popularity soared. Many people who had initially stayed away joined the home rule movement.

The government now changed its stance and adopted a conciliatory approach. It made a declaration stating that the government’s aim was to increase association with Indians in every stream and a creation of a responsible government. After this declaration home, rule demands were no longer seditious and Besant was released. At the height of her popularity, she was made the Congress president in 1917 on Tilak’s suggestion.

She became the first woman president of congress.

The aftermath of the Movement

In 1917 several factors led to the dissolving of the league. Firstly the moderate Congress workers were put off by passive resistance ideas from Tilak.

Besant herself couldn’t decide whether the government’s promise of reforms should be accepted or rejected.

Tilak went to London to pursue a libel case and was absent for critical months. All factors meant that the home rule movement was leaderless.

The Home Rule agitation was also 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’s 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 the South did not join as they felt Home Rule would mean the rule of the Hindu majority, mainly the high caste.

Lucknow Pact between Congress and Muslim League

The following factors lead to this pact :

    • Britain’s refusal to help Turkey (ruled by the Khalifa who claimed religio-political leadership of all Muslims) in its wars in the Balkans (1912-13) and with Italy (during 1911) had infuriated the Muslims.
    • The announcement of the cancelation partition of Bengal in 1911 annoyed those sections of Muslims who had supported the partition.
    • The refusal of the British Government in India to set up a university at Aligarh with powers to affiliate colleges all over India also alienated some Muslims
    • The younger League members were turning to bolder nationalist politics and were trying to outgrow the limited political outlook of the Aligarh school. The Calcutta session of the Muslim League (1912) had committed the League to “working with other groups for a system of self-government suited to India, provided it did not come in conflict with its basic objective of protection of interests of the Indian Muslims”. Thus, the goal of self-government similar to that of Congress brought both sides closer.
  • Younger Muslims were infuriated by the government repression during the War. Maulana Azad’s Al Hilal and Mohammad Ali’s Comrade faced suppression while the Ali brothers, Maulana Azad and Hasrat Mohani faced internment. This generated anti-imperialist sentiments among the “Young Party”.

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