Home Rule League

Home Rule League

This article deals with ‘ Home Rule League  – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


Less charged but more effective Indian response during World War I (compared to Ghadar Movement) was  Home Rule League Movement which demanded  more  involvement of Indians in affairs of India (ie Status of Dominion)

Release of Tilak & Congress

  • Tilak was released in June 1914 & he returned to India which was very different from what he left . There was virtually no nationalist activity going on
  • Tilak concentrated on seeking re-admission of himself & extremists into Congress because Congress symbolize Indian National Movement & was necessary condition for success of any political action . Moderate leaders were also unhappy with choice they made in 1907 & also to fact that Congress lapsed into almost inactivity .  Tilak brought new hope for them
  • Along with that Annie Besant who joined Congress was keen to arouse nationalist political activity & admit extremists into Congress.

About Annie Besant

  • Began his career in England(London)  as proponent of Free Thought, Radicalism, Fabianism & Theosophy
  • Irish Born & close associate of George Bernard Shaw (Only person to win Oscar for movie Pygmalion & Nobel  Prize for Literature) + was also associated with London School of Business 
  • 1893 : came to India to work for Theosophical  society
  • 1907 : start spreading message of Theosophy from her Headquarter Adyar near Madras & gained large following among educated class
  • 1914 : decided to enlarge sphere of her activities to include building of a movement for Home rule on lines of Irish Home Rule League & realized that to make it success, she need support of Congress as well as extremists so she joined Congress & started to pressurize Congress to admit Extremists
  • Later, in 1917 she became the first women to preside over INC Annual Session.

Annual session of 1914

  • Pherozeshah Mehta and his Bombay Moderate group succeeded, by winning over Gokhale and the Bengal Moderates, in keeping out the Extremists.
  • Tilak and Besant there upon decided to revive political activity on their own, while maintaining their pressure on the Congress to re-admit the Extremist group.

Annual session of 1915

  • Moderates were greatly weakened by death of Pherozshah Mehta
  • Congress decided to admit Extremists
  • Annie Besant didn’t succeed in getting support of Congress & Muslim League to setup Home Rule League . But she  managed to persuade Congress to commit itself to  programme of educative propaganda and to a revival of the local level Congress committees & inserted a condition by which, if the Congress did not start this activity by September 1916, she would be free to set up her own League.
  • Tilak didn’t subscribed to such condition & started his Home Rule League in April 1916 while Annie Besant started that in Sept 1916 after no sign of commuted activity was shown by Congress.
Tilak’s Home Rule League – Central and Western India excluding Bombay
In Maharashtra , Karnataka , Central Provinces , Berar
6 branches Newspaper : Young India
Besant’s ALL INDIA Home Rule League Madras & rest of India including Bombay
200 branches Loosely organised  & any three members can set up branch
Besant’s papers were New India and Commonweal

Why two leagues

  • Annie Besant’s words-  some of his followers disliked me and some of mine disliked him. We, however, had no quarrel with each other.
  • 2 leagues didn’t merge neither they had any fight but well defined boundaries to carry out individual parallel movements


  • Education of the masses
  • Creation of the public opinion about Home Rule

They used Public meetings during nation wide tour and  press for this.

Tilak’s League – Course

  • To promote campaign, had Maharashtra tour & said that India like son has grown & Britain like a father should allow his son to choose his own destiny now ie  demanded self rule
  • He also demanded reorganization of states & demanded that education to be given in vernacular language , arguing ” English are not taught in French & French not in German then why are we taught in English ?”
  • He supported that there is no difference between Brahmin & non Brahmin but between educated & non educated . Britishers supported Brahmins because they are more educated & Britishers need them for administration .  Hence, he tried to dilute caste boundaries
  • Furthered its propaganda through 6 Maratha & 2 English pamphlets
  • For this he used newspapers too. Main was Young India by Jamnadas Dwarkadas, Shankarlal Banker & Indulal Yagnik 
  • Government hit back on 23/7/1916 ie his b’day and demanded ₹60,000 because he was bound for good behavior for one year .  Tilak saw it as opportunity & won case which was fought by Jinnah . Victory was hailed all over country

Lucknow Pact

  • 1916 Congress session at Lucknow
  • Important because  Moderates & Extremists + Hindus & Muslims came closer
  • Both Annie & Tilak played leading role in bringing about agreement between Congress & League much against wishes of many important leaders including Malviya
  • Congress & Muslim league agreed to lay collective demands before the British
    • Self Government at early date
    • Expansion of the Legislative Councils
    • Half of the Members of the Viceroy Executive Council should be Indians
    • Indianisation of the Civil Services 
    • In turn, Congress accepted Principle of Separate Electorate for Muslims (& Muslim will get 1/3 representation in Central legislature)
    • Tilak proposed small Working Committee of Congress working whole year . But this was rejected (same thing accepted by Gandhi in 1920)
    • Salaries of India office in  Britain to be paid by British government

Did Muslim League Outplayed Congress in getting separate electorate ?

  • Nope
  • Tilak & Jinnah were instrumental in reaching this pact & they knew that Hindu – Muslim Unity was necessary to achieve their demands & pressurize government  – keeping this in view they signed the pact. 
Negative fallout Effort of Congress & Muslim League to put up a united front was farsighted, but acceptance of the principal of separate electorates by Congress proved to be major land mark in evolution of the 2 nation theory by League

Leaders of two groups came together but efforts to bring masses from two communities were not considered (unity at top not at bottom)
Positive gains Despite being a controversial decision, the acceptance of Principle of Separate Electorates represented a serious desire to allay the minority fears of the majority domination

Turning point of the movement

  • Government of Madras in June 1917 decided to place Besant & her associate BP Wadia & George Arundale under  arrest under Defense of India Act . This resulted in widespread protests throughout country
  • Those who had stayed away, including many Moderate leaders like Madan Mohan Malaviya, Surendranath Banerjea and M.A. Jinnah now enlisted as members of the Home Rule Leagues to record their solidarity with the internees
  • At a meeting of the All India Congress Committee(AICC) on 28 July, 1917, Tilak advocated the use of the weapon of Passive Resistance or Civil Disobedience if the Government refused to release the internees.
  • Repression only served to harden the attitude of the agitators and strengthen their resolve to resist the Government.

Government’s Change in Stance – August Declaration

  • Lord Montagu statement in house of commons that , “The policy of His Majesty’s Government  is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of Self-Governing Institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire.”
  • Importance of Montagu’s Declaration was that after this the demand for Home Rule or self- government could no longer be treated as seditious.
  • This did not, however, mean that the British Government was about to grant self-government. The accompanying clause in the statement which clarified that the nature and the timing of the advance towards responsible government would be decided by the Government alone gave it enough leeway to prevent any real transfer of power to Indian for a long enough time.
  • The reform proposals were definitely an improvement over the 1909 Act, as its main theme was elected majority in the provinces with executive responsibility . But the responsible government was to be realized progressively, thus suggesting an indefinite timetable that could be easily manipulated to  frustrate liberal expectations.

Implications of the Home Rule League movement

  • Reconciliation  achieved between the two factions (Moderates and Extremists) 
  • As a leader of the movement , prestige of Annie Besant increased & she became first woman to preside over the Congress Session in 1917
  • Movement shifted the emphasis from the educated  elite to the masses and permanently shifted the movement from the course mapped by Moderates
  • Prepared the masses for politics of the Gandhian Style . Many of the local leaders of Gandhi’s early satyagrahas came from Home Rule League background and they used organisational networks created by the Leagues
  • August Declaration of 1917 was influenced  by Home Rule League Movement
  • Created a generation of ardent Nationalists who formed the backbone of the Nationalist Movement in the coming years . Among  the young men activated by the Home Rule movement were numerous future leaders of Indian politics from the 1920s onwards: Satyamuni in Madras, Jitendralal Banerji in Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru and Khaliquzzaman in Allahabad and Lucknow, and in Bombay and Gujarat men like the wealthy dye importer Jamnadas Dwarkadas, the industrialist Umar Sobhani, the rich man’s son Shankerlal Banker, and Indulal Yajnik.
  • Created organisational links between town and country which were to prove invaluable in later years

Why did the movement fade by 1919?

  • Lack of effective organisation
  • Communal Riots were witnessed during 1917-1918
  • Idea of Passive Resistance by the Extremists kept the Moderates away from activity from September 1918 onwards
  • Moderates were pacified by the promise  of reforms in August statement
  • Movement was left leaderless after Tilak went abroad ( to pursue case against Valentine Chirol for his book Indian Unrest) . Besant was unable to give  positive lead .
  • Annie Besant began to take a conciliatory attitude towards the moderates, particularly after the announcement of the Montagu-Chelmsford reform proposals, and put the passive resistance programme on hold.

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