Home Rule Movement

The release of Tilak in 1914 and the World War 1, had brought the Nationalists to the forefront of the Indian politics. Hitherto that space was ceded to the revolutionaries because of the inaction of the Moderate section. Gopalkrishna Gokhale and Phirozeshah Mehta died in 1915. The political life of India was characterized by lethargy and inaction under the Moderates as Partition of Bengal was reversed and Revolutionaries under Rashbehari Bose and the Ghadar Party had taken the center stage of fight against the British. Almost all Moderate leaders favoured the reentry of Extremists into Congress and Tilak strongly advocated the idea. Annie Bessant, who had joined active politics, met both Gokhale and Tilak and an agreement was reached on the subject. Gokhale however backtracked and Bhupendra Nath Bose revealed that he received a letter from Gokhale opposing reentry of the Extremists on the ground that Tilak had openly avowed his intention of adopting Boycott of the Government. Tilak denied the allegation. Gokhale had suspected that Tilak wanted to demand self Government of Indians and until that was achieved Indians should have nothing to do with the public services or the Legislative Councils or the local bodies. On the eve of the Madras Congress, Phirozshah Mehta's rigid stance against the Extremist method that would destroy the ideals that Moderates stood for, influenced Gokhale. 

After Gokhale's death, the two sides came much closer to an agreement. Tilak passed a resolution which would was accepted by his followers, which supported entry into Congress, as a means to make Indian Nationalism more progressive, more militant and more active. Congress session in Bombay in 1915 adopted a resolution to make way for the entry of the Nationalists within its fold. Attainment of self Government under British Empire by constitutional means was one of the stated objectives. The Lucknow session of Congress was one of the landmark in the history of freedom movement. After nine years, Moderates and Extremists came on the same platform and resolved all their differences. Tilak and his party were carried by a Home Rule Special and they received many ovations. A royal reception awaited Tilak. Annie Besant, an Irish Lady, who became the President of the Theosophical Society in 1907, also advocated Self Government within the British Empire. In 1914 she had travelled to England and tried to cultivate sympathy for India's cause through her lectures. She declared that the "Price of India's loyalty is India's freedom." She set up a Home Rule League in London. After her return she brought out a daily paper called New India in Madras. Her idea of Home Rule was that the country would be having a Government by councils, elected by its people, and the Government would be responsible for the House. Economic power would be in the hands of the representatives of the people. Provinces and provincial parliaments would also be elected. Governor would be like the king of England, his power being limited.

Moderates did not like the idea of forming Home Rule Leagues as according to them such an institution would weaken the Congress. Home Rule League was formally inaugurated in September 1916 and its branches were formed in several major cities of India including Bombay and Madras. Mrs. Besant began her active propaganda using the infrastructure of the Theosophical Society. She toured and lectured all over the country on her ideas and distributed propaganda literature. She had a gift of oratory skill which she used fully to rouse the country through her stirring speeches. She also had an "indomitable will" and "concentrated purposefulness."  Eminent leaders like Tej Bahadur Sapru and Matilal Nehru joined the Home Rule League. At one point of time she was being considered for being the President of the Congress in 1916

In the meanwhile Tilak had also taken up the cause of the Home Rule and the idea of forming Home Rule League. He summoned a conference of the Nationalists in Bombay and Puna in December 1915, and appointed a committee to look into proposal to set up a League for Home Rule. The Committee voted in favour of a limited number of League branches to set up as pilot, in Bombay, Central Provinces and Berar. The report of the Committee was placed before Belgaum Conference in April 1916. The League was established in 1916 with Joseph Baptista as President and N.C Kelkar as Secretary. Tilak did not take up any office. Tilak wrote stirring articles in his weeklies Maratha and Kesari, arguing for Home Rule. He asked for a time limit for Home Rule in a Parliamentary Bill for the legitimate demand of Swaraj. He also undertook an extensive lecture tour educating the masses on Home Rule and requesting them to become members of the Home Rule League. He narrated his vision that Home Rule would be a rule of the representatives of the people of India under the British crown, unlike the rule of the British bureaucrats. 

Tilak's speeches and writings in simple languages made him a hero among people and earned him the epithet Lokamanya (revered by the masses).  Home Rule Movement posed a stark contrast to the extreme and almost slavish bhakti displayed by the Congress Moderate leaders like Bhupendranath Basu and S.P Sinha who  had publicly proclaimed their support during the "darkest hours of Britain" being deliberately blind to the oppressions in Punjab, and even going to the extent of professing their deep loyalty and gratitude to the British rule. They rejected the idea of Home Rule as according to them India was not yet ready to receive freedom - "nations like individuals must grow into freedom". Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar, that "It would be hardly an exaggeration to say that the Home Rule Movement re awakened the true spirit of Indian politics generated by the Swadeshi Movement after it had gone into torpor during the seven year's of Moderate party's domination over the Indian National Congress."

Even though the Home Rule Leagues of Tilak and Mrs. Besant were separate they carried their work together and there was a formal understanding between them. The British Indian Government decided to crush the movement ruthlessly. Tilak and Mrs. Besant were fined for their speeches. However the Home Rule Movement spread all over India because of the efforts of the two leaders. In 1917 Bombay & Central Provinces Government prohibited Mrs. Besant from entering Bombay and C.P while Governments of Punjab and Delhi banned Tilak and B.C Pal from entering their jurisdiction. The Government of Madras interned Besant and prohibited other leaders from entering Madras province.  But these measures could not deflate people's spirit. Sir Subramanya Aiyer, an eminent lawyer, became an ardent champion of Home Rule. The internment of Besant was criticized even in Britain. Many Nationalist leaders who had stood aloof, now joined the Home Rule League. The Home Rule League membership swelled and even villagers were brought into its fold. Government was alarmed but at the same time had no intention of giving way. A joint meeting of All India Congress Committee and Muslim League was convened in July 1917. Passive Resistance was being mooted as the instrument of carrying out the battle. Madras Provincial Congress Committee passed the resolution favouring Passive Resistance. E.S Montagu, the new Secretary of State made an announcement declaring Responsible Government as the goal of British policy in India and pledged that "substantial" steps would be taken in that direction as soon as possible. Subsequently the idea of Passive Resistance was dropped and Annie Besant herself was against that idea. The younger Nationalists were greatly disappointed. 

Tilak continued with the Home Rule Agitation as he knew that this agitation was responsible for the British to agree to grant some concessions.  Muslim leaders like Jinnah and Maulana Mohammed Ali, joined him. Montagu met Tilak in November 1917 and described him to be the "most powerful leader in India at present." Congress session was held in Calcutta in 1917 with Mrs. Besant as its President. Name of Mrs. Besant as the President was proposed by Tilak and was accepted by the Moderates as well as the Nationalists. This was a historic conference marked by the participation of a large of women delegates and Annie Besant demand the end of autocracy and bureaucracy in India through declaration of the self Government as early as in 1923 and no later than in 1928. Mrs. Besant in her stirring speech, put a case for the Home Rule by citing that 1) Freedom is the birthright of every Nation and 2) India's most important interests are now subservient to the interests of the British Empire without her consent and her resources are not utilized for her greatest needs. She quoted Asquith who spoke against the foreign domination of England to justify the war against Germany and asked why it was different for India. She said that "India's eyes are opening and myriads of her people realize that they are all men, with a man's right to manage his own affairs." She continued, "India is demanding her rights and not begging for concessions." This was the first time such sentiments were aired in unison from the platform of the Congress which had reduced itself to placating its Master, the British Empire. Nationalists had voiced this ten years back and were immediately driven out of Congress by the Moderates. 

 

According to Dr. R.C Majumdar, the "Home Rule Movement was the fitting end of Tilak's noble political career, which shines brilliantly, in contrast with the transformation that came over his colleague Mrs. Besant, a little later. Thsi great movement shows him at his best, - a sincere, fearless, unbending patriot, who fought for his country with a religious zeal without caring for favour or frown, either of the people or of the Government." Tilak paved the way for Gandhi to take over the reigns and had prepared the mass basis for the movements to follow. 

Even with Montagu Chelmsford reforms, came the infamous Rowlatt Bill of 1918. Thus the British policy of giving a few crumbs of bread while cracking the whip most severely continued and predictably the stooges, the Moderates of Congress were happy to receive the crumbs. The Nationalists felt that the reforms fell far short of the legitimate expectations of Indians. The British conservatives and the die hard Imperialists fought tooth and nail against the proposed reforms. Tilak opposed it on grounds of being "entirely unacceptable." As a result of this "disagreement" Moderates virtually split from Congress again by abstaining from the Bombay session in 1918. Tilak wanted to press his demand of Home Rule by visiting England in 1918, but the Government of India recalled his passport and thus hounded him back. Tilak summed up the attitude of Britain towards India - "The British just want you to supply soldiers whom they want for war. They tell us a 'calamity is hanging over India.' What is that to us? Why should we come forward to protect that India in which we have no rights, in which we are treated like slaves?... the Bureaucracy has overrun the whole nation; and we are not prepared to become soldiers to increase the power of these men." Annie Besant had changed her stance by 1918 and was chanting the Moderate lines. Later she was to become even more pro British. Tilak was later allowed to visit England and carried out his propaganda work among prominent politicians. He was supported by the Congress Delegation led by Vithalbhai Patel. It was by the effort of Tilak that Congress was able to get the support of the Labour Party. Even though Besant tried her best to prevent Labour leaders from bringing amendments to the Government of India Bill, Tilak had persuaded them to do so. While Tilak was thus busy in England promoting India's interest, British police in Punjab carried out atrocities at an unprecedented level in Punjab and committed the massacre in Jalianwallah Bagh. During this phase the political leadership in India passed on from Tilak to Gandhi.

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