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Unit 2
Home Rule Movement – Tilak and Annie Beasant

Learning Outcomes

Upon the successful completion of the unit, the learner will be able to:

  • identify the significance of Home Rule Movement in Indian freedom strug-gle
  • explain the role of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Besant in launching Home Rule Leagues in India
  • explain factors that led to the decline of the Home Rule Movement


Within the context of World War I, the Home Rule campaign got its start in India. The expectations of the national leaders were not met by the Government of India Act (1909). The nationalistic response was, however, muted due to the division within the congress and the lack of influential figures like Tilak, who was detained in Mandalay. By 1915, a number of events prepared the nationalist movement for a new phase. The rise in prominence of Annie Besant, an Irishwoman who firmly backed the Irish home rule campaign, Tilak’s return from exile, and the escalating calls for resolving the congress division all stirred up the Indian political scene. The Ghadar Mutiny and its repression fostered a sentiment of hostility toward British rule. Let’s talk about the Home Rule Movement in this unit, the history of the Home Rule Leagues that were established in India, their operation, and their downfall.

Key Words

Self Government, Home – Rule league, Extremists, August Declaration


6.2.1 Background of Home Rule Movement (1915–1916)

The Home Rule movement is regarded as the less contentious but more successful Indian answer to the First World War. Tilak and Annie Besant were prepared to take over the leadership of the movement launched with tremendous vigour because people were already experiencing the burden of the wartime hardships brought on by high taxes and an increase in prices. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who had been given a six-year prison term in Mandalay, Burma, was deported back to his native India. As the Extremists were expelled from Congress in 1907 at Surat as a result of the split, he attempted to bring them back. He understood the importance of being with Congress since at that point, it had taken on the role as the movement’s spokesperson. However, Congress was dormant after the split, which led the moderates to question whether the extremists would return.

In addition, Annie Besant came to India in 1893 after promoting free thought, fabianism, radicalism, and theosophy in Britain. She started working with the Adyar-based Theosophical Society in Madras. She also had a status among her followers, who were mainly well-educated individuals. By renewing the Indian National Congress’s operations, Besant hoped to expand her sphere of influence. She again pleaded with the extremist members of Congress.

Extremists persisted in their efforts through their campaigns even after Congress in December 1914 rejected their request to re-join. Through her journals, New India and Commonweal, as well as open forums and gatherings advocated self-government. Tilak also organised neighbourhood associations in support of the cause. Additionally, death of Pherozshah Mehta’s who opposed their return, as well as Tilak and Besant’s efforts, helped the radicals return to the Congress during the 1915 December session. Moreover, Annie Besant imposed a stipulation that if Congress failed to start an education programme and revive their local Committees, a league would be established.

As a result, two Indian Home Rule Leagues were set up in a manner similar to the Irish Home Rule Leagues, which symbolised the beginning of a new wave of combative politics. The League’s campaign attempted to spread the idea of home rule as a form of self-government, to the average person. Two leagues divided their working territory. While Tilak’s league’s efforts were centred on Maharashtra, Karnataka, Berar, and the Central provinces , Annie Besant paid attention to the rest of India. Objectives of Home Rule Movement

  • To make India a self-governing state.
  • To encourage political discourse and education in order to spark self-government agitation.
  • To inspire Indians with the confidence to speak up against government repression.
  • To ask the British government to give Indians more political representation.
  • To rekindle political action in
  • India while upholding the Congress party’s beliefs.

6.2.2 Tilak and Home Rule League

The Home Rule Movement was first established by Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He disagreed with the British government’s discriminatory policies and believed that they were to blame for the poor treatment of Indians. He thought they weakened the Indians economically. Together with Annie Besant, he founded the Home Rule League in India in 1916 in an effort to free the Indian people from their oppressive situation and strengthen them, so they could fight for their independence. His principal objective was to eventually force the British out of India and create Indian self-government. The political emancipation of the motherland was his principal political objective. Giving the Indians their rights was the movement’s principal objective. Every group should have the ability to make its own decisions, according to Tilak. The people strongly praised Tilak’s strategy for freedom and personal advancement.

6.2.3 Major contributions of the Home Rule Movement to the Indian National Movement

The leagues planned agitations and protests and hosted public gatherings and gave vehement speeches. Thus, they were able to stir up trouble across the nation. The British were so frightened by their actions that Annie Besant was detained in June 1917. The British action sparked a widespread outcry, and now even moderate leaders joined the league. In September 1917, Besant was set free. In contrast to the Congress Party, whose operations were limited to once a year, the Home Rule League operated all year long. Many educated Indians were able to support the movement in significant numbers. Together, the two leagues had about 40,000 members in 1917.

The Muslim League and many members of Congress joined the league. Its members included a number of well-known leaders, including Sir S Subramanya Iyer, Joseph Baptista, G. S. Kharpade, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This movement briefly brought together the Muslim League, the radicals, and the Moderates. It succeeded in bringing political awareness to more parts of the nation. This campaign resulted in the 1917 Montague Declaration, which said that there would be a greater representation of Indians in the administration which would eventually result in the establishment of accountable governments in India. The largest significance of the campaign was conveyed by this Declaration, also known as the August Declaration, that the call for self government would no longer be regarded as seditious.

1917 August Declaration
According to the proclamation, the Indian people would eventually gain control of the government and a responsible one would be established. Additionally, this declaration made it apparent that India would continue to be a crucial component of British India.
The August Declaration was issued by the British government for the following reasons:

  • To gain the political leaders’ sup-port for the First World War
  • Muslim League and Congress working together
  • The Home Rule League’s success

6.2.4 Fall of the Home Rule movement

The movement was limited to educated individuals and college students, hence it was not a massive movement. In addition, Muslims, Anglo-Indians, and non-Brahmins from Southern India did not support the leagues very much. They believed that home rule would entail a majority upper caste Hindu government. In addition, many Moderates were pleased with the government’s pledge of changes (as preluded in the Montague Declaration). They stopped promoting the movement.

Annie Besant vacillated between supporting the home rule movement and being content with the government’s promises of reform. She was unable to provide her followers clear direction. Nevertheless, she did declare the reforms to be “unworthy of Indian acceptance” in the end. In the meantime, in September 1918, Tilak travelled to England to conduct a libel case against British reporter and author of the book Indian Unrest, Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol. The book made disparaging remarks and referred to Tilak as the “Father of Indian Unrest.”
The government used the following actions to repress the home rule movement:

  • The Defense of India Act, 1915 was used by the government to put a stop to the agitators’ actions.
  • Student attendance at Home Rule meetings was restricted.
  • Tilak was charged, and Punjab and Delhi forbade him from entering.
  • The press was subject to the Indian Press Act of 1910, which imposed restrictions.

Hence, the movement died because of Tilak’s absence and Besant’s failure to guide the Indians. With Tilak’s prosecution and Besant’s inability to provide a strong direction left the movement without a leader. Following the war, Mahatma Gandhi rose to popularity as a popular leader, and in 1920, the Home Rule Leagues and the Congress Party amalgamated.

The national movement gained a fresh perspective and a feeling of urgency due to the home rule movement. Despite playing a minor part in the Indian independence struggle, it was successful in keeping the campaign’s momentum throughout the war, as witnessed in the Lucknow Pact in December 1916. It was the Irish Home Rule movement and other self government movements that served as models for the Indian Home Rule movement, which was organised in British India. The independence movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi, is thought to have been sparked by the roughly two-year-long movement that took place between 1916 and 1918.

6.2.5 Gandhiji and Tagore on Home Rule

Gandhi claimed that “Home Rule is Self Rule” and that it is insufficient for the British to depart just for the Indians to adopt a civilization in the manner of the British. Some people, in his words, “want English rule without the Englishman… that is, [they] would make India English.” And when it adopts the English language, it will be known as Englishtan rather than Hindustan. “I don’t want this kind of Swaraj”: Gandhi said. He believed that the best way to achieve Indian freedom was by using passive resistance. Gandhi didn’t just condemn violence; he also believed it to be ineffective. “The force of love and pity is infinitely greater than the force of arms,” he asserted. The use of physical force can be harmful, but never the use of sympathy.

Gandhi argued that Indians must practise Swadeshi (self-reliance) by refusing to engage in any trade or business with the British in order to engage in passive resistance. He said to the English, “We shall no longer be your petitioners if you do not yield our demand. You can only rule us as long as we continue to be the governed; after that, we won’t interact with you at all.” Gandhi makes an unusual claim in this instance: if the British want to trade with India, take commerce out of the picture.

Gandhi also believed that unless India rejected Western civilisation altogether, it would never be free. He made a harsh accusation that “India is being trodden down, not under the English heel, but under that of modern civilization” in his book Hind Swaraj. However, he did not discuss civilisation in reference to India. According to him, Western culture will eventually destroy itself if one is just patient enough. It would be a severe rejection. In addition to being bad for India, western culture is unhealthy in and of itself.

In the meantime, Rabindra Nath Tagore evaluated the political environment brought up by the Home Rule agitation and the government’s response to it. He made it clear to the audience that the people of Bengal could not legitimately demand self-government while still being constrained and led, as they had been for centuries, by false notions of society, religion, and morality.


  • Tilak’s imprisonment and his return to India
  • The readmission of the extremists in Congress
  • Theosophical organisation initiatives led by Annie Besant to reactivate the Indian National Congress’s operations
  • The Extremists’ rejoining Congress was denied
  • Annie Besant and Tilak’s campaigns were unsuccessful
  • Pherozshah Mehta died.
  • The Extremists’ return to Congress during the 1915 December session
  • Two Indian Home Rule Leagues were established: the Tilak Home Rule League and the Besant Home Rule League.
  • The Indian National Movement benefited greatly from the Home Rule Move-ment
  • British response: arrest of Annie Besant
  • Nationwide outcry and Besant’s release
  • Through this movement, the moderates, the extremists, and the Muslim League will be brought together.
  • The August Declaration, also known as the Montagu Declaration of 1917, was made for two reasons: to progressively establish responsible governance and to give Indians more power.
  • Home Rule movement’s decline
  • The Defense of India Act of 1915, which forbade students from attending Home Rule meetings, was one of the measures taken by the government to put an end to the home rule movement.
  • Tilak’s prosecution his admission into Punjab and Delhi prohibited
  • Indian Press Act of 1910: Press Restrictions and Requirements
  • Mahatma Gandhi’s rise to prominence as a populist leader and the merger of the Home Rule Leagues and the Congress Party (1920)
  • The national movement has a new dimension and a sense of urgency as a precursor to mass nationalism.
  • Gandhi and Tagore on Home Rule

Objective type questions

  1. Who were the leaders who tried to reinstate the extremists in Congress?
  2. Where was Tilak imprisoned for six years on the sedition charges?
  3. When was Annie Besant moved to India?
  4. Where did Besant set up the Theosophical Society?
  5. Which were the newspapers started by Annie Besant to persuade the public for her cause?
  6. Which Congress session allowed the readmission of extremists?
  7. What was the deal made by Annie Besant with Congress if Congress fails to launch an education programme and revive their local Committees?
  8. Which model was adopted in the formation of the Home Rule Movement in India?
  9. Which places come under the Home Rule League of Tilak?
  10. What was the main aim of the Home Rule movement?
  11. When did Tilak establish the Home Rule Movement in India?
  12. Who advocated for the right of self-determination to the Indians?
  13. When was Annie Besant arrested for her Home Rule activities?
  14. How many members were in Home Rule leagues by 1917?
  15. Name some of the Congress and Muslim League leaders who were also home-rule league members.
  16. What is the Montagu Declaration of 1917 also known as?
  17. What was the main clause of the August Declaration?
  18. Why did Tilak visit Britain in September 1918?
  19. Who was the British Journalist who called Tilak ‘ the father of the unrest’?
  20. Who authored the book ‘Indian Unrest’?
  21. Why was the Defense of India Act, 1915 passed?
  22. Which act was imposed on the press in 1910 ?
  23. When did Home Rule Leagues merge with the Congress Party?
  24. How long did the Home Rule Movement last?
  25. Who argued that ‘Home Rule is Self Rule’?

Answer to Objective type questions

  1. Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Besant
  2. Mandalay, Burma
  3. 1893
  4. Adyar, Madras
  5. New India and Commonweal
  6. December session, 1915
  7. To set up a league
  8. Irish Home Rule League
  9. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Berar and the Central provinces
  10. To achieve self-government in India
  11. 1916
  12. Bal Gangadhar Tilak
  13. June 1917
  14. 40,000
  15. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Joseph Baptista, G S Kharpade and Sir S Subramanya Iyer
  16. August Declaration
  17. The gradual development of self-governance institutions in India
  18. To pursue a libel case against Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol
  19. Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol
  20. Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol
  21. To curb the activities of the Home rule movement agitators
  22. Indian Press Act of 1910
  23. 1920
  24. Two years between 1916–1918
  25. Gandhi


  1. Significance of the Home Rule Movement in Indian national movement.

Suggested Reading

  1. Sarkar, Sumit, Modern India, 1885-1947 (Delhi: Macmillian, 1985).
  2. Tara Chand, History of Freedom Movement in India.
  3. Desai, A.R, Social Background of Indian Nationalism (MumbaI:PopularPrakasan, 1986).
  4. Desai, A. R. Peasant Struggles in India (Delhi: OUP, 1979).
  5. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar, From Plassey to Partition and After A History of Modern India
  6. Chandra, Bipan, Communalism in Modern India (2nd edition.), (Delhi: Vikas, 1987).
  7. Chandra, Bipin, Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India (Delhi: HarAnand, 2010).
  8. Chandra Bipan, India’s Struggle for Independence,(Penguin Books, 1988)
  9. Dube, Ishita Banerjee, A History of Modern India (Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2015)
  10. Guha, Ranjit, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (Delhi:OUP, 1983).