Home Rule Movement (1915–1916)


The home rule movement was the Indian response to the First World War in a less charged but in a more effective way. With people already feeling the burden of war time miseries caused by high taxation and a rise in prices, Tilak and Annie Besant ready to assume the leadership the movement started with great vigour. Two Indian Home Rule Leagues were organised on the lines of the Irish Home Rule Leagues and they represented the emergence of a new trend of aggressive politics. The League campaign aimed to convey to the common man the message of home rule as self-government.

 Objectives of Home Rule Movement:

  • To achieve self-government in India.
  • To promote political education and discussion to set up agitation for self-government.
  • To build confidence among Indians to speak against the government’s suppression.
  • To demand a larger political representation for Indians from the British government.
  • To revive political activity in India while maintaining the principles of the Congress Party.

Major contributions of Home Rule Movement to the freedom struggle of India: 

  • The leagues organised demonstrations and agitations.
  • There were public meetings in which the leaders gave fiery speeches.
  • They were able to create a stir within the country and alarm the British to such an extent that Annie Besant was arrested in June 1917.
  • This move by the British created a nation-wide protest and now even moderate leaders joined the league. Besant was released in September 1917.
  • The Home Rule League functioned throughout the year as opposed to the Congress Party whose activities were confined to once a year.
  • The movement was able to garner huge support from a lot of educated Indians. In 1917, the two leagues combined had around 40,000 members.
  • Many members of the Congress and the Muslim League joined the league. Many prominent leaders like Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Joseph Baptista, G S Kharpade and Sir S Subramanya Iyer were among its members.
  • The moderates, extremists and the Muslim League were briefly united through this movement.
  • The movement was able to spread political consciousness to more regions in the country.
  • This movement led to the Montague Declaration of 1917 in which it was declared that there would be more Indians in the government leading to the development of self-governing institutions ultimately realising responsible governments in India.
  • This Declaration, also known as August Declaration, implied that the demand for home rule would no longer be considered seditious. This was the biggest significance of the movement.

Reasons for movement to fade out:

  • The movement was not a mass movement. It was restricted to educated people and college students.
  • The leagues did not find a lot of support among Muslims, Anglo-Indians and non-Brahmins from Southern India as they thought home rule would mean a rule of the upper caste Hindu majority.
  • Many of the moderates were satisfied with the government’s assurance of reforms (as preluded in the Montague Declaration). They did not take the movement further.
  • Annie Besant kept oscillating between being satisfied with the government talk of reforms and pushing the home rule movement forward. She was not able to provide firm leadership to her followers. Although ultimately she did call the reforms ‘unworthy of Indian acceptance’.
  • In September 1918, Tilak went to England to pursue a libel case against Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol, British journalist and author of the book ‘Indian Unrest’. The book contained deprecatory comments and had called Tilak the ‘Father of Indian Unrest.’
  • The Government made use of Defence of India Act, 1915 to curb the activities of the agitators.
  • Students were prohibited from attending Home Rule meetings.
  • Tilak was prosecuted and his entry in Punjab and Delhi was banned.
  • Indian Press Act of 1910 was imposed on the press and restrictions were enforced.
  • Tilak’s absence and Besant’s inability to lead the people led to the movement’s fizzing out.
  • The movement was left leaderless with Tilak going abroad and Besant unable to give a positive lead.
  • After the war, Mahatma Gandhi gained prominence as a leader of the masses and the Home Rule Leagues merged with the Congress Party in 1920.

The home rule movement lent a new dimension and a sense of urgency to the national movement. Although its role in the Indian independence movement had been modest, it did succeed in helping to sustain the movement’s impetus during the war years—as manifested in the signing of the Lucknow Pact in December 1916.

The Indian Home Rule movement was a movement in British India on the lines of Irish Home Rule movement and other home rule movements. The movement lasted around two years between 1916–1918 and is believed to have set the stage for the independence movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.

Indian home rule movement began in India in the background of World War I. The Government of India Act (1909) failed to satisfy the demands of the national leaders. However, the split in the congress and the absence of leaders like Tilak, who was imprisoned in Mandalay meant that nationalistic response was tepid.

By 1915, many factors set the stage for a new phase of nationalist movement. The rise in stature of Annie Besant (who was of Irish origin and a firm supporter of Irish home rule movement), the return of Tilak from exile and the growing calls for solving the split in congress began to stir the political scene in India. The Ghadar Mutiny and its suppression led to an atmosphere of resentment against British rule.

Role of Various personalities in HRL:

Tilak on Home Rule  

  • Lokmanya Tilak first started the Home Rule Movement. He was against the discriminative attitude of the British government. He was of the opinion that the Britishers were responsible for the degrading condition of the Indians.
  • He said that they made the Indians economically weak. In order to uplift the Indians from their degrading condition and make them strong enough to fight the war of independence, he establishes the Home Rule League in India in 1916 along with Mrs. Annie Besant.
  • His main aim was to drive out the Britishers from India ultimately and establish a self-government in India. His main political goal was the political emancipation of the motherland. The main aim of the movement was to give the Indians their rights.
  • Tilak said that every community should have the right of self-determination Tilak’s approach towards emancipation and uplift of individuals was highly acclaimed by the individuals.

Gandhiji on Home Rule 

  • First, Gandhi argues that ‘Home Rule is Self Rule’. He argues that it is not enough for the British to leave only for Indians to adopt a British-styled society. As he puts it, some “want English rule without the Englishman … that is to say, [they] would make India English. And when it becomes English, it will be called not Hindustan but Englishtan. This is not the Swaraj I want.”
  • Gandhi also argues that Indian independence is only possible through passive resistance. In fact, more than denouncing violence, Gandhi argues that it is counter-productive; instead, he believes, “The force of love and pity is infinitely greater than the force of arms. There is harm in the exercise of brute force, never in that of pity.” This is essential throughout Hind Swaraj.
  • To exert passive resistance, Gandhi reasons that Swadeshi (self-reliance) be exercised by Indians, meaning the refusal of all trade and dealings with the British. He addresses the English when he states, “If you do not concede our demand, we shall be no longer your petitioners. You can govern us only so long as we remain the governed; we shall no longer have any dealings with you.” Gandhi makes an intriguing argument here: if the British want India for trade, remove trade from the equation.
  • Finally, Gandhi argues that India will never be free unless it rejects Western civilization itself. In the text he is deeply critical of western civilization, claiming, “India is being ground down, not under the English heel, but under that of modern civilization.” He speaks about civilization not just in relation to India, though. He argues that “Western civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self destroyed.” It is a profound repudiation. Not only is western civilization unhealthy for India, but western civilization is by its own virtue unhealthy.

Tagore on Home Rule 

  • Sir Rabindra Nath reviewed the political situation created by the Home Rule agitation and the attitude of the Government towards it. He impressed upon the audience that it would not do for the people of Bengal to cry for Self-Government if they continue to be bound and led as they had been for ages past by false ideals of society, religion and morality and sacrificed truth and right at the alter of those ideals.