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  • 01 January, 1970

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First World War and Nationalist Response

First World War and Nationalist Response

In the First World War (1914-1919), Britain allied with France, Russia, USA, Italy and Japan against Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey.

The nationalist response to British participation in the First World War was three-fold:

  1. Moderates supported as a matter of duty;
  2. Extremists, including Tilak (who was released in June 1914), supported the war efforts in the mistaken belief that Britain would repay India’s loyalty with gratitude in the form of self-government; and
  3. Revolutionaries decided to utilise the opportunity to wage a war on British rule and liberate the country.

Home Rule League Movement

A trend of aggressive politics in national movement; was pioneered by Tilak and Annie Besant on lines of a similar movement in Ireland.

Factors Favouring the Movement

  1. Need being felt for popular pressure to attain concessions.
  2. Disillusionment with Morley-Minto Reforms.
  3. Wartime miseries high taxation ,a rise in prices led to public ready to protest.
  4. The war, being fought among the major imperialist powers of the day and backed by naked propaganda against each other, exposed the myth of white superiority
  5. Tilak, Besant ready to assume leadership.

Prominent leaders—Balgangadhar Tilak, Annie Besant, G.S. Khaparde, Sir S. Subramania Iyer, Joseph Baptista and Mohammad Ali Jinnah .

Aim of the Movement - To have a national alliance that would work throughout the year (unlike the Congress which had annual sessions) with the main objective of demanding self-government or home rule for all of India within the British commonwealth.

Tilak and Besant realised that the sanction of a Moderate-dominated Congress as well as full cooperation of the Extremists was essential for the movement to succeed.

Tilak’s League—Started in April 1916 and operated in Maharashtra(Poona was the headquarters of his league, excluding Bombay city), Karnataka, Central Provinces and Berar; had six branches. Demands included swarajya, formation of linguistic states and education in the vernacular.

Besant’s League—Started in September 1916 and operated in rest of India (including Bombay city); had 200 branches. She campaigned through her newspapers- New India and Commonweal.

Later, the leagues were joined by Moderate Congressmen Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Chittaranjan Das, K.M. Munshi, B. Chakravarti, Saifuddin Kitchlew, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Lala Lajpat Rai. Mohammad Ali Jinnah led the Bombay division.

Government Attitude

Tilak advocated a programme of passive resistance. He was barred from entering the Punjab and Delhi. In June 1917, Annie Besant and her associates, B.P. Wadia and George Arundale, were arrested. Sir S. Subramaniya Aiyar renounced his knighthood in protest.

Methods used- Organising discussions, reading rooms, propaganda through public meetings, newspapers, pamphlets, posters, etc.

Why the Agitation Faded Out by 1919

  • There was a lack of effective organisation.
  • Communal riots were witnessed during 1917-18.
  • The Moderates were pacified by talk of reforms (contained in Montagu’s statement of August 1917 which held self-government as the long-term goal of the British rule in India) and Besant’s release.
  • Talk of passive resistance by the Extremists kept the Moderates away from activity from September 1918 onwards.
  • Tilak had to go abroad (September 1918) in connection with a libel case against Valentine Chirol whose book, Indian Unrest, had featured Tilak as responsible for the agitational politics that had developed in India. With Besant unable to give a positive lead and Tilak away in England, the movement was left leaderless.

[In 1920, Gandhi accepted the presidentship of the All India Home Rule League, and changed the organisation’s name to Swarajya Sabha. Within a year, however, the league joined the Indian National Congress.]

Positive Gains-

  • Emphasis shifted to the masses permanently;
  • organisational link established between town and country;
  • prepared a generation of ardent nationalists, influenced

1916- Moderate-Extremist reunited at Lucknow.

Lucknow Session of INC1916

  • Extremists were readmitted to Congress
  • Muslim League and Congress put up joint demands under Lucknow Pact.
  • Congress accepted the League’s position on separate electorates.
  • The August 1917 declaration of Montagu was influenced by the Home Rule agitation.
  • The efforts of Tilak and Annie Besant towards the Moderate-Extremist reunion at Lucknow (1916) revived the Congress as an effective instrument of Indian nationalism.
  • The home rule movement lent a new dimension and a sense of urgency to the national movement.

Montagus Statement

The Secretary of State for India, Edwin Samuel Montagu, made a statement on August 20, 1917 in the British House of Commons in what has come to be known as the August Declaration of 1917. Attainment of self-government for Indians became a government policy hence the demand by nationalists for self-government or home rule could not be termed as seditious.

The objections of the Indian leaders to Montagu’s statement were two-fold—

  1. No specific time frame was given.
  2. The government alone was to decide the nature and the timing of advance towards a responsible government,

Indians were resentful at the British would decide what was good and what was bad for Indians.

Lucknow Session of the Indian National Congress (1916)

a. Readmission of Extremists to Congress

Factors that facilitated this reunion:

  • Old controversies had become meaningless now.
  • Both the Moderates and the Extremists realised that the split had led to political inactivity.
  • Annie Besant and Tilak had made vigorous efforts for the reunion.
  • Tilak had declared that he supported a reform of administration and not an overthrow of the government. He also denounced acts of violence.
  • The death of two Moderates, Gokhale and Pherozshah Mehta, who had led the Moderate opposition to the Extremists, facilitated the reunion.

b. Lucknow Pact between Congress and Muslim League

  • Britain’s refusal to help Turkey in its wars in the Balkans (1912-13) and with Italy had angered the Muslims.
  • Annulment of partition of Bengal in 1911 had annoyed sections of the Muslims who had supported the partition.
  • Refusal of the British to set up a university at Aligarh.
  • 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. Thus, the goal of self-government similar to that of the Congress brought both sides closer.
  • Younger Muslims were infuriated by the government repression during the First World War. Maulana Azad’s Al Hilal and Mohammad Ali’s Comrade faced suppression while the leaders such as Ali brothers, Maulana Azad and Hasrat Mohani faced internment.

Source: Spectrum, Bipin chandra

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