First World War and Nationalist Response


·       In the first world war (1914-19), 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: -

i.                The moderates supported the empire in the war as a matter of duty;

ii.              The Extremists, including Tilak, supported the war efforts in the mistaken belief that Britain would repay Indian’s loyalty with gratitude in the form of self-government; and

iii.             The revolutionaries decided to utilise the opportunity to wage a war on British rule and liberate the country.

·       The revolutionary activity was carried out through the Ghadr party in North America. Berlin committee in Europe, and some scattered mutinies by Indian soldiers.

  • v  Home Rule League Movement

§  The Home Rule Movement was the Indian response to the first world war in a less charged but a more effective way than the response of India’s living abroad which took the form of the romantic Ghadr adventure.

§  Prominent leaders: - Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Annie Besant, G.D. Khaparde, Sir S. Subramania Iyer, Joseph Baptista, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

§  The main objective of this movement was demanding self-government or home rule for all of India within the British commonwealth.

§  Two Home Rule Leagues launched by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Annie Besant with the aim of beginning a new trend of aggressive poitics.

Ø  Factors leading to the movement

Some of the factors leading to the formation of the Home Rule Movement was as follows: -

1.      A section of the nationalists felt that popular pressure was required to attain concessions from the government.

2.     The moderates were disillusioned with the Morley-Minto reforms.

3.     People were feeling the burden of wartime miseries caused by high taxation and a rise in prices, and were ready to participate in any aggressive movement of protest.

4.     Tilak was ready to assume leadership after his release in June 1914, and had, made conciliatory gestures to the government reassuring it of his loyalty and to the moderates that he wanted like the Irish Home Rule.

5.     Annie Besant, the Irish theosophist based in India since 1896, had decided to enlarge the sphere of her activities to include the building of a movement for Home Rule on the lines of the Irish Home Rule leagues.

Ø  The Leagues

§  Both 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 and Besant decided to revive political activity on their own. By early, 1915, Annie Besant had launched a campaign to demand self-government.

§  Tilak’s league: - Tilak set up his Indian Home Rule league in April 1916. He held his first Home Rule meeting at Belgaum.

o   Poona was the headquarter of his league.

o   His league was restricted to Maharashtra excluding Bombay City, Karnataka, Central Provinces, and Berar.

o   It had Six branched and the demands included Swarajya, formation of Linguistic States and education in the Vernacular.

§  Besant’s league: - Annie Besant set up her All-India Home Rule league in September 1916 in Madras (Chennai) and covered the rest of India including Bombay.

o   It had 20 branches, was loosely organised as compared to Tilak’s league and had George Arundale as the organising secretary.

o   The main  work was done by B. W. Wadia and C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyar.

o   She campaigned through her newspapers, New India and commonweal, and through public meetings and conferences.

Ø  The Home Rule League Movement

§  The league campaign aimed to convey to the common man the message of Home Rule as self-government. It carried a much wider appeal than the earlier mobilisation had and also attracted the hitherto ‘politically backward’ regions of Gujarat and Sindh.

§  The aim was to be achieved by promoting political education and discussion through public meetings, organising libraries and reading rooms containing books on national politics, holding conferences, organising classes for students on politics, carrying out propaganda through newspapers, pamphlets, posters, illustrated post-cards, plays, religious songs etc., collecting funds, organising social work, and participating in local government activities.

§  The Home Rule agitation was later joined by Motilal Nehru, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Chittaranjan Das, K. M. Munshi, B. Chakravarti, Saifuddin Kitchlew, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Tej Bahadur Sapru, and Lala Lajpat Rai.

§  The Bombay division of Annie Besant’s league was led by the Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

§  The Muslims and non-brahmins from south did not join as they felt Home Rule would of the Hindu majority and that too mainly by the high caste.

Ø  Government Attitude

§  The government came down with severe repression: -

o   A case was instituted against Tilak which was however rescinded by the high court.

o   Tilak was barred from entering Punjab and Delhi.

o   In June 1917, Annie Besant and her associates, B. P. Wadia and George Arundale, were arrested.

§  Montague, the secretary of state of India, commented that, “Shiva…cut his wife into fifty-two pieces only to discover that he had fifty-two wives. This is what happens to the government of India when it interns Mrs. Besant”.

Ø  Why the agitation faded out by 1919

By 1919, movement had petered out. The reasons for the decline were as follows:

1.      There was a lack of effective organisation.

2.     Communal riots were witnessed during 1917-18.

3.     Moderates who had joined the congress after Annie Besant’s arrest were pacified by talk of reforms and Besant’s release.

4.     Talk of passive resistance by the extremists kept the moderates away from activity from September 1918 onwards.

5.     The Montague-Chelmsford reforms, which become known in July 1918, further divided the nationalist ranks.

6.     Tilak had to go abroad, Besant unable to give a positive lead, the movement was left leaderless.

7.     Gandhi’s fresh approach to the struggle for freedom pushed the home rule movement onto the side lines till it petered out.

  • v  Lucknow Session of the Indian National Congress (1916)

Ø  Readmission of Extremists to Congress.

§  The Lucknow session of the IN C, presided over by a moderate, Ambika Charan Majumdar.

§  Readmitted the extremists to the congress.

§  Various factors facilitating this reunion: -

                         I.         Old controversies had become meaningless now.

                      II.         Both the moderates and extremists realised that the split had led to political inactivity.

                   III.         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 denounced acts of boilence.

                      IV.         The death of Pherozeshah Mehta, who had led the moderate opposition to the extremists, facilitated the reunion.

Ø  Lucknow Pact between Congress and Muslim League

§  Another significant development to take place at Lucknow was the coming together of the Muslim league and the congress and the presentation of common demands by them to the government.

§  Why the change in the league’s attitude

                          i.         Britain’s refusal to help Turkey in its war in the Balkans (1912-13) with Italy during 1911 had angered the Muslims.

                         ii.          Annulment of partition of Bengal in 1911 had annoyed those sections of the Muslims who had supported the partition.

                       iii.         The refusal of the British government in India to set up a university at Aligarh with powers to affiliate colleges all over India also alienated some Muslims.

                        iv.          The goal of self-government similar to that of the congress brought INC and Muslim League closer.

                         v.         Younger Muslims were infuriated by the government repression during the first world war. This generated anti-imperialist sentiments among the ‘young party’.

§  The nature of the pact

The Lucknow pact between the congress and the Muslim league considered as an important event in the course of the nationalistic struggle for freedom.

The joint demands of Muslim league were: -

                            i.         Government should declare that it would confer self-government on Indians at an early date.

                          ii.         The representative assemblies at the central as well as provincial level should be further expanded with an elected majority and more power given to them.

                         iii.         The term of the legislative council should be five years.

                         iv.          The salaries of the secretary of state for India should be paid by the British treasury and not drawn from Indian funds.

                           v.         Half the members of the viceroy’s and provincial governors’ executive councils should be Indians.

§  Critical Comments

                            i.         The legislature could not remove the elected half of the executive, but since important matters like the budget were dependent upon the approval of the legislature, a constitutional deadlock was most likely.

                          ii.         The Lucknow pact demands were just a significantly expanded version of the Morly-Minto reforms.

                         iii.         The acceptance of the principle of separate electorates by the congress implied that the congress and the League came together the masses from the two communities were not considered.

                         iv.          The government decided to placate the nationalists by declaring its intention to grant self-government to Indians.

  • v  Montague’s Statement of August 1917

§  The secretary of state for India, Edwin Samuel Montague, made a statement on August 20, 1917 in the British House of commons known as the August declaration of 1917.

§  The statement said; “Government policy is of an increasing participation of Indians in every branch of administration and gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British empire”.

§  The demand by nationalists for self-government or home rule could not be termed as seditious since attainment of self-government for Indians now became a government policy.

§  Morly’s statement in 1909 that the reforms were not intended to give self-government to India.

Ø  Indian Objections

The objections of the Indian leaders to Montague’s statement were two-fold: -

                          i.         No specific time frame was given.

                         ii.          The government alone was to decide the nature and the timing of advance towards a responsible government and the Indians were resentful that the British would decide what was good and what was bad for Indians.

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