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Spectrum Summary: First World War & Nationalist Response - History for UPSC CSE

  • Nationalist response to British participation in the First World War was three-fold:

(i) Moderates supported the empire in the war as a matter of duty.

(ii) 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.

(iii) Revolutionaries decided to utilize 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, such as the one in Singapore.

Home Rule League Movement

  • Two Indian Home Rule Leagues were organized on the lines of the Irish Home Rule Leagues and they represented the emergence of a new trend of aggressive politics
  • Annie Besant and Tilak were the pioneers of this new trend.Annie BesantAnnie Besant
  • Factors leading to the Movement
    Some of the factors leading to the formation of the home rule movement were as follows:

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

(ii) Moderates were disillusioned with the Morley- Minto reforms.

(iii) 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.

(iv) 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.

(v) 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 Rulers, a reform of the administration and not an overthrow of the government. He also admitted that the acts of violence had only served to retard the pace of political progress in India. He urged all Indians to assist the British government in its hour of crisis.

(vi) 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.

The Leagues

  • By early 1915, Annie Besant had launched a campaign to demand self-government for India after the war on the lines of white colonies. She campaigned through her newspapers, New India and Commonweal, and through public meetings and conferences.
  • Tilak's League-Tilak set up his Home Rule League in April 1916 and it was restricted to Maharashtra (excluding Bombay city), Karnataka, Central Provinces, and Berar. 
  • Besant's League-Annie Besant set up her league in September 1916 in Madras and covered the rest of India (including Bombay city). It had 200 branches

The Home Rule League Programme

  • League campaign aimed to convey to the common man the message of home rule as self-government. The Russian Revolution of 1917 proved to be an added advantage for the Home Rule campaign.Indian Home Rule MovementIndian Home Rule Movement
  • Home Rule agitation was later joined by Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Chittaranjan Das, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Tej Bahadur Sapru, and Lala Lajpat Rai.

Government Attitude

  • Tilak was barred from entering the Punjab and Delhi. In June 1917, Annie Besant and her associates, B.P. Wadia and George Arundale were arrested.Bal Gangadhar TilakBal Gangadhar Tilak
  • Montagu, the Secretary of State for 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.”

Why the Agitation Faded Out by 1919

  • There was a lack of an effective organization.
  • Communal riots were witnessed during 1917-18.
  • Moderates who had joined the Congress after Annie Besant's arrest were pacified by talk of reforms and Besant's release.
  • Talk of passive resistance by the Extremists kept the Moderates away from an activity from September 1918 onwards.
  • Montagu-Chelmsford reforms which became known in July 1918 further divided the nationalist ranks.
  • Tilak had to go abroad (September 1918) in connection with a case while Annie Besant vacillated over her response to the reforms and the techniques of passive resistance.

Positive Gains

  • The movement shifted the emphasis from the educated elite to the masses and permanently deflected the movement from the course mapped by the Moderates.
  • It created an organizational link between the town and the country, which was to prove crucial in later years when the national movement entered its mass phase in a true sense.
  • It created a generation of ardent nationalists.
  • It prepared the masses for politics of the Gandhian style.
  • August 1917 declaration of Montagu and the Montford reforms were influenced by the Home Rule agitation.
  • Efforts of Tilak and Annie Besant towards the Mo derate-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.

Lucknow Session of the Indian National Congress (1916)

1. Readmission of Extremists to Congress

  • Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress presided over by a Moderate, Ambika Charan Majumdar.
    Various factors facilitated this reunion:
    (a) Old controversies had become meaningless now.
    (b) Both the Moderates and the Extremists realized that the split had led to political inactivity.
    (c) Annie Besant and Tilak had made vigorous efforts for the reunion.
    (d) Death of two Moderates, Gokhale and Pherozshah Mehta, who had led the Moderate opposition to the Extremists, facilitated the reunion.

2. Lucknow Pact between Congress and Muslim League

  • 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.Spectrum Summary: First World War & Nationalist Response | History for UPSC CSE

Why the Change in the League’s Altitude

  • Britain's refusal to help Turkey in its wars in the Balkans (1912-13) and with Italy (during 1911) had angered the Muslims.
  • Annulment of the partition of Bengal in 1911 had annoyed those sections of the Muslims who had supported the partition.
  • 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.
  • Younger League members were turning to bolder nationalist politics and were trying to outgrow the limited political outlook of the Aligarh school. 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, provided it did not come in conflict with its basic objective of protection of interests of the Indian Muslims”. Thus, the goal of self-government similar to that of Congress brought both sides closer.
  • Younger Muslims were infuriated by the government repression during the First World War. Maulana Azad’s A1 Hilal and Mohammad Airs Comrade faced suppression while the leaders such as the Ali brothers, Maulana Azad and Hasrat Mohani faced internment. This generated anti-imperialist sentiments among the 'Young Party'.

The Nature of the Pact-

The joint demands was:

  • The government should declare that it would confer self-government on Indians at an early date.
  • Representative assemblies at the central as well as provincial-level should be further expanded with an elected majority and more powers given to them. The term of the legislative council should be five years.
  • Salaries of the Secretary of State for India should be paid by the British treasury and not drawn from Indian funds.
  • Half the members of the viceroy’s and provincial governors’ executive councils should be Indians.

Critical Comments

  • Lucknow Pact demands were thus just a significantly expanded version of the Morley-Minto reforms. This was a major landmark in the evolution of the two-nation theory by the Muslim League.
  • The government decided to placate the nationalists by declaring its intention to grant self-government to Indians in times to come, as contained in Montagu’s August 1917 declaration.

Montagu’s Statement of August 1917

  • 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.
  • The statement said: “The 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 realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire.”
  • Reforms were not intended to give self-government to India.

Indian Objections

Objections of the Indian leaders to Montagu's statement were two-fold:

  • No specific time frame was given.
  • 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.
The document Spectrum Summary: First World War & Nationalist Response | History for UPSC CSE is a part of the UPSC Course History for UPSC CSE.
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FAQs on Spectrum Summary: First World War & Nationalist Response - History for UPSC CSE

1. What was the Home Rule League Movement?
Ans. The Home Rule League Movement was a political campaign in India during the early 20th century that sought self-government or "Home Rule" for India within the British Empire. It aimed to establish a legislative assembly and executive government in India, with Indians having control over their own affairs.
2. What was the significance of the Lucknow Session of the Indian National Congress in 1916?
Ans. The Lucknow Session of the Indian National Congress in 1916 was significant as it marked a milestone in the history of Indian politics. It saw the reunion of the moderate and extremist factions of the Congress, which had been divided for many years. This unity helped strengthen the national movement against British rule and paved the way for joint efforts towards India's independence.
3. What was Montagu's Statement of August 1917?
Ans. Montagu's Statement of August 1917, also known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms or the August Declaration, was a policy statement made by the British Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu. The statement outlined the British government's intention to gradually increase self-governance in India and promised eventual dominion status. It was a significant step towards granting more political rights and representation to Indians.
4. How did the First World War impact the nationalist response in India?
Ans. The First World War had a profound impact on the nationalist response in India. Indian nationalists saw the war as an opportunity to demand greater political rights and self-governance from the British. The war created economic hardships and led to a rise in anti-British sentiment. Nationalist leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Besant used the war to mobilize support for the Indian cause and push for reforms.
5. What is the Spectrum Summary of the First World War and Nationalist Response?
Ans. The Spectrum Summary of the First World War and Nationalist Response is a concise overview of the historical events and dynamics that unfolded during this period. It provides a brief analysis of the impact of the war on the nationalist movement in India and highlights key figures and events that shaped the Indian response to British colonial rule. It serves as a useful resource for understanding the broader context of this historical period.
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