1 August 1916: Annie Besant starts the Home Rule League


On 1 August 1916, Annie Besant launched the Home Rule League.


Annie Besant was a British theosophist, women’s right’s activist, writer and orator who supported Indian and Irish home rule. Born in London on 1 October 1847, to a middle-class Irish family, Annie Besant was extremely aware of her Irish heritage from young age and supported the cause of Irish home rule throughout her life. In 1893, Besant became a part of the Theosophical Society and went to India. While in India, a dispute between the American section of the society led to them setting up an independent organization. Annie Besant along with Henry Steel Olcott led the original society which is even today based in Chennai and is known as the Theosophical Society Adyar. After the division of the society, Besant spent most of her time on the betterment of society and even towards India’s freedom struggle.


Annie Besant went on to establish the All India Home Rule League, which was a political organization which aimed at self-government, termed as “Home Rule”. The league wanted to secure for India the statue of a dominion within the British Empire, such as countries like Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Newfoundland then.


Besan’t league had an All India character, but was founded on Besant’s Theosophical contacts; it was set up in 1916 and reached its zenith in 1917 with 27,000 members. The Home Rule League organized discussions and lectures and set up reading rooms, also distributing pamphlets educating people of what they sought to achieve through this movement. Members of the league were powerful orators and petitions of thousands of Indians were submitted to the British authorities.


The Home Rule League got a lot of support from the Tamil Brahmin community of Chennai and also communities like the Kayasthas of Uttar Pradesh, Kashmiri Brahmins, some Muslims, Hindu Tamil minority, young Gujarati industrialists and traders and lawyers in Mumbai and Gujarat. The philosophy of the league was a combination of theosophy, social reform, ancient Hindu wisdom and the claims of achievement of the West which had already been anticipated by Hindu Rishis many years before they happened. The league influenced a lot of people by its philosophy, primarily because the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj had not reached the majority by then. A lot of young men groomed by the home rule movement went on to become future leaders in Indian politics, namely Satyamuri of Chennai, Jitendralal Banerji of Kolkata, Jawaharlal Nehru and Khaliquzzaman of Allahabad, Jamunadas Dwarkadas and Indulal Yajnik, among others.


The Home Rule League had 2600 members in Mumbai and held meetings attended by 10,000 to 12,000 people at the Shantaram Chawl area, comprising of government employees and industrial workers. The league was also responsible for creating a political awareness in areas like Sindh, Gujarat, United Provinces, Bihar an Orissa. In 1917, following the arrest of Annie Besant, the movement gained strength and made its presence felt in India’s rural areas. By late 1917 Annie Besant was highly influenced by Montagu’s promise of a “responsible government” and it wasn’t long before she became his loyal follower.


The popularity of the Home Rule League also began declining with the coming of the Satyagraha Movement by Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma’s mantra of non-violence and large scale civil disobedience appealed to India’s common people, including his lifestyle, respect for Indian culture and love for the common people of the country. Gandhi led Bihar, Kheda and Gujarat up in a successful revolt against the government, which eventually rose him to the position of a national hero. By 1920 the Home Rule League elected Gandhi as its President and within a year from then it would merge into the Indian National Congress forming a united political front.


Also on This Day:


1672: English laws were introduced and Courts of Judicature were set up as directed by the Company.


1846: Dwarkanath Tagore died in England.


1899: Kamala Nehru was born.


1920: Bal Gangadhar Tilak died.


1953: All airlines in India were nationalized by an act of parliament known as the Air Corporation Act.


1957: National Book Trust was set up.


1975: Durba Banerjee was the first professional lady pilot in the world to command a commercial passenger flight.


1999: Nirad C. Chaudhuri, a Bengali-English writer, passed away.

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