Nationalist Reaction to the First World War

Arora IAS Class Notes

Nationalist Responses:

  • Moderates:Supported British war effort as a duty.
  • Extremists (including Tilak):Supported war expecting concessions (self-government) from Britain.
  • Revolutionaries:Saw war as an opportunity to overthrow British rule.

Revolutionary Activities:

  • Ghadr Party (North America):Mobilized Indian citizens abroad for rebellion.
  • Berlin Committee (Europe):Gained German support, sent missions to western Asia to incite anti-British sentiment.
  • Scattered Mutinies (e.g., Singapore):Indian soldiers rebelled against British.

Motivation for Revolutionaries:

  • Weaker British troop presence in India.
  • Potential aid from Germany and Turkey (enemies of Britain).

Home Rule League Movement

Background (Pre-WWI):

  • Nationalist dissatisfaction with Morley-Minto reforms.
  • Economic hardships due to WWI (high taxes, rising prices).
  • Disillusionment with “white superiority” exposed by war propaganda.
  • Tilak’s release in 1914 and call for cooperation with British war effort.
  • Annie Besant’s desire to promote Indian self-government.

Factors Leading to the Movement:

  • Need for continuous pressure on government (unlike annual Congress sessions).
  • Growing support for aggressive political action.


  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak
  • Annie Besant
  • S. Khaparde
  • Sir S. Subramania Iyer
  • Joseph Baptista
  • Muhammad Ali Jinnah (among others)


  • Self-government (Home Rule) for India within the British Commonwealth.
  • Similar to Irish Home Rule movement.

The Leagues (1916):

  • Two separate leagues emerged due to internal disagreements.
    • Tilak’s League (April 1916):
      • Headquarters: Poona
      • Areas of operation: Maharashtra (excluding Bombay city), Karnataka, Central Provinces, Berar
      • Branches: 6
      • Demands: Swarajya, linguistic states, vernacular education
    • Besant’s League (September 1916):
      • Headquarters: Madras (now Chennai)
      • Areas of operation: Rest of India (including Bombay city)
      • Branches: 200 (loosely organized)
      • Key figures: George Arundale (organizing secretary), B.W. Wadia, C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar

League Activities:

  • Public meetings and conferences.
  • Educational programs (libraries, reading rooms, classes).
  • Propaganda through media (newspapers, pamphlets, posters, plays, songs).
  • Fundraising and social work.
  • Participation in local government activities.


  • Broadened nationalist appeal beyond traditional regions.
  • Attracted new leaders like Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Chittaranjan Das, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
  • Gained momentum after the Russian Revolution (1917).


  • Distrust from some minorities (Anglo-Indians, Muslims, South Indian non-Brahmins) who feared Hindu dominance.


  • The Home Rule Leagues paved the way for more radical movements like the Non-Cooperation Movement.
  • The All India Home Rule League eventually changed its name to Swarajya Sabha in 1920.

Government Response

  • Repressive Measures:
    • Banned students from political meetings (Madras).
    • Travel restrictions on Tilak (Punjab, Delhi).
    • Arrested Besant, Wadia, Arundale (June 1917).
  • Nationalist Reactions:
    • Nationwide protests.
    • Sir S. Subramania Iyer renounced knighthood.
    • Tilak advocated passive resistance.
    • Montagu (Secretary of State) criticized government actions.
  • Outcome:
    • Strengthened resolve of nationalists.
    • Besant released in September 1917.

Why the Home Rule Agitation Faded by 1919

Reasons for Decline:

  • Organizational weaknesses:Lack of a strong structure.
  • Communal Tensions:Riots in 1917-18.
  • Moderate Appeasement:Reforms talk (Montagu Declaration, 1917) pacified some Moderates.
  • Extremist Tactics:Talk of passive resistance alienated Moderates (from Sep. 1918).
  • Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (1918):Further divided nationalist opinion.
  • Indecisive Leadership:
    • Besant unsure about reforms and passive resistance.
    • Tilak abroad for a libel case (Sep. 1918).
  • Rise of Gandhi:Gandhi’s mass movement overshadowed Home Rule.

Positive Gains:

  • Shift from Elite to Masses:Focus moved from educated elite to broader participation.
  • Town-Country Link:Created an organizational bridge for future mass movements.
  • Nationalist Generation:Inspired a new generation of freedom fighters.
  • Prepared for Gandhian Politics:Mobilized people for Gandhi’s methods.
  • Influenced Reforms:Montagu Declaration (1917) and subsequent reforms.
  • Revived Congress:Efforts to reunite Moderates and Extremists strengthened the Congress.
  • Urgency for Change:Added urgency to the national movement.


Home Rule vs American Rule

  • Goal:Home Rule sought dominion status within British Empire (like Canada). American Rule aimed for complete independence.
  • Extent:Home Rule focused on self-governance within British structures. American Rule envisioned a new, independent nation.
  • Leadership:Home Rule leaders like Tilak and Besant advocated for negotiation. American Revolution involved forceful overthrow.
  • Timeline:Home Rule peaked 1916-18. American Revolution occurred 1775-83.
  • Impact:Home Rule influenced Montagu Declaration (1917). American Revolution inspired Indian independence movements. 


Lucknow Session of the Indian National Congress (1916)

Readmission of Extremists:

  • Lucknow session presided by Moderate Ambika Charan Majumdar.
  • Extremists led by Tilak readmitted to Congress fold.
  • Reunion facilitated by obsolete controversies, mutual realization of political inactivity, efforts by Annie Besant and Tilak.
  • Tilak reassured Moderates, emphasizing support for administrative reform, denouncing violence.
  • Death of Pherozeshah Mehta eased Moderate opposition to Extremists.

Lucknow Pact between Congress and Muslim League:

  • Congress and Muslim League presented joint demands to government.
  • League’s attitude shift attributed to British actions in Turkey, annulment of Bengal partition, denial of university at Aligarh, younger League members’ turn to bold nationalist politics.
  • Calcutta session of Muslim League (1912) committed to working with other groups for self-government, aligning with Congress objectives.
  • First World War repression fueled anti-imperialist sentiments among younger Muslims.

Nature of the Pact:

  • Congress accepted League’s stance on separate electorates until either community demanded joint electorates.
  • Muslims granted fixed proportion of seats in all-India and provincial legislatures.
  • Joint demands included early self-government declaration, expanded representative assemblies, five-year legislative council terms, British treasury payment of Secretary of State’s salary, and Indian representation in executive councils.

Critical Comments:

  • Executive-legislature relations flawed, leading to potential constitutional deadlock similar to Morley-Minto reforms.
  • Congress and League convergence marked a significant step in two-nation theory’s evolution.
  • Lack of effort to unite masses from both communities, but decision aimed to allay minority fears.
  • Controversial acceptance of separate electorates generated enthusiasm, government declaration of intention to grant self-government in future, as in Montagu’s August 1917 declaration.

Montagu’s Statement of August 1917 (August Declaration)

  • Date:August 20, 1917
  • Speaker:Edwin Samuel Montagu, Secretary of State for India
  • Key Points:
    • Increased participation of Indians in administration.
    • Gradual development of self-governing institutions.
    • “Progressive realisation of responsible government in India” as part of the British Empire.
  • Significance:
    • Legitimized Indian self-government aspirations.
    • Implied future answerability to elected representatives.
  • Indian Objections:
    • No specific timeline for self-government.
    • British control over pace and nature of reforms.

Important Leaders

  1. Annie Besant (1847-1933)

Early Life and Activism

  • Born: October 1, 1847, Ireland (as Annie Wood)
  • Early advocate for women’s rights, worker’s rights, and socialist reforms
  • Joined Theosophical Society in 1889, developing interest in Hinduism

Move to India and Nationalist Awakening

  • Arrived in India (1893) and became involved in independence movement
  • Founded Indian Home Rule League (1916) demanding complete independence
  • First woman president of Indian National Congress (1917)

Educational Reforms and Legacy

  • Established Central Hindu School (later Banaras Hindu University)
  • Championed research into Indian religions and philosophies
  • Founded women’s educational institutions

Disagreements and Continued Support

  • Disagreed with Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement
  • Remained a vocal advocate for India’s independence despite differences
  • Died in 1933, a revered figure in Indian history
  1. Ganesh Srikrishna Khaparde (1854-1938)

Early Life and Political Activism

  • Born: August 27, 1854 (Deshastha Brahmin family, Berar)
  • Lawyer, scholar, and political activist
  • Close associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak
  • Represented Tilak in legal appeals (1908-1910)
  • Member of Indian Home Rule League (founded 1916)

Shifting Political Allegiances

  • Briefly joined the Imperial Legislative Council (post-1919 reforms)
  • Left Congress in anticipation of Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement (1920)
  • Member of Central Legislative Assembly (1920-1925)

Religious Devotion

  • Devotee of Saint Gajanan Maharaj of Shegaon
  • Devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba
  • Kept a diary recording visits to Sai Baba (1910-1918) – valuable source of information

Died: July 1, 1938

3.Muhammad Ali Jinnah: (1876-1948)

Early Life and Education

  • Born: December 25, 1876, Karachi (British India)
  • Barrister trained at Lincoln’s Inn, London

Political Career

  • Early advocate for Hindu-Muslim unity within the Indian National Congress (early 1900s)
  • President of Muslim League (1916)
  • Resigned from Congress due to disagreements over strategy (1920)
  • Led the Muslim League in demanding a separate Muslim state (1940)
  • Instrumental in the partition of India and creation of Pakistan (1947)

Legacy in Pakistan

  • Founding Father of Pakistan
  • First Governor-General of Pakistan
  • Honored as “Quaid-i-Azam” (“Great Leader”)
  1. Motilal Nehru: (1861-1931)

Early Life and Education

  • Born: 1861, Agra (after father relocated from Delhi)
  • Raised by elder brother in Allahabad
  • Law degree from Allahabad High Court (1883)

Legal Career and Family

  • Successful lawyer, accumulated wealth
  • Initially Westernized, later adopted Indian customs
  • Ensured quality education for children (including daughters)

Freedom Struggle

  • Joined Indian National Congress (INC)
  • Twice INC President (1919, 1928)
  • Advocated for self-rule through constitutional means
  • Supported Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement (arrested)
  • Co-founded Swarajya Party with CR Das (1922)
  • Led the opposition in Central Legislative Assembly


  • Authored the Nehru Report (1928), a draft Indian constitution
  • Retired due to health concerns in 1929
  • Died in 1931
  1. Chittaranjan Das (1870-1925)

Early Life and Education

  • Actively involved in Brahmo Samaj, a social reform movement
  • Graduated from Presidency College, Calcutta (1890)
  • Studied law in England but failed the Indian Civil Services exam

Legal Career and Rise to Prominence

  • Practiced law at Calcutta High Court
  • Defended Aurobindo Ghosh in the Alipore Bomb Case (1908)
  • Advocated for Bengali language use in education
  • Championed Khadi and Indian self-sufficiency

Nationalist Activism

  • Joined the Non-Cooperation Movement and promoted Khadi
  • Became a key figure in the Indian National Congress
  • Arrested for participating in the movement (1921)

Swaraj Party and Legacy

  • Disagreed with Gandhi’s suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement
  • Co-founded the Swaraj Party with Motilal Nehru (1923)
  • Renowned poet and writer
  • Earned titles like “Deshbandhu” (Friend of the Country)
  • Died in Darjeeling in 1925, admired by Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose
  1. Diwan Bahadur Sir Subramania Iyer (1842-1924)
  • Lawyer, jurist, and Indian nationalist (“Grand Old Man of South India”)
  • Co-founded Home Rule Movement with Annie Besant
  • Founding member of Indian National Congress and leader of Mylapore faction
  • Held positions like Justice, Chief Justice (acting) of Madras High Court, and Vice-Chancellor of Madras University

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