From Militant Nationalism to Home Rule Movement
From Militant Nationalism to Home Rule Movement

CONTEXT: Politically struggling early 20th century India was digressing towards the radical mass agitation against the colonial British Government under the leadership of extremist national leaders Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal since the Congress constitutional policy of political mendicancy couldn’t bring any remarkable changes to the legislative and administrative structure of India. Under the regressive viceroyalty of Lord Curzon, INC split into Extremists and Moderates in Surat Session 1907 due to ideological disparities regarding the mode of expression against the oppressive ruling party. But even the temporary radicalization of a major fraction of INC and the countrymen couldn’t exterminate such deeply-stabilized inglorious British Empire from India.

Thereafter, the pace of spontaneously erupting nationalism retarded or invisiblized by end of the first decade due to the imprisonment of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the deportation of Lala Lajpat Rai, and the retirement of Aurobindo Ghosh, Bipin Chandra Pal and other extremist leaders. Persistence of excruciating oppression, racial discrimination and subjugation even after years of continuous and invariant struggle marked the beginning of the 1910s. The imperceptible nationalist emotions for gainingSWARAJ” was revived through the Home Rule Movement founded by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Irish scholar Annie Bessant in 1916.

The present article is a modest attempt to analyze the process of resurgence of a progressive nationalist spirit amongst Indian masses in 1910s through Home Rule Movement and its objectives, its methodology and the reasons for its failure.


‘The end of 1907 brought another political trend to fore. The impatient young men of Bengal took to path of individual heroism and revolutionary terrorism… This is primarily because they could find no other way of expressing their patriotism.’ [Bipin Chandra in Indian Struggle for Independence]

Nineteenth century India was dynamically under the state of consistent metamorphosis. It had witnessed the emergence of Indian intelligentsia in educated-middle class, the westernization of education and reformation of socioreligious matrix of India etc. As a consequence of these factors, the pace of nationalism and political awakening was on full-sway but somehow limited to certain developed sections and regions of India.

But by the late 19th century, the new form of nationalism i.e. militant nationalism was gaining shape and strength in the country. The failure of Indian Council Act 1891 and Curzon’s reactionary policies [Calcutta Corporation Act, University Act, Partition of Bengal etc.] realized the people of true nature of colonial government in India. This realization, correlated with growth of education and militant thought promoted by extremists and re-inspiration in Indian culture and heritage etc. resulted into the radical and militant approach of nationalism by early 20th century.

After Surat Split 1907, the militant nationalism that was intrinsically gaining maturity, momentum and mass advocacy , it had made idenficable and visible presences in multiple forms in India. The militant nationalists had adopted the violent strategy of political assassination, bomb explosion and military revolt for accomplishing their target of ‘Swaraj’. The timeline between 1906-1911 had witnessed the radical form of militant nationalism, as stated by Prof. Vishnu Bhagwan:

“Between 1906 to 1911, an unprecedented wave of terrorist crime swept over the country..[]..Cult of bomb were openly preached through ‘Yugantra’ by B.K Ghosh-the brother of Aurobindo Ghosh, and Bhupendra Nath Dutt-brother of Swami Vivekanand….” [Prof. Vishnu Bhagwan in Constitutional History of India and National Movement]

  • BENGAL: Anushilan Samiti was the first revolutionary group organized in 1902 in Midnapur [by Jnanendranath Basu] and in Calcutta [ by B.K. Ghosh”, Promotha Mitter, Jatindranath Banerjee and others] that physically and morally trained people for resorting to physical force for gaining Swaraj. In April, 1906, B.K.Ghosh, Bhupendranath Dutt started the weekly Yugantra highlighting the importance of revolutionary militant nationalism against colonial atrocities. As a consequence of these abortive attempts, following terrorist actions were made:
  1. In 1907, revolutionaries attempted to derail the train that was supposed to have Lieutenant Governor, Sri Andrew Fraser.
  2. In 1908, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki bombed a train in which an insensitive White judge and Muzzafarpur Magistrate Kingsford was supposed to be travelling but unfortunately two British ladies died. The former was sentenced to death and latter committed suicide in guilt.
  3. ALIPORE CONSPIRACY CASE or MURARIPUKUR CONSPIRACY or MANICKTOLLA BOMB CONSPIRACY: Aurobindo Ghosh and Barindra Ghosh were arrested for fabricating a conspiracy against the King.
  4. In 1908, BURRAH DACOITY was conducted by Dacca Anushilan Samiti.
  5. In December 1912, Lord Hardinge was attacked in Delhi near Chandni Chowk by Rashbehari Bose and Sachin Sanyal.
  6. INDO-GERMAN CONSPIRACY: During World War-I, Jugantra Party under Jatindranath Mukherjee planned for an all-India revolutionary insurrection for which the party had managed to import German arms and ammunition through the revolutionaries living abroad. This conspiracy is termed as German-Plot or Zimmerman Plan. Unfortunately, the plan leaked and Jatin was located by police in Balasore where he is supposed to receive the delivery of German arms.
  • MAHARASTRA: The first impactful revolutionary group in Maharashtra was Ramosi Peasant Force by Vasudev Balwant Phadke in 1879 that aimed to promote armed revolution for eradicating colonial rule from India.
  1. Bal Gangadhar Tilak promoted militant nationalism in India through his journals [in Kesari and Maharatta] and Shivaji and Ganpati festivals. He also advocated violence for uprooting colonial rule.
  2. Damodhar Chapekar and Balkrishna Chapekar, popularly known as “Chapekar brothers”,were the disciples of Tilak and they murdered the Plague Commisoner of Poona, Rand and Lt Ayerst in 1897.
  3. Abhinav Bharat Secret Society, also Young India Society or Mitra Mela was founded by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and his brother Ganesh Damodar Savarkar in 1904. Savarkar’s revolutionary propaganda led to the assassination of Lt. Col. William Curzon-Wyllie, the Secretary of State for India, by Madanlal Dhingra on the evening of 1 July 1909, at a meeting of Indian students in the Imperial Institute in London. Dhingra was arrested and later tried and executed. M. T. Jackson, the district magistrate of Nasik, was assassinated in India by Anant Laxman Kanhare in 1909 in the historic “Nasik Conspiracy Case”
  • PUNJAB: Lala Lajpat Rai, through his journal “Punjabee” and Ajit Singh through the extremist organization “Anjuman-i-Mohisban-i Watan” In Lahore and his journal Bharat Mata promoted the ideology of Militant Nationalism.

The militant nationalism was a transitory phenomenon that gradually diminished by 1911 lacking a strong mass-base and rising suppression by overpowering colonial state. However, the nationalist emotions that had submerged deep into the countrymen were re-surged by Home Rule Movement launched by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Irish scholar Annie Bessant in 1916.


Founders of Home Rule Movement ( Left: Annie Bessant and Right: Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak)
Founders of Home Rule Movement ( Left: Annie Bessant and Right: Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak)

In July 1915, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was released from detention and instead of reclaiming his aforementioned extremist strategies for self-government, Tilak shifted towards the ideal of “Home Rule” or “Dominion Status” for India. He realized that the continual suffering and injustices on Indian people was primarily due to the mismanagement of British bureaucracy rather than British Empire and henceforth, he along with Irish Theosophist Annie Bessant asserted for “Home Rule” in India i.e. sovereignty over India within British Commonwealth.

However, both Tilak and Bessant were conscious that not even the gigantic movement could withstand against the colonial government without the political support of Indian National Congress and therefore, both of them strived hard to re-consolidate the contact and network with moderates. The extremist leaders failed to reconnect in 1914 due to the presence of older-educated moderates Gopal Krishna Gokhle and Pherozshah Mehta but after their demise in February and September 1915 respectively, the extremists succeeded in persuading the leading members of INC and eventually they re-joined INC in Lucknow Session (presided by Ambika Charan Majumdar in December 1916).


  1. Despite active participation of Indians in First World-War favoring Britishers, people were left with excruciating miseries and high taxation problems. Therefore, the people aggressively resisted against colonizers and thereby favored Home Rule Movement.
  2. The nationalist again felt urgent need to demand concessions from colonial government by pressurizing them via Home-Rule Movement.
  3. Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Bessant had persuaded people for helping British in crisis, but the colonizers betrayed and denied home-rule or dominion status to India.
  4. Disillusionment of moderates by Morley-Minto Reforms tended others to drift towards a more radical movement.


After Moderate-Extremist rapproachment in Lucknow Session of INC 1916, the biggest challenge for Besant and extremists was that to persuade the moderates for approving to the idea of home-rule leagues since they were skeptical of extremists’ intentions. Besant who had been campaigning through her newspaper “Commonweal” and “New India”, failed in convincing INC and therefore, she had to independently set up a league.

Annie Bessant Home Rule League ( Image: National Digital Library of India)
Annie Bessant Home Rule League ( Image: National Digital Library of India)
  1. Tilak’s League: Tilak started his Indian Home Rule League in April, 1916 at Belgaum and its headquarter was set up at Poona. This Home Rule League focused on SWARAJYA, FORMATION OF LINGUISTIC STATES AND EDUCATION IN VERNACULAR MEDIUM.Although Tilak’s League was widely branched but it was mainly confined to Maharashtra, Karnataka and Berar. Jesoph Baptista [President] and N.C. Kelkar [Secretary] were associated with this organization.
  2. Besant’s League: Besant set up her All India Home Rule League in September, 1916 in Madras and covered the whole of India. The popular members associated with her league were George Arundale [Organising Secretary] and B.W Wadia.


The prime objective of Home Rule Movement was of “attaining self-government within the British Empire by all constitutional means and to educate and organize public opinion in the country towards the attainment of the same.


Home Rule Movement, aimed to attain Home Rule or Dominion Status for India and unlike moderate or extremist strategies, it adopted the methodology of igniting Indians by politically educating them so that they can themselves claim their rights. It avoided to deflect towards revolutionary or unconstitutional medium in any way that can again led to political inactivity and eventually, it successfully gained the political support of Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Chittranjan Das, Madan Mohan Malviya, Lala Lajpat Rai.


The Home Rule Movement also gained supports of Muslims as a consequence of Lucknow Pact but colonial government again reacted with severe repression and thereby, it couldn’t sustain longer and petered out by 1919, due to following reasons:

  1.  Deficiency of effective consolidation and organization; and non-participation of Anglo-Indians, Muslims and non-Brahmins who believed it to be a rule of high caste Hindu Brahmins.
  2. In September 1918, Tilak had to go England for pursuing a libel case against Valentino Chirol who referred to Tilak as the Father of Indian Unrestand criticized him for his agitational politics in his book “Indian Unrest” but Tilak lost the case. During this long time-span, the movement became leaderless and petered out itself.
  3. Many of the moderates were reluctant to take the movement further because they were contented with the government’s assurance of reforms (as preluded in the Montague Declaration).
  4. The massive supporters of Home-Rule were gravitating towards impactful Gandhian Satyagraha from 1918 onwards and Home-Rule Movement weakened.
  5. Tilak’s absence and Besant’s inability to lead the people led to the movement’s fizzing out.

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