The Indian Freedom Struggle 1908-1918 is typically referred to as the extremist phase of the Indian national movement. The extremists became a dominant force in the Indian National Congress during the Swadeshi Movement against the partition of Bengal. The differences between the two factions eventually led to the Surat Split in 1907. In the period between 1908 and 1914, several revolutionary organizations came up. In this session, we would be covering the major events of this period between 1908 – 1918. After the arrival of Gandhiji on the national scene, the national movement took a different shape and hence, we would cover it in a separate chapter.

Morley-Minto reforms 1909

The Indian Councils Act 1909 or Morley-Minto reforms were named after the Secretary of State for India John Morley and the Viceroy of India- Minto.

Indian Councils Act 1909Introduced separate electorates for the Muslims to divide people into communal lines.
One Indian to be appointed to the viceroy executive council- Satyendra Sinha.
Central Legislative Council increased from 16 to 60 members. Not uniform in the case of the province.
Can discuss the budget, and matters of public interest and move resolutions.
They could also ask supplementary questions.
Indians were given membership in the Imperial Legislative Council for the first time.
The British made another calculated move to sow the seed of communalism in Indian politics by introducing separate electorates for the Muslims.
Many leaders protested this communal electorate policy of the British to ‘Divide and Rule’.
This meant that from the constituencies which were dominated by Muslims, now only Muslim candidates could be elected.
Hindus could only vote for Hindus and Muslims could only vote for Muslims.

Communalism in India

  • Communalism made its appearance in India towards the end of the 19th century.
  • It can be attributed to the relative backwardness of Muslims in education and industry.
  • The presence of a feudal aristocratic but conservative class made them more reactionary.
  • Even Sayyid Ahmad Khan turned to communalism towards the end of his life.
  • But the real growth of communalism was witnessed from the beginning of the 20th century.
  • A landmark event in this direction was the formation of the Muslim League in 1906.
  • Founded on the premise that Hindus and Muslims in India are two separate nations.
  • Indulged in loyalist politics and secured separate electorates in 1909.
  • However, it was only a marginal player in the beginning.
  • Additionally, the Caliph question, though part of the national movement, proved harmful in the long run.
  • Besides, there was a Hindu tinge in the national movement which was one of the reasons for the alienation of the Muslim masses.

Annulment of Bengal Partition (1911)

  • It was done mainly to curb the rising revolutionary extremism/terrorism. Muslim political elite was disappointed with this move. To make them happy:
    • The capital was shifted to Delhi in 1911,Assam was made a separate province,
    • Bihar and Orissa were separated from Bengal.
  • After the swadeshi and Boycott Movements, it became clear that Moderates had outlived their utility and their politics of petitions and speeches had become obsolete. There were the following differences between them:
Social baseZamindars and upper middle class.Educated middle and lower middle class.
IdeologyWestern liberal thought and European historyIndian history, culture, and heritage.
BeliefBelieved in England’s providential mission in India.
great faith in the British sense of justice and fair play.
Connections with the British were beneficial and were loyal to the crown,
Movement should be limited to the middle-class intelligentsia
Didn’t believe in the masses
Did not believe in England’s providential mission in India.
Believed in self-reliance as a weapon against domination.
Recognized the exploitative nature of the British, unworthy of loyalty.
Believed in masses
DemandsConstitutional reforms/self-government.Swaraj
MethodsUse of constitutional methods only. Prayers, Petitions, persuasion, etc.Did not hesitate to use extra-constitutional methods like- boycotts, and passive resistance.
Contribution– Economic Critique of British Imperialism like Theory of wealth drain, Poverty, and un-British rule in India.
– Constitutional Reforms-Repealing the Arms Act of 1878, Increasing spending on the education of Indians, etc.
– Campaign for General Administrative Reforms
– Defence of Civil Rights
– Demand for Swaraj
– Contributing to mass movements
– the spread of nationalist education
– Support for evolutionary movements
– Encouraged Cooperative Organisations
– Setting relief funds for famines etc.
LeadersA.O. Hume,
W.C. Banerjee,
Dadabhai Naoroji,
Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
Lala Lajpat Rai,
Bal Gangadhar Tilak,
Bipin Chandra Pal, and
Aurobindo Ghosh.

Ghadar Party (1913)

  • Established by Lala Hardayal, Taraknath Das, and Sohan Singh Bhakna.
  • The Ghadar party name was taken from a weekly paper, Ghadar, which had begun on 1st November 1913 in memory of the revolt of 1857.
  • The headquarters of the party was located in San Francisco.
  • The outburst of the 1st World War contributed to the Ghadarites with a chance to free India from a Government that was indifferent to their cause.
  • They began to return to India in thousands for a coordinated revolt in combination with the Bengal revolutionaries. Their plan was foiled at the final moment due to treachery.

Komagata Maru Incident

  • The significance of this event lies in the fact that it created an explosive situation in Punjab.
  • The name Komagata Maru was taken from the name of a ship that was loading 370 passengers, mainly Sikh & Punjabi Muslims who might be immigrants, traveling from Singapore to Vancouver.
  • They were sent back by Canadian officials after 2 months of privation and ambiguity.
  • It was generally considered that the Canadian authorities were impacted by the British Government.
  • The ship last boarded at Calcutta in September 1914 but the inmates refused to board the Punjab-bound train.
  • 22 persons died, in the turnout with the police near Calcutta.
  • Exaggerated by this and with the outburst of the ongoing War, the Ghadar leaders decided to launch a brutal attack on British rule in India.
  • They urged fighters to go to India. Bengal revolutionaries were communicated; Political dacoities were committed to increasing funds, particularly in Punjab.
  • Thus, a disastrous situation was created in Punjab.

National Movement During the First World War

  • The 1st World War began in 1914.
  • This War was fought among the nations of Europe to get the colonial monopoly. During wartime, the British Government made an appeal to the Indian leaders to join hands with them in their time of crisis.
  • Indian leaders agreed but they put their own terms and conditions, i.e., after the war was over, the British government would give Constitutional (legislative and administrative) powers to the Indian People.
  • Unfortunately, the steps taken by the British government during World War I created unrest among the Indian people. This was because the British government had taken a huge loan during wartime which they had to repay.
  • They increased the rent from the land, i.e., lagan. They forcefully recruited Indians into the British Army.
  • They increased the price of necessary goods and imposed taxes on personal and professional income.
  • As a result, they had to face protests from Indian society.
  • Farmers and workers of Champaran, Bardoli, Kheda, and Ahmedabad actively protested against the exploitative policies of the British government.
  • Lakhs of students left schools and colleges. Hundreds of lawyers gave up their practice. Women also significantly contributed to this movement and their participation became wider with the emergence of Gandhi.
  • The boycott of foreign cloth became a mass movement, with thousands of bonfires of foreign cloth lighting the Indian sky.

Lucknow Session (1916)

  • The 31st Session of the Congress took place in 1916 in Lucknow.
  • It was presided over by Ambika Charan Majumdar who was an eminent lawyer and was actively linked with the Congress since its birth.
  • After a gap of about ten years, Moderates & Extremists both got united again which was a good sign for the national movement.
  • In this session, the Congress & the Muslim League came adjacent to each other and they signed the historical Lucknow Pact.
  • A combined Reform Scheme was sent to the Viceroy.
  • They decided to make a unified demand for self-government.
  • They were to join their hands in demanding the Government that a majority of the Legislative Councils members be elected.
  • They also demanded the Government that the Legislative Councils be invested with more powers than earlier.
  • They would make a common demand that at least 50 percent of the seats in the Viceroy’s Executive Council be occupied by Indians.
  • Thus, this session of 1916 cemented the friendship between Congress and the Muslim League and promoted goodwill between the Hindus and the Muslims.
  • The resolution condemning the Arms Act and Press Act was passed which had virtually reduced the people and the press to a condition of absolute helplessness.
Presided byA. C Majumdar
Led toReadmission of extremists to the congress.
Lucknow Pact between congress and Muslim League and the presentation of common constitutional demands by them to the government.
Reasons for readmission of extremistsDeath of moderates like Gokhale, and Pherozshah Mehta facilitated the reunion.
Efforts of Annie Besant and Tilak (also denounced acts of violence).
Both Moderates and Extremists realized the split led to political inactivity.
Reasons for Muslim League pact with CongressBritain’s refusal to help Turkey during World War I.
Annulment of Bengal’s partition in 1911.
Rise of younger members in the League – Maulana Azad (his work ‘Al Hilal’), Mohammad Ali (his work ‘Comrade’)
Congress agreed to the League’s demand for a separate electorate. Muslims were granted a fixed proportion of seats at all-India and provincial levels.

Home Rule League 1916

Factors that Contributed to the Formation of Home Rule League

  • Dissatisfaction with Morley-Minto Reforms
  • Economic hardships caused due to WWI
  • The inability of the Moderates to provide lead
  • The eagerness of Tilak and Besant to revive political activity
  • Nationalists believed that people’s involvement was necessary to get concessions from the government.
  • It was an imperialist war that exposed the myth of white supremacy
  • People were burdened by the wartime miseries -high taxation, prices rise, and were ready to participate in any aggressive movement of protest.

NOTE: Anglo-Indians, most of the Muslims, and Non-brahmins from the south did not join as they felt it would mean the home rule of the Hindu majority.

Home Rule League Movement

  • The Home Rule Movement was the Indian response to the 1st World War.
  • It was organized on the basis of the Irish Home Rule Leagues, which represented the emergence of a modern trend of aggressive politics.
  • Annie Besant, the Irish Theosophist, had determined that the movement for Home Rule was on the basis of the Irish Home Rule Leagues.
  • Tilak was ready to assume leadership responsibility after his release in 1914 and guaranteed the Government of his loyalty and to the Moderates that he wanted, like that of Irish Home Rulers, a reform of the administration and not an overthrow of the Government.
  • 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 & Commonweal, and through public meetings and conferences.
  • Two Home Rule Leagues were established, one by B.G. Tilak at Belgaum in April 1916 and the other by Mrs. Annie Besant at Madras in September 1916.
  • Tilak’s Movement concentrated on Maharashtra (excluding Bombay), Karnataka, Central Provinces, and Berar.
  • Annie Besant’s Movement covered the rest of India (including Bombay).
  • The home rule league mainly aimed at:
    • Getting self-government for India within the British Empire
    • Formation of linguistic states
    • Education in the vernacular languages
    • The two Leagues get united and cooperated with each other as well as the Congress and the Muslim League in putting their demand for home rule.
    • The Home Rule Movement had brought a new life to the national movement (Revival of Swadeshi movement) with women joining in larger numbers.
    • Anglo-Indians, most of the Muslims, and non-brahmins from the South did not join as they felt Home Rule would mean the rule of the Hindu majority, mainly the high caste.

Note → Shyamji Krishnavarma set up Home Rule League in London

Personalities Associated with Home Rule League

Annie Besant– She fought for freedom of thought, secularism, women’s rights, birth control, workers’ rights, and Fabian socialism.
– Besant converted to Theosophy after meeting Helena Blavatsky in 1889.
– She came to India for the first time in 1893 as part of the Theosophical Society.
– She founded the Theosophical Society – Addyar along with Henry Steel Olcott. Its headquarters is in Addyar, Chennai.
– She was the society’s president from 1907 to 1933.
– Besant set up the Central Hindu College (CHC) at Benares.
– She joined the Indian National Congress (INC) and demanded government action toward self-rule.
– Besant launched the All-India Home Rule League in 1916 along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
– In 1933, Annie Besant died aged 85 in Addyar.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak– Also known as Lokmanya Tilak.
– Founder of the Deccan Education Society (1884) along with his associate Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and others.
– One of the founders of the Fergusson College (1885) in Pune through the Deccan Education Society.
– Stressed the need for self-rule and believed that without self-rule or Swarajya, no progress was possible.
– Tilak celebrated ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’ and ‘Shivaji Jayanti’. He envisioned these celebrations inciting a sense of unity and inspiring nationalist sentiment among Indians.
“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it!” was his Slogan.
– Along with Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal, he was part of the Lal-Bal-Pal trio of leaders with extremist outlooks.
– Joined the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1890.
Newspapers– Weeklies Kesari (Marathi) and Mahratta (English)
Books– Gita Rhasya and Arctic Home of the Vedas.
– He died on 1st August 1920.
Personalities Associated with Home Rule League | Indian Freedom Struggle 1908-1918

August Declaration, 1917

  • On 20 August 1917, Montague, the Secretary of State in England, made a declaration in the Parliament of England on the British Government’s policy toward future political reforms in India.
  • He promised the gradual introduction of self-governing institutions in India.
  • The August declaration led to the subsiding of the Home Rule movement.
  • It was attributed to the Hindu-Muslim unity exhibited in the Lucknow Pact.
  • The Montague Chelmsford reforms or the Government of India Act 1919 were based on the promises made in the August declaration.

Return of Gandhiji

  • The return of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to India from South Africa in January 1915 marked the beginning of a new phase of a national movement.
  • He was already a known personality before his return.
  • For the first two years, he remained politically inactive.
  • Before his formal plunge into the national movement in 1919, he got a chance to successfully apply the principle of satyagraha in two instances:
  • Champaran Satyagraha (1917)
  • Ahmedabad Mill Strike Case (1918)
  • These experiences brought Gandhiji into close contact with the “real India”, the first time any nationalist leader did so.
  • It was this difference that marked a fresh change in the “Gandhian Phase” of the nationalist movement.


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