The romantic adventure of Ghadar was the response of the Indians abroad during the War, but at home the response was less charged but politically more effective Home Rule Leagues launched by Tilak and Besant. In June 1914, Tilak was released from jail. He initially focussed his attention on gaining re-entry for himself and other Extremists into the Congress, but his efforts were frustrated by the Moderates led by Pherozshah Mehta. Consequently, Tilak decided to revive political activities on his own.
Annie Besant, an Irish missionary, who had come to India in 1893 to work for the Theosophical Society, operating from Adyar, Madras, also thought similarly. She wanted to replicate the Irish experiment of Home Rule Leagues. The two Home Rule Leagues were set up in quick succession, Tilak’s in April, 1916 and Besant’s in September, 1916. Both focussed on building a movement for limited self-rule or Home Rule. The reason behind two Home Rule Leagues was that some of Tilak’s followers did not like Besant while some of her followers did not like Tilak.
Major propaganda activities by the Leagues were formation of local committees for propagating the self-rule demand, distribution of pamphlets and discussions. Many Moderate Congressmen dissatisfied with the inactivity of the Congress, joined the Home Rule movement. In meetings, speakers often contrasted India’s then economic status with her past. Montagu’s declaration in 1917 had boosted the Home Rule movement. Montagu had said in his declaration that the British policy was to ensure more Indian participation in institutions in India. The political significance of this decision was that from now, the demand for self-rule could not be called seditious by the Government.
In line with the conciliatory attitude of the Montagu Declaration, Annie Besant was released in 1917 and was elected the Congress President, considering her popularity. This way, she was the first woman to grace the post.
The tremendous achievement of the Home Rule movement was that it created ardent nationalists who played a key role in the national movement later, under Gandhi’s leadership. Further, they generated a widespread nationalist atmosphere by popularizing the idea of self-rule.
By the end of the War, in 1918, the young nationalists, energized by the movement and impatient with its progress, were looking for effective political action. The stage was thus set for the entry of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who had already won great fame in South Africa by leading Indians politically, and by leading the Champaran, Ahmedabad and Khera peasants and workers. And in March, 1919, when he gave the call for Satygraha to protest against the draconian Rowlatt Act, he was the rallying point for all those who had been awakened by the Home Rule movement.