It was during the war many members of the Congress as well as the League wanted the unity of all Indians irrespective of religion.
The league and the Congress both met at Bombay to draft schemes for post war reforms. In 1916 at Lucknow both political organisations accepted an agreement known as the Lucknow Pact embodying their minimum joint demands. Self Government was put forward as a definite and immediate aim.
The Congress accepted the separate electorate’s principle a distinct concession to the Muslims of India. Behind the unity moves some educated advanced thinking Muslims like Mohammad Ali Jinna worked sincerely.
Thus by 1916 two of the major divisions of opinion within the country had been brought together. Members of the Congress and the League felt that the spirit in the national movement should be mended and that a united front mounted against the British. Such attitudes were marshalled and guided by a new personality, Dr. Annie Besant.
Dr. Annie Besant was the President of the World Theosophical Society. She joined the Congress in 1914 when Tilak was released from the Jail after imprisonment. In the seventies and eighties. She had been a powerful force to advocate atheism in England. She pleaded for women’s rights. In the late eighties she had fallen under the spell of Madame Blavastsky who had retreated to England. Mrs. Besant therefore became a Theosophist and settled in India.
In 1914 she moved from educational and socio-religious activities to politics. She pressed her demands for Home Rule in India. The British Government conceded to the demands through the constitutional style of agitations based on nineteenth century models. In the Congress Dr. Besant advocated two major tactics-an agitation aimed at moving the British to concede Home Rule and the reentry of the extremists into the national mainstream. By the end of 1914 she impressed upon the dominant moderates to revive district Congress committees and to allow Tilak and his followers back into Congress.
Pherozeshah Metha remained adamant in opposing any attempt to bring the extremists and Tilak back into Congress on the ground of his personal disliking. The decision of the Congress provoked Dr. Besant and Tilak to revive political activity outside the framework of the Congress.
In 1915 both Tilak and Mrs. Besant announced plans to the establishment of the Home Rule League, which was inaugurated officially after 1916. In the meantime in 1915 Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehat died. Thus the main source of opposition to the entry of the extremists disappeared. The extremists readmitted to the Congress. This entry facilitated the process of unity of various stands of political opinion. Home Rule league launched a countrywide agitation projecting the aims and objectives that appealed millions in towns and villages.
Newspapers were printed and pamphlets distributed in English and vernacular languages. Membership for the Home Rule League increased from 1000 in November 1916 to 14,000 in April 1917 and to 32,000 in 1918. This increase was due to the fiery speeches delivered by Tilak. Home Rule League thrived under Government repression. Government tried to impose ban on Tilak and Mrs. Besant for their activities in Maharashtra and Madras regions respectively.
These repressive measures changed the attitude of the moderates who then accepted the leadership of Talik and Mrs. Besant. Following this change in political scenario the Home Rule League pressurized the British public for granting self-Government to India. Government was forced to intern Mrs. Besant and her co-workers at Otacamand. The entire nation voiced its protest against the Government measure. She was released and after that in 1917 was elected President of the Congress.
As the President Mrs. Besant uttered boldly “Thank God that Indian’s eyes are opening, that myriads of her people realized that they are men, with a man’s right to manage his own, affairs. India is no longer on her knees for boons; she is on her feet for rights. This Government saw the extent of the popular involvement in the Home Rule Movement.”
On 20th August 1917 E.S Montague, the Under Secretary of State for India announced in the House of Commons to institute a responsible Government in India as an integral part of the British Empire. But many in India found in the promise insufficient provisions for a self government.
The war came to an end, economic hardship was producing considerable popular uprising while a new bout of Government repression added to the general atmosphere of discontent. These circumstances required a new approach and new leadership and a new link to unite all the fractions in Indian politics created by the British Government through the sharp edged sword of “divide and rule”. Such a person had been present from 1915; he was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who forged for himself a unique role in the national movement with new ethos.