THE INDIA LEAGUE
This from the Open University explains the proud history of the organisation.
The India League was a Britain-based organization whose aim was to campaign for full independence and self-government for India. The activist, lawyer and editor V. K. Krishna Menon was the driving force behind it. It evolved from the Commonwealth of India League (est. 1922) – which in turn evolved from Annie Besant’s Home Rule for India League (est. 1916).
Menon became joint secretary of the Commonwealth of India League in 1928 and radicalized the organization, rejecting its objective of Dominion Status for the greater goal of full independence and alienating figures such as Besant in the process. It was in the early 1930s, with Menon at its helm, that the organization flourished, expanding into multiple branches across London and in a range of other British cities including Bournemouth, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Dublin, Hull, Lancashire, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Southampton and Wolverhampton.
The India League sought to raise consciousness among the British people of the injustice of British colonial rule in India and to mobilize them to protest against it. Organized into a range of committees, including a Women’s Committee and an Action Committee, its active members did so through a variety of means and on a voluntary, unpaid basis. For example, its Parliamentary Committee lobbied MPs – several of whom spoke on behalf of the League in the House of Commons – as well as arranging for Indians to address the House of Commons, and discussing policy based on events and opinion in India.
Menon, as well as other members of the executive, addressed a variety of different audiences (workers, women’s groups, church-goers) throughout the country, and spoke at meetings hosted by several organizations including the Labour Party, the Communist Party, and the Fabian Society.
The League also organized public meetings to celebrate 'Independence Day' and Tagore’s birthday, and to commemorate the Amritsar Massacre, for example. In addition, it published numerous pamphlets, treatises and newspaper articles on the plight of India, countering government propaganda and misinformation. Its own organs included Indian News (Newsindia) and the Information Bulletin.
The League’s activities were closely linked to events in India. Julius Silverman, former chair of the Birmingham branch, describes it as ‘the Sister Organization of the Congress Party in India’ (p. 844). The strength of this relationship was due in part to the friendship between Menon and Jawaharlal Nehru, and the League gave receptions for Nehru on his visits to England in the 1930s. While the League languished at the beginning of the Second World War, when Britain’s political focus lay elsewhere, the Quit India resolution in 1942 and subsequent jailing of Nehru, Gandhi and other Congress leaders saw an increase in the organization’s energy, as did the Bengal famine of 1943. In 1932, Krishna Menon formed an India League delegation with Monica Whately, Ellen Wilkinson and Leonard Matters to investigate conditions in India. Their findings, which included shocking details of political repression, torture and starvation, were published on their return and the book was banned in India.
The India League’s membership was largely elite and predominantly British, although several Indians and Ceylonese resident in or visiting England, including numerous students, did attend meetings. In order to attract more support among the South Asian working classes in Britain, the League established its East End branch in the early 1940s.
The organization continued to function after independence, adapting its aims to forging strong links between India and Britain, as well as to working towards the emancipation of people across the globe. Indeed, despite its primary focus on India, the League was internationalist in its outlook throughout, perceiving India’s struggle for freedom as part of a larger struggle against imperialism and capitalism.