In 1879 she became a member of London’s Theosophical Society, which had set up a branch in India. She represented the Society at the World Religions Meet of Chicago (1893) where Swami Vivekananda made his famous speech. In the same year Annie Besant landed in India, for the first time, to deliver a speech on ‘Life after death’. And it was Annie herself who inaugurated the annual meet of the Theosophical Society in India at Adayar later in the year before she returned to London.
Annie came back to India in 1896. She traveled all over India and found the depth of the superstitions, illiteracy and slavery in which the people lived. She spread the message that India should have a national educational system combining the traditional cultural wisdom and the usefulness of modern sciences. She inspired the educational workers in India to set up new educational institutions throughout the country. She played a pivotal role in the setting up of the Hindu University of Benares and continued to be a member of all the policy-making committees of the university. She was chosen as the president of the Theosophical Society in 1907 and continued in the post till she died in 1933. The Manuscripts Library of Adayar, Madras, is one of the best libraries in India.. The role she played in the movement for India’s freedom was great. She became the editor of ‘Madras Standard’, a daily newspaper the ownership of which she purchased and started publishing it as ‘New India’. In 1913 she prepared a plan for India’s freedom, and in the next year she formed a committee of the members of the British Parliament In 1916 her pet idea of the Home Rule League came into reality, with herself as the presidsent and C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer as the General Secretary. Soon the League had its branches in various parts of the country. In 1917 she was elected President of the Indian National Congress.
Her brilliant oratory enthused the people, but infuriated the British authorities. ‘New India’ was banned and Annie’s movement was restricted. Once she was arrested and kept under house arrest, but was released after a couple of years due to widespread public protest, and pressure from even the President of the U.S.
But she was opposed to Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement and non-violent resistance. And she retired from politics. It was Annie Besant who gave leadership to the setting up of an all-India organization for women and she was the founder president of “Women’s India Association”, the first of its kind in India. She died in 1933.