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Viceroys of India

Lord Canning (1856-57)

The most significant event during his administration was the outbreak of the Sepoy Revolt of 1857. He suppressed it and the Parliamentary Act of 1858.

By the Proclamation of the Queen, the East India Company’s rule ended and the Crown of England took over the government of India. Though he meted out punishment to those who had taken part in the uprising, yet he avoided indiscriminate vengeance on the Indians as far as possible and thus earned the title of ‘Clemency Canning’. He restored law and order in an effective way and introduced a new system of administration. In April 1859 he received thanks of both Houses of Parliament for his great services during the mutiny.

He reorganized the British Indian army and restored financial stability by introducing income tax, a uniform tariff of ten percent and a convertible paper currency. To remove certain grievances of the cultivators of Bengal under the Permanent Settlement passed the Bengal Rent Act in 1859 to give better security to the tenants. The British started tea and coffee plantations. The recommendations of Charles Wood on education made in 1854 were given effect and the three universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were founded in 1857. He appointed a commission to enquire into the grievances of the peasants of Bengal and Bihar against the European Indigo-planters.

Lord Elgin I (1862)

He was responsible for suppressing the Wahabi Movement, however, he died suddenly, and the administration was carried out by other responsible officials up to 1864.

Lord John Lawrence (1864-69)

When in 1863 Dost Mohammed’s death let loose the factions of Afghanistan, Lord Lawrence acted on a policy that he recognized both the sons, Afzul Khan and Shere Ali, at different times, and the latter fully only when he had made himself master of all his father’s kingdom.

The steady advance of Russia from the north led to severe criticism of this cautious “buffer” policy which he justified under the term of “masterly inactivity.”

He set up High Courts and telegraphic communication with Europe.

Lord Mayo (1869-72)

Lord Mayo was the fourth Viceroy of India, who held office from  12 January, 1869 to 8 February,1872.

The retaliatory missions against the indigenous tribes that inhabited the frontiers of Indian Territory were a constant cause of worry to the Viceroy. The administrative policies of Lord Mayo were quite relevant to the then prevailing conditions in British India. He reorganized the country’s weak finances and made some fiscal reforms.

The first ever Census was conducted in 1871 under his patronage. He gave importance to the promotion of irrigation, railways, forests and other essential public works. He  established local boards under the direct control of the government to solve numerous local problems. He was also instrumental in arranging a Statistical Survey of India during his tenure.

With respect to the railways,he emphasized the extension of railways with aids from government funds instead of privatization. His public reforms included allocation of funds to the local or provincial governments for  public works, medical facilities and education. They in their turn were expected to rely on local taxation. He was of the view that the  localization of funds would promote growth of self-government and at the same time facilitate a close association between the citizens of the Indian provinces and the British.


Lord Northbrooke (1872- 76)

During his period, the trial of the Gaikwad of Baroda took place. He resigned over the Afghan issue in 1876.

Lord Lytton (1876-80)

The British poet and diplomat Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton (1831–91) was viceroy of India between 1876 and 1880.

During his viceroyalty, Lytton worked to improve the Indian administration and supervised his government’s much-criticized response to the Great Famine of 1876–78.

Lytton was also widely criticized for his assertive, “forward” policy toward Afghanistan, which in the view of his detractors was responsible for provoking the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80).

Issues as the Delhi Assemblage of 1877 that proclaimed Queen Victoria as Empress of India, the frontier negotiations of 1877, the famine of 1876‒78, the 1878 Russian mission to Kabul, and the negotiations conducted and treaties concluded with the rulers of Afghanistan took place. Lytton’s controversial Vernacular Press Act restricted the freedom of India’s non-English newspapers.

Lord Ripon (1880-84)

Ripon was industrious, able with a deep moral earnestness. He was liberal in his attitude and made some remarkable changes in the administrative system of India. He granted various facilities to the Indians.

He took some steps towards liberalizing the administration in India. His aim was to give popular and political education to the Indians. He formulated the local self government and laid the foundations of representative institutions in India.

Lord Ripon repealed the Vernacular Press Act of 1878 passed by Lord Lytton by Act III of 1882 and thus news papers published in vernacular languages were allowed equal freedom with the rest of the Indian Press. This action of Ripon went a long way in conciliating public opinion.

To improve the lot of the factory workers in towns, he passed the first Factory Act in 1881. The Act prohibited the employment of children under the age of seven, limited the number of working hours for children below the age of twelve and required that dangerous machinery should be fenced properly.

Lord Ripon like his predecesser, Lord Mayo was the follower of the policy of financial decentralization. Ripon divided the sources of revenue into three categories, Viz. Imperial, Provincial and Divided.

Revenue from Customs, Posts and Telegraphs, Railways, Opium, Salt, Mint, Military Receipts, Land Revenue etc. were included in the imperial head. The Central Government was required to meet the expenses of central administration out of this revenue. Revenue from Jails, Medical slices, Printing, Roads, General Administration, etc. were included in the provincial heads. As the income from provincial heads was insufficient for provincial expenses, a part of Land revenue was assigned to the provinces.


Lord Dufferin (1884- 88)

Lord Dufferin was appointed the Viceroy of India in 1884. Dufferin’s administration in India saw the Third Burmese War in 1885, resulting in the annexation of upper Burma. As a result, his viceroyalty saw the final extinction of Burma as an independent power.

Another event which was of utmost consequences for the future was the foundation of the Indian National Congress (INC) by A.O. Hume and S. N. Banerjee in 1885.

In the North-west, the Panjdeh incident on the border of Afghanistan brought Britain to the verge of war with Russia. As result of the possibility of this war, the total strength of the Indian army was raised.

Lord Landsdowne (1888-94)

His administration (1888–94) was marked by peace except for a short rising in the independent state of Manipur, for which the leader Tikendrajit was executed.

Lansdowne founded an imperial library and record office, abolished the presidential army system, closed Indian mints to the free coinage of silver, reorganized the police, reconstituted legislative councils, gave council members rights of financial discussion and interpolation, and extended railway and irrigation works.

The independent kingdom of Sikkim was brought under British protection in 1888 and its boundary with Tibet demarcated; Hunza and Nagar on the Afghan frontier were annexed in 1892.


Lord Elgin II (1894-98)

He appointed the Lyall Commission to look into the issue of famines. During his tenure the Chapekar Brothers assassinated two senior British officials.

Lord Curzon (1899- 1905)

Lord Curzon was the Governor General and Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905. He had two successive terms to preside over the Indian empire.

The first term (1899-1904) marked the apogee of the imperial system under his paternalist care and ended gloriously. He accepted a successive second term offer, but only to resign within a year in the face of extreme controversies resulting from his measures. As a representative of the Conservative Government, Lord Curzon was expected to serve the British Empire as its paternalist figure.

Frontier Policy of Lord Curzon:

Curzon’s earliest policy measure was to withdraw troops from Chitral, the Khyber and the Khurram valley, which were not directly governed by British India.

His policy was to use the concerned tribes to protect themselves with British help, if necessary at all. This policy kept the frontier quiet until the end of the First World War. Linked with this frontier policy was the creation of the North-West Frontier Province.

Internal Administration of Lord Curzon:

There was no part of the administration, from the rent assessment at village level to the expenditures in the vice regal household, into which Lord Curzon did not look over.

He undertook a complete overhaul of the whole bureaucratic machine. As preludes to reform, he tried to identify weaknesses and defects of office management, department by department.

Inefficiency in work like regular delay in office attendance, slow movement of files, lengthy noting on files, writing long minutes in flamboyant style, taking the stereotype as the model, unnecessary dependence on the subordinates, tormented him.

He had a very poor opinion of Indian Civil Service. Therefore, he took the most unprecedented steps by personally supervising the office improvement measures. Even the offices of the ICS officials came under his scrutiny. He asked them to take initiatives in good governance.

Based on the police report of 1903, Curzon reorganised the Indian and provincial police services. He also brought changes in dilatory office procedures.

Land Rent Policy of Lord Curzon:

The most remarkable was Curzon’s dealing with land issues. He noticed that the rent rate of Raiyats cultivating Khas (government owned) land was much higher than that of the Zamindari peasants.

He issued orders to scale down rent for land. The most famous was the Punjab Land Alienation Act, which aimed at protecting cultivators from eviction from their lands for debt and prohibiting non-agricultural people to take control of land. He created an Agricultural Department to promote scientific agriculture.

Developmental Policies of Lord Curzon:

Curzon’s idea of improvement was rooted in the balanced development of agriculture, industry and communication to all of which he paid equal attention. By the end of the 19th century, India had 27000 miles of railways. Curzon added 6000 miles, a phenomenal development in terms of growth rates.

For better management, the railways were transferred from the Public Works Department to a newly established Railway Board, which operated the state railways and made plans for their development.

A new department of commerce and industry was created to deal with exclusively the commercial and industrial questions. Besides railways, Curzon pushed forward irrigation works with equal vigor.

Though an arch imperialist, Lord Curzon rounded off his material development by cultural activity. He conceived and carried out the project of a monument of British rule, the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata. He founded the Imperial Library to be the Bodleian of Oxford or British Museum of the East.

By establishing the Department of Archaeology for the conservation of the Indian artistic heritage and the carrying out of new excavation, Lord Curzon had firmly institutionalised the pioneer work of General Cunningham and others whose initiatives were seldom followed up by required institutionalisation. He ruthlessly evicted offices and officers from the sites of historical monuments. In these works and in organising archaeology, Curzon was fortunate to find a new Cunningham in Sir John Marshall.

Controversial Policies of Lord Curzon:

Curzon’s glorious administrative record was largely marred by two controversial policies.

One was the education policy illustrated by the Universities Act, 1904. The Act aimed at reforming the University of Calcutta and its relations with other educational institutions. Curzon’s reform had introduced a post-graduate department in the University. To the people this reform was salutary indeed. But bitter criticisms were aroused by his other reforms affecting management of schools and colleges.

The second and most controversial reform measure was the Partition of Bengal in the name of improving the efficiency of the traditionally neglected Bengal province; Curzon divided it into two halves. The nationalists again interpreted this measure as a project of imperial control that was increasingly coming under threat from the Bengali nationalists. The Congress branded it as a policy of Divide and Rule. The resistance to the partition measure took the forms of Swadeshi and Terrorism, which practically shook the foundation of the British Empire in India.

Lord Minto II (1906-10)

During his tenure S. P. Sinha was appointed a member of Governor General’s council. He was the first Indian to be appointed to this post. In 1906, Arundale Committee on political reforms submitted its report.

The Government of India Act of 1909, incorporating Morley – Minto reforms, was issued. The system of representation to minorities and depressed classes in the Central Legislature was introduced.

The Muslim League was formed in 1906 in Dacca and the Swadeshi Movement became strong. The Surat session and split in the Congress occurred in 1907.

Lord Hardinge II (1910-16)

He held a Coronation Durbar in 1911 at Delhi in honour of King George V. The annulment of the partition of Bengal happened in 1911. A separate state of Bihar and Orissa was created in 1911.

The Capital was shifted to Delhi in 1912 from Calcutta. In 1912, The Royal Commission under Islington was appointed to look into the Civil Services reforms. It accepted the demand for simultaneous exams in India and England for ICS. It also suggested 33% reservation for Indians in the ICS.

The recommendations of this commission were implemented though the Govt of India Act of 1919.

The Kamagata Maru incident took place and the Hindu Mahasabha was established by Madan Mohan Malviya in 1915.

Lord Chelmsford (1916-21)

During the early part of World War I (1914–18) he received quick promotions and was named Viceroy of India in 1916.

He inherited a series of repressive wartime emergency measures, such as the internment of persons accused of subversion, that had been enacted over concerns about potential activity associated with a surge in Indian nationalism.

Nevertheless, he undertook, with Edwin Samuel Montagu, the secretary of state for India, a study of the subcontinent’s political situation that became known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, which was presented to Parliament in 1918 and became the basis of the Government of India Act of 1919.

The acts were met by strong Indian opposition and led to the bloody Massacre of Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar (April 13, 1919), in which hundreds of unarmed Indians at a gathering in Amritsar (now in Punjab state) were killed or wounded by British soldiers. Martial law was quickly imposed in the Punjab region, and Chelmsford’s competence in handling the situation was questioned.

The Government of India Act reforms were finally implemented at the end of 1919. By the time the first elections to the reformed councils were held in late 1920, however,  Gandhi had already launched the Non Cooperation Movement (1920–22)—the first of his sustained nonviolent protest (satyagraha) campaigns—and the Indian National Congressboycotted the polling.

Lord Reading (1921-26)

The Rowlatt act was repeated along with the Press act of 1910. He suppressed the Non – Cooperation Movement. The Prince of Wales visited India in November, 1921. The Moplah rebellion (1921) took place in Kerala.

The Swaraj Party was formed . The Communist Party was founded in 1921 by M.N. Roy. The Kakory Train Robbery incident took place on August 9, 1925.

Swami Shraddhanand, a great nationalist and a leader of the Arya Samajists, was murdered in communal disharmony.

Lord Irwin (1926-31)

Lord Irwin was appointed as the Indian Viceroy in April 1926 and continued his office till 1931.

The period of Lord Irwin’s rule as the Indian Viceroy was regarded as a phase of great political turmoil in the country. He witnessed several important events which included the Simon Commission report, Nehru report, All Parties’ Conference, Jinnah’s 14 points, Civil Disobedience Movement and Round Table Conferences.

At the time when Lord Irwin came to India as the Viceroy, the country was in a state of complete commotion. The Congress had no active programme and the Muslim League was not functioning in cohesion as it was a leaderless organisation at that time. Moreover, India was facing a communal tension as well. Being an able man he tactfully faced these problems when he was appointed as the Viceroy of India.

In this regard Lord Irwin followed a strategy, he had all the leaders of the Congress members behind bars. Another strategy followed by Lord Irwin was his negotiation with Gandhi.

One of the most important events during viceroyalty of Lord Irwin was the signing of the Delhi Pact in January 1931. This pact ended the boycott of British goods too and negotiation resulted in the Gandhi-Irwin pact. This strategy of Lord Irwin suspended the Civil Disobedience Movement. The agreement between Gandhi and Irwin was signed on March 5, 1931.

Other vital contributions of Lord Irwin included banning of public gatherings and crushing of rebellious opposition.

Lord Wellingdon (1931-36)

Lord Willingdon’s period as Viceroy of India, lasting from 1931 to 1936, is commonly viewed in contrast to that of his predecessor, Lord Irwin. Irwin had aimed to accommodate Indian political demands.

Guided by Mahatma Gandhi, the INC instead launched a campaign of civil disobedience, which lasted from 1930 to 1934.

Wellingdon entered his period of office by increasing the number of Ordinances. Gandhi, who returned to a policy of non-co-operation in response to these measures, was imprisoned. This harsher climate was prompted by Gandhi’s lack of commitment during the Round Table negotiations and by continued disturbances in India, exacerbated by the effects of economic depression.

The renewed civil disobedience campaign did not last long. It was thwarted, in part due to a lack of coherence, and in part due to the success of Willingdon’s repressive measures. The Viceroy’s partisan biographer, Victor Trench, claims that ‘Within nine months of the struggle Government credit had risen so high that all the provincial heads, district and divisional officers and the Viceroy himself could evoke the most rousing receptions in their extensive tours for consolidating goodwill and co-operating force of the country’.

More fundamentally, Willingdon’s policies could not halt the advance of nationalist politics in India. The Viceroy recognised this, and argued for a larger Indian presence in his Executive Council. Coming at the close of Willingdon’s period in office, the 1935 Government of India Act enshrined Irwin’s promise of Dominion status for India.

Willingdon had long experience in the sub-continent. Prior to being Viceroy he had served as Governor of both Bombay and Madras (on both occasions clashing with Gandhi). Among his achievements were the commissioning of the Lloyd’s Barrage across the mouth of the Indus River; the establishment of the Willingdon airport in Delhi and the creation of the multi-racial Willingdon Sports Club in Bombay, formed after he had been denied entry to the Royal Bombay Yacht Club when accompanied by Indian friends.

Lord Linthingov (1936-43)

Victor Alexander John Hope, second marquis of Linlithgow, was viceroy of India from 1936 through October 1943.

Lord Linlithgow chaired Parliament’s Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform from 1933 to 1934.

His Committee’s plan was adopted as the Government of India Act of 1935. Linlithgow went out to India a year later to implement that act, succeeding Lord Willingdon as viceroy.

He expanded the Council of India from seven to fifteen members by the end of his long tenure, hoping perhaps to foist an illusion of representative government on his Indian subjects, despite keeping India’s most popular leaders of the Congress, especially Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, at bay or locked behind British bars. His hatred and distrust of Mahatma Gandhi was no less irrational than Winston Churchill’s.

During World War II, Sir Stafford Cripps was sent to India on his famous mission to try to win wartime cooperation from the leaders of India’s National Congress and of the Muslim League. He was authorized to offer India full dominion status after the war ended, though any province wishing to “opt out” of that dominion would be permitted to do so, thus implicitly conceding Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s “Pakistan.”

Linlithgow so resented Cripps’s private meetings with Nehru and Gandhi, as well as with Colonel Louis Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt’s special emissary to India, that he angrily wired Prime Minister Churchill, undermining Cripps’s negotiating power, forcing that one and only wartime Cabinet overture to India to collapse.

Then, as soon as Gandhi attempted to launch a final satyagraha movement against the British Raj in August 1942, Linlithgow ordered Gandhi’s predawn arrest, together with that of members of Congress’s Working Committee, doomed to rust for the remaining years of the war behind British bars.

Lord Wavell (1943-47)

Lord Wavell was destined to be the second-to-last viceroy of British India. A seasoned British imperialist soldier and an Old India hand, he was appointed to the post in 1943 and remained in office until March 1947 when his flamboyant successor Lord Mountbatten took over.

Wavell, who tried in vain to keep India united between 1943 and 1947, is almost a forgotten figure of history. He arranged the Shimla Conference on June 25, 1945 with Indian National Congress and Muslim League; which failed.

The Cabinet Mission Plan was drafted on May 16, 1946. Elections to the constituent assembly were held and an Interim Government was appointed under Nehru. The first meeting of the constituent assembly was held on December 9, 1946.

 Lord Mountbatten (1947)

He was the last Viceroy of British India and the first Governor General of free India. The Partition of India was decided by the June 3 Plan. The Indian Independence Act was passed by the British parliament on July 4, 1947, by which India became independent on August 15, 1947.

He retired in June 1948 and was succeeded by C. Rajagopalachari (the first and the last Indian Governor General of free India)

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