Viceroy Lord Ripon who won the heart and soul of Indians

Lord Ripon,Viceroy. British India.

While the British ruled India, initially the head of the British administration in India was the Governor General  under the East India company. This office of Governor general was formed in the year 1773, where the officer had direct control only over Fort William, Calcutta (Kolkata) but supervised other British East India Company officials and operations in India. Complete authority over all of British India was granted in 1833 and the official became known as the Governor-General of India.

The position of Viceroy of India was introduced in 1858 after the British Crown took over the administration from the East India company in the same year in the wake of the worst rebellion called  Sepoy Mutiny of 1858. The title Viceroy remained in use  from 1858 till 1947, when India became independent. The Viceroys had enormous administrative powers in running the the country under the Crown. 

George Frederick Samuel Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon KG, GCSI, (October 1827 –  July 1909), the second son of Prime Minister F. J. Robinson,  was a British politician who served in every Liberal cabinet from 1861 until the year before his death, which took place forty-eight years later. He was educated privately, attending neither school nor college. He was awarded the honorary degree of DCL by Oxford University in 1870. He was a staunch Liberal democrat with faith in self government. He was appointed as the Viceroy of India by Gladstone, the Liberal Party Prime Minister of England, when he came to power in 1880.

Ripon was strongly  advised by the Gladstone administration to reverse the Afghan policy of Lytton that was detrimental to the political stability of that region. Therefore, as soon as Ripon came to India, peace was made with Afghanistan without affecting the British prestige. Abdur Rahman was recognized as  the Amir of Afghan.  Ripon achieved success through perseverance  and his innate ability to negotiate with tough people. The proposal of appointing a Resident in Kabul was dropped. Likewise the Mysore kingdom was taken over by the British under the pretext of the doctrine of lapse. The legitimate rights of the the rulers of Mysore were overlooked and even the British media was highly critical of the attitude of British rulers in India.Not only that, they came heavily down on the unjust British officials. As for the Mysore kingdom,  the criticisms became so overwhelming the only alternative available was rendition.  Ripon  took the initiative to restore the image of the British Administration and was responsible for the rendition of Mysore to its Hindu ruler. Lord Ripon also repealed the Vernacular Press Act. His pragmatic and humane  approach to the Indian problems  earned  him much popularity over a short period among Indians. He spent much of his time  devoting  himself to the task of liberalizing the Indian administration. 

So, among the Viceroys of India during the Raj, Lord Ripon became the most popular  and the Indians from all walks of life held him in great esteem. Ripon had the ability to handle the problems - civil or administrative with ease without antagonizing  people and the officials. Further, with true Christian spirit he approached the  Indian problems with compassion, sympathy and consideration within the purview of  democratic principles.

Before his arrival here on the subcontinent, racial discrimination was very much there, particularly in the corridors of power and judiciary in spite of Sepoy Mutiny, the worst rebellion that shook the British Empire.

Bronze statue of the Marquess of Ripon

Above image: It is a fine Bronze statue of the Marquess of Ripon in his Garter robes and insignia by Francis Derwent

The Ilbert Bill:  

Discrimination in the department of  Indian Judiciary was quite conspicuous. There were two kinds of law that had been prevalent in India with respect to Europeans settlers that were quite discriminatory in nature. According to the 

Criminal Procedure Code of 1873,  European offenders/accused  could be tried only by a European Judge or a European Magistrate and not by Indian judges. The disqualification was unjust and it  would  bring in discredit and dishonor on the Indian members of the judiciary. When Lord Ripon came to know about it, he wanted  the flaws removed. Accordingly  a bill in 1883 to abolish this discrimination in judiciary was introduced by the Law member C.P. Ilbert (Courtenay Ilbert). Europeans not only opposed this bill but also went to the extend of raising funds and establishing an organization called the Defense Association.

The  conservative British back in  England and those settled in India vehemently opposed the idea of subjecting the English in the Judicial courts presided over by the Indian Judges and Magistrates. In simple terms they won't accept the judgment pronounced by the Indian judges in the court of law. The most vocal opponents of the bill were British tea and indigo plantation owners in Bengal, led by one Griffith Evans, The issue of Indian judges vs English subjects became a serious matter  and even the British press joined the issue and made a mountain out of a mole hill. The British got the wrong impression that Indian judges would make biased pronouncement on the European offenders and there won't be any fairness in dispensation of justice. 

The Judiciary issue becoming critical, Ripon, caught in the middle of the controversy, at last decided to amend it to satisfy the conservative British.The Ilbert Bill controversy  earned the ire of the Indian intellectuals and at the same time kindled their nationalistic spirits. The new compromised bill put a ceiling on the Indian advancement in their own land of birth. Totally disappointed,upset and disillusioned, Lord Ripon, having no choice to solve this issue amicably, left for England for good. This helped the cause of Indian nationalism. In the wake of his departure, the discriminatory judiciary issue became a wake-up call for Indians. On account of this controversy, antagonism between Indians and the British  was on the increase and this led to the birth of the Indian National Congress in 1885. It was an important event in India's struggle for freedom from the oppressive British rule.


 01.The flaw in the Indian Judiciary (CPC of 1983) - the issue was  brought to debate  by one Behari Lal Gupta, an officer of the Indian Civil Service. The Ilbert Bill envisaged removal of this discrimination.

 02. Ramesh Chandra Mitter was appointed the Acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court on Chief Justice Sir P.C. Garth proceeding on furlough. This caused provocation among the European  settlers in India, particularly the British.

 03.The Ilbert Bill was later was diluted to please the Europeans. The amended bill made provision for rights of the Europeans to claim trial by jury of 12, out of which at least 7 were to be Europeans.

 05. In British Minister Gladstone's first administration  Ripon was Lord President of the Council (1868–73). During this period he acted as chairman of the joint commission for drawing up the Treaty of Washington with the United States over the Alabama Claims.