Lord Ripon (1880-84)
Lord Ripon 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. Ripon was instructed to reverse the Afghan policy of Lytton. Therefore, as soon as he came to India, peace was made with Afghanistan without affecting the British prestige.
The proposal of appointing a Resident in Kabul was dropped. He was also responsible for the rendition of Mysore to its Hindu ruler. Moreover, he repealed the Vernacular Press Act and earned much popularity among Indians. Then, he devoted himself to task of liberalising the Indian administration.
Introduction of Local Self-Government (1882)
Ripon believed that self-government is the highest and noblest principles of politics. Therefore, Ripon helped the growth of local bodies like the Municipal Committees in towns and the local boards in taluks and villages. The powers of municipalities were increased.
Their chairmen were to be non-officials. They were entrusted the care of local amenities, sanitation, drainage and water-supply and also primary education. District and taluk boards were created. It was insisted that the majority of the members of these boards should be elected non-officials.
The local bodies were given executive powers with financial resources of their own. It was perhaps the desire of Ripon that power in India should be gradually transferred to the educated Indians. He also insisted on the election of local bodies as against selection by the government.
In all these measures, Ripon’s concern was not so much for efficiency in administration. Instead, Ripon diffused the administration and brought the government closer to the people. This was his most important achievement. It was Ripon who laid the foundations of the system which functions today.
Like Lord William Bentinck, Lord Ripon was a champion of education of the Indians. Ripon wanted to review the working of the educational system on the basis of the recommendations of the Wood’s Despatch. For further improvement of the system Ripon appointed a Commission in 1882 under the chairmanship of Sir William Hunter.
The Commission came to be known as the Hunter Commission. The Commission recommended for the expansion and improvement of the elementary education of the masses. The Commission suggested two channels for the secondary education-one was literary education leading up to the Entrance Examination of the university and the other preparing the students for a vocational career.
The Commission noted the poor status of women education. It encouraged the local bodies in the villages and towns to manage the elementary education. This had resulted in the extraordinary rise in the number of educational institutions in India.
First Factory Act (1881)
Lord Ripon introduced the Factory Act of 1881 to improve the service condition of the factory workers in India. The Act banned the appointment of children below the age of seven in factories. It reduced the working hours for children. It made compulsory for all dangerous machines in the factories to be properly fenced to ensure security to the workers.
Ilbert Bill Agitation (1884)
Lord Ripon wanted to remove two kinds of law that had been prevalent in India. According to the system of law, a European could be tried only by a European Judge or a European Magistrate. The disqualification was unjust and it was sought to cast a needless discredit and dishonour upon the Indian-born members of the judiciary.
C.P. Ilbert, Law Member, introduced a bill in 1883 to abolish thisdiscrimination in judiciary. But Europeans opposed this Bill strongly. They even raised a fund of one lakh fifty thousand rupees and established an organisation called the Defence Association.
They also suggested that it was better to end the English rule in India than to allow the English to be subjected to the Indian Judges and Magistrates. The press in England joined the issue. Hence, Ripon amended the bill to satisfy the English in India and England. The Ilbert Bill controversy helped the cause of Indian nationalism.
The Ilbert Bill Controversy is a high watermark in the history of Indian National Movement. Ripon was totally disillusioned and heartbroken and he tendered his resignation and left for England. The immediate result of this awakening of India was the birth of the Indian National Congress in 1885, the very next year of Ripon’s departure.
Estimate of Lord Ripon
Lord Ripon was the most popular Viceroy that England ever sent to India. The Indians by and large hailed him as “Ripon the Good”, because he was the only Viceroy who handled the Indian problems with compassion and sympathy.
His attempt to remove racial distinction in the judiciary, the repeal of the Vernacular Press Act, the rendition of Mysore and the introduction of the Local-Self Government increased his popularity among Indians. His resignation was deeply regretted by Indians who cherished his memory with gratitude.