Lord Curzon – Governor General and Viceroy of India

Lord Curzon served as Governor General and Viceroy of India from 6 January 1899 to 18 November 1905. Important events during his tenure include Famine of 1899-1900 {Chappania Akal}, Appointment of Famine Commission {under Sir Anthony McDonnell}, Commission on Irrigation {under Colin Scott Moncrieff}, Police Commission {under Andrew Frazer}, Education Commission {aka Raleigh Commission}, enactment of Indian Universities Act, 1904, Land Resolution of 1902, Punjab Land Alienation Act 1900, Establishment of Imperial Departments of Agriculture and Commerce, Industry; Indian Coinage and Paper Currency Act, 1899; establishment of a training college for army officers at Quetta; Calcutta Corporation Act, 1899; Ancient Monuments Protection Act, 1904; Military expedition to Tibet, Occupation of Chumby Valley and the most hated Partition of Bengal. His policy resulted in deep discontent and the upsurge of a revolutionary movement in the country, due to which he can be called most unpopular Viceroy of India. His tenure is called Curzonshahi {akin to Nadirshahi}.

Famine of 1899-1900 {Chappania Akal}

In 1899-1900, the areas of Agra, Oudh, Bengal, Central provinces, Central Provinces, Rajputana, Gujarat etc. came under the grip of a severe famine which claimed thousands of lives. The years 1899-1900 corresponded to Vikram Samvat 1956, and thus were called Chappania Akal in local parlance. The next year 1901 brought more than normal rainfalls, and due to this famine followed epidemic such as Malaria and Cholera.  The worst affected people were the tribes of Central provinces, Rajputana and Bombay presidency and that is why this tragedy got incorporated in the folk songs of these areas.

Though it was not as acute as the Orissa famine of 1866 or as fatal as the terrible Bengal famine of 1770, yet the progress of the media, invention and spread of Photography and the means of communication made it the most popular famine of India.

The Curzon government organized famine relief for subjects of British provinces. However, the native princes of Rajputana and Gujarat

The famine relief in the British Provinces was organized by the Government of Lord Curzon and around 25% of the affected people were relieved as per the official figures, but the native princes of Rajputana and Gujaratfailed miserably to curb the death toll.

The British initiatives were also grossly inadequate because no intervention was done to control the grain prices. There was no humanitarian consideration in the relief measures. India owed a huge debt to its colonial masters and so Curzon remained economic in whatever efforts he took.

Famine Commission {under Sir Anthony McDonnell}

MacDonnell Commission was appointed by Lord Curzon in 1901 and it submitted its report in the same year. Instead of focussing on the market mechanism or official assistance, this commission came up with measures such non-official assistance, prevention of demoralization of people; construction of more railways so that food can reach to affected areas more quickly; establishment of agricultural banks and cooperative credit societies for distribution of advances and loans to the peasants; setting up famine commissioner in famine affected provinces, and setting up of irrigation commission etc. However, these needed time. There was nothing which was timely and adequate to prevent deaths.

Irrigation Commission 1901

Post famine, there was more emphasis on internal administration reforms. Towards this direction, the construction of irrigation works in accordance with the broad plans was outlined by an Irrigation Commission under Sir Colin Scott-Moncrieff. Most important part of this strategy was a network of canals in Punjab comprising a main canal of 2714 kilometers and other link canals. The work was authorized in 1905 and it took two decades to get completed.

Police Commission {Sir Andrew Frazer}

Lord Curzon set up a Police Commission under Sir Andrew Frazer in 1902-03. On the basis of recommendation of this commission, a basic structure of Indian domestic intelligence developed and remained almost same till 1947.  He attached Department of Criminal Intelligence (DCI) to the Government of India while set up the Criminal Investigation Departments (CIDs) in the provinces of British India. In 1903, the Thugi and Dakaiti Department was abolished.

Was Introduction of CIDs in British provinces because of growing nationalism?

Some claim that CIDs were introduced in British provinces because Lord Curzon could sense growing nationalism in India. It seems to be incorrect because till 1905 Congress was a sundry organization and its leaders were British loyalists. It was only after 1905, when Congress became of mammoth size and focussed on some anti-establishment endeavours. Congress was not even mentioned in his deliberations of the Police Commission in 1902-03.

Punjab Land Alienation Act 1900

Under the British law, the land became a private property that could be sold or mortgage as its owners wished {this is called alienability}. This facility along with monetization of agriculture, modern communication, irrigation projects etc. created rapid rise in the land values of Punjab in late 19th century. The peasants could pledge the land and British law protected such pledges. This led to a rapid and accelerating transfer of lands from peasants to proprietors / moneylenders; and the land started moving from agricultural class to hands of urban / commercial / non-agricultural class of the society. This further created a new class of dispossessed tenants living on their land as tenants to the urban absentee landlords {whom they had mortgaged the land}.

Thus, there was a need to interfere in this laissez-faire business of land in in Punjab. In 1900, then Curzon Government enacted the Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1900 which placed a 15 year limitation on all land purchases and mortgages. This act provided that the no non-peasant could buy lands from the peasants; and no one could attach the land for non-payment of debts.

The result of this law was that money of the non-peasant class got stuck in land which was now neither saleable not eligible for mortgage. Due to this, the moneylenders stopped lending money.

But due to this, peasantry got in further problem because now they were unable to access credit. The government established some agricultural banks and in due course passed Cooperative Credit Societies Act, 1904. However, most of the public remained unaware of these measures and thus discontent grew among not only moneylenders, shopkeepers, professionals and the trader class but also the peasantry.

Congress took it as an opportunity to criticize the government. It passed a resolution in 1899 Lucknow session against these measures. They called it an intrusion to private property. By this, the congress was able to business class of Punjab in its fold.

Partition of Bengal 1905

The Bengal had become too large unit to be administered as a single unit. To solve the problem, the Government partitioned Bengal on October 16, 1905 into two parts viz. Eastern Bengal and Assam and Rest of Bengal (Western Part). But Curzon was not aware of its fallouts. It was different than dividing an American county for better administration. Partition {Vang-Bhang} was taken as an emotive issue and Congress, which by now had learnt the art of protests and agitation, cashed it immediately to convert it into a mass movement. The decision stirred the Bengali patriotism. Further, it was thought that Government wanted to deprive Calcutta of its position. Chittagong was a harbor much smaller but at almost same locational advantage as Calcutta. So now, Chittagong would prosper at the cost of Calcutta, because the trade of the eastern part would pass on to Chittagong. Congress escalated the issue as government conspiracy to divide Bengal from Bengali and break India into pieces. Further, it was also seen as an intrigue to divide Hindus and Muslims.

The Boycott and Swadeshi movement were result of this emotive issue.  Vande Mataram became the symbol of this agitation. Rabindranath Tagore declared that the date of partition will be observed as day or unity and people would tie threads to each other’s wrists. On 16 October 1905, Bengalis kept fast, took bath in Ganga!

Partition was later annulled in 1911.

Raleigh Commission

The Indian Universities and the colleges were slowly becoming cradle of propaganda against the Government. To bring the universities under control, Lord Curzon appointed Raleigh Commission under Sir Thomas Raleigh. The Raleigh Commission had only one Indian member, Syed Hussain Belgrami. When Hindus protested about this, Justice Guru Das Banerjee was called from the High Court of Calcutta and made a member. This commission submitted its report in 1902 and this followed introduction of a Bill called Raleigh Bill. The Raleigh Bill when became an act, it was called Indian Universities Act 1904.

Indian Universities Act 1904

This Act reorganised the constitution of the Syndicates; provided for the official inspection of the colleges and placed the final decision concerning the affiliation and disaffiliation of colleges in the hands of the Government of India. This act was severely criticised by scholars like Gopal Krishna Gokhle.

The first provision of this act was that the governing bodies of the universities were to be reconstituted and the size of the Senates was reduced. Now the number in the senate could be minimum 50 and maximum 100. Each of them would hold the office for 6 years.

For the Universities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, the elected fellows were to be 50 and for rest of the universities, the number was fixed 15. This act allowed the Government to appoint a majority of the fellows in a university.

The Governor General was now empowered to decide a University’s territorial limits and also affiliation between the universities and colleges. The Indian Universities Act made the universities and colleges completely under the Government control. However, for better education and research a grant of Rs. 5 Lakh per year for 5 years was also accepted. This was the beginning of university grants in India which later became a permanent feature in the structure of India education.

Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904

One of the most remarkable acts passed during the times of Lord Curzon was the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act of 1904. This act made any injury to the protected monuments an offence punishable under the law. This act also established the Archaeological Department which was to collect the historical documents and importance, conduct excavations and bring the ancient historical information into light.

Imperial Cadet Corps 1904

In November 1904, the form of Commission for Imperial Cadet Corps was signed and approved by Secretary of State for India and thus Imperial Cadet Corps came into being for the first time under the direct surveillance of Lord Curzon. Major D H Cameroon was made its commandant and Maharaja Pratap Singh of Idar was made its Honorary commandant. The selected youths between 17-20 years were to be admitted as Imperial Cadets and thier education was to be at one of the Chief’s college at Rajkot, Indore, Lahore or Ajmer. The selected cadets had to join the corps at Dehradun.

Other Important Notes about Lord Curzon

During Curzon regime, the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) was established which covered roughly the areas of upper course of River Indus.  The Agriculture Research Institute in Pusa (Bihar – Bengal Presidency) was established.  In 1901, Imperial Cadet Corps was launched. British Pound made legal tender in India @15 Rupees.