Famous Personalities of India : Lord Ripon
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RIPON, LORD GEORGE FREDERICK SAMUEL (1827-1909). Ripon was Governor General and Viceroy of India from 1880-1884. He was an English parliamentarian of long standing, belonging to the Liberal Party and sharing the views of William Gladstone, who returned as Prime Minister in 1880. Ripon had served as Under Secretary and as Secretary of State for India in earlier Liberal governments before being charged by Gladstone to go to India, straighten finances, and resolve various controversies caused by the previous Viceroy, Lord Lytton.

Specifically, this meant putting an end to Lytton's forward policy in the northwest which had led to another costly and futile Anglo-Afghan War, placing finances on a sound footing, and establishing rapport with educated public opinion in India.

Ripon succeeded to a small extent. An Anglo-Russian Agreement was signed in 1884 containing a joint declaration on the borders of Afghanistan and Russia and reaffirming the kingship of Abdur Rahman in Afghanistan. Financial reorganization was more complicated in the wake of famines and a fall in agricultural productivity. Ripon's Land Tenancy Bill was designed to help actual cultivators but alienated landowners; his Famine Code incorporating recommendations, of a Famine Commission had to be shelved for lack of public funds. Ripon succeeded in shifting some of the costs of the earlier Afghan campaign to the British exchequer and removing tariffs on some imports, but he rejected the idea of direct taxation.

Ripon's efforts to win favour in educated Indian opinion included inducting Indians into the local municipal and district level administration, especially for health, education, and welfare; the effectiveness of these measures was diminished by opposition from the Indian Civil Service (ICS). Indians appreciated Ripon's repeal of the restrictive Vernacular Press Act of 1878, and the press in India burgeoned. In 1881 Ripon returned Mysore to the administration of the Maharajati and also passed a Factory Act restricting the use of child labour. His fame and popularity among Indians rested largely on his attempt to erase racial distinctions in the judiciary by giving Indian judges jurisdiction over Europeans as well; the Ilbert Bill of 1883 was designed to accomplish this but met with such a strong opposition from European residents in India that Ripon was forced to retreat.

Though Ripon's name evokes sentimental attachment in India, his tenure was described in Britain as "one of the most successful failures of history." His personality lacked the sparkle and charm, and his reforms met with apathy if not active hostility from his senior ICS officials. He returned to illustrious appointments in successive Liberal governments in Britain before retiring from public service in 1908.

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