Lord Lytton

Lord Lytton(1876-80)

This article deals with ‘ Lord Lytton – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here



He was the nominee of  Conservative Government of Benjamin Disraeli & was appointed with special eye to Central Asian developments. Lytton was a diplomat by profession & had served the British Foreign Office  in many capacities. He was a reputed poet ,novelist & an essayist known in the literary world as Owen Meredith. Till 1876, Lytton had no experience of administration nor any acquaintance with Indian affairs.


Lytton & Free Trade

  • Free trade had become passion with ruling circles in England till this time because it suited the interests of industrially advanced nation.
  • Lancashire Cotton manufacturers were jealous of new cotton mills coming up in Bombay and wanted to destroy them . They attacked the levies on export of goods to India. They termed this as protective measure against the Laissez Fairre .
  • British Government passed the Act & notified Indian Government to repeal duties when financial conditions permit. Notwithstanding the poor financial condition of India caused by Famine , Lytton abolished import duties on 29 items including sugar , sheetings etc (even against the wishes of his council)


Financial Reforms

  • Policy of financial devolution begun under Lord Mayo continued.
  • Provincial governments were given the control of the expenditure upon all ordinary provincial services including land revenue, excise , stamps, law & justice , general administration etc. For discharge of newly transferred services the provincial governments were not given any increase in their fixed grants but handed over some specified sources of revenue from respective provinces.


Famine (1876-78)

  • Severe Famine hit Bombay, Madras,Mysore, Hyderabad & some parts of Central India and Punjab. Population of 5.8 Crore was affected & according to Romesh Dutt ,50 Lakh perished in single year
  • Government made half hearted efforts to help the famine stricken. The Government famine machinery was inadequate
  • In 1878, Famine Commission was established under Richard Strachey which disfavoured grant of gratuitous help & wanted able bodied persons to be provided employment on wages sufficient to maintain health . He recommended construction of Railway & Irrigation works for this. ( this laid foundation of famine policy as well)


Royal Titles Act, 1876 & Grand Darbar of 1877

  • British Parliament passed Royal Titles Act investing Queen Victoria with title of Kaiser-i-Hind or Queen Empress of India . Grand Darbar was held in Delhi on 1Jan 1877 to announce people & Princes of India the assumption of the Title.
  • Unfortunately, Darbar held at a time when several parts of the country were in grip of Famine. Lytton spent millions on pomp but neglected people to die in hunger. This drove a current of national humiliation among people of India.
  • Calcutta Journal adversely commented , ”  Nero was fiddling when Rome was burning”
  • But Darbar proved to be blessing in disguise
  • Although it reduced the Princes from position of allies to that of feudatories
        • But subconsciously & against the intentions of the author of Bill raised status of Indian subjects of the Queen to that of Citizen of the British Empire encouraging persons like SN Banerjee to organise an association of Indians to raise their grievances.


(Side Note – Second Durbar was held by Edward VII in 1903 & Third Durbar at time of George V in 1911. Every time , Ruler changed, this Durbar was held)


Vernacular Press Act, 1878

  • Unpopular Policies of Lytton filled people with discontent & native vernacular press was ridiculing him.
  • He came up with Vernacular Press Act to cut short the wings of Vernacular Press 
  • By this act
        • Magistrates of the Districts were empowered , without prior permission of the government, to call upon a printer and publisher of any kind to enter into a bond , undertaking not to publish anything which might arouse the feelings of the disaffection against the government
        • Magistrate was also authorised to deposit a security , which could be confiscated if printer violated the bond
        • If printer violated again , his press could be seized
  • Worst feature of this Act was it discriminated between Native  Vernacular Press & loyal Anglo-Indian press & was nicknamed as Gagging Act
  • It was specially targeted at Amrita Bazaar Patrika which turned English overnight to remain out of the ambit of the act.


Arms Act, 1878

  • This made it a Criminal Offence to keep or traffic in arms without licence. Penalty was fine or imprisonment of 3 years or both .
  • But worst feature was it kept Anglo-Indians , Europeans & some categories of govt officials out of its ambit . Hence it was a racial Act


Statutory Civil Service

  • Charter Act of 1853 had declared all offices in India were open to merit irrespective of nationality & colour and Charter Act of 1853 provided for holding of a competitive examination in London for recruitment to higher services . Act was passed in 1870 saying that 1/5th recruits to Covenant Service should be Indians even without competitive examination but it took for government  10 years to frame rules
  • Indians couldn’t enter ICS because difficulties facing aspirants were great. From 1862 to 75 only 40 Indians appeared for ICS & only 10 were successful.
  • Lytton proposed the straightforward course of closing Covenanted Civil Service to Indians & instead create ‘a close native service’ to meet the provisions of the Act of 1870 . Home Authorities didn’t favour this because of its discriminatory nature .
  • Lytton then proposed plan for Statutory Civil Services (SCS) in 1878-79 (according to Act of 1870)  . According to rules of 1879 , the Govt of India could employ some Indians of good family & social standing in  SCS on recommendation of Provincial Government subject to confirmation & number of such appointments not to exceed 1/6th of total appointments . (However , SCS didn’t become popular with Indians & discarded later)
  • Since Secretary of State  didn’t accept proposal to discard Covenant Civil Services to Indians altogether, hence he made calculated move to discourage Indians from competing by reducing max age from 21 years to 19 years .


Throughout India this was seen as a coloured legislation & it was difficult for Indians to digest this humiliation


2nd Afghan War

  • Provoked senseless war against Afghans with view to establish a scientific frontier towards North West
  • Adventure proved to be failure



Estimate of Lord Lytton

  • Lytton was no doubt a man of ideas but he must be judged as a failure as a ruler of India. Experts point out the name of Lytton & Curzon as two viceroys who did more harm than good to India & to England’s position in India than any other men that can be named.
  • Lytton’s unpopular & repressive policy drove discontent among the masses . The unrest became widespread & was becoming dangerous. His policies prepared the soil for creation of nationalism in India .







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