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Lytton, Lord Edward Robert


Lytton, Lord Edward Robert (1831-1891) Viceroy and Governor General of India from 1876 to 1880. Son of Edward Bulwer Lytton, the novelist, Edward Robert Lytton was educated at Harrow in England and at Bonn in Germany. A man of letters and an eloquent speaker, he served as a member of the diplomatic core in a number of European capitals.

Edward Robert Lytton

His years in India were eventful. A severe famine raged over most of south India including Madras, Bombay, Hyderabad and Mysore for two years from 1876-1878. In the second year the famine also struck parts of Central India and the Punjab, and a heavy toll  of lives consequently perished. The relief measures cost over ten crores of rupees and due to the failure of crops there was great loss of revenue. Lord Lytton’s government, therefore, appointed a famine Commission under Richard Strachey to enquire into the causes of the famine and relief measures taken to mitigate the sufferings of the people.On the basis of the commission report a famine code was drawn up which laid down certain regulations relating to famine measures in the future.

The government efforts to save life proved inadequate yet the viceroy held a magnificent Darbar in Delhi in 1877, to celebrate the assumption of the title of the Empress of India by Queen Victoria.

Lord Lytton's administration was also notable for some fiscal reforms carried out by John Strachey, the new financial member of the Council. Duty on salt was made uniform and income tax was also introduced. In the name of free trade he abolished, under direction from London, the custom duty on cotton cloth, a measure which actually helped the Lanchashire textile mills to the detriment of the growing cotton Industry in India. By establishing the Statutory Civil Service in 1879, Lord Lytton opened the Indian civil service to all by removing one sixth of the post so long reserved for covenanted service. This fulfilled the promise of the Charter Act of 1853 and reassured by the Queen's proclamation of 1858. In 1878 Lytton passed the much criticised Vernacular Press Act, which empowered a magistrate to require a vernacular newspaper editor not to publish anything that might excite feelings of dissatisfaction against the government as well as between persons of different classes - a measure which his successor, lord ripon abolished four years later. Lord Lytton's Afghan policy and declaration of war on Afghanistan in 1878 in pursuit of an imperialistic foreign policy was condemned in England as well as in India.

The Second Afghan War (1878-80) cost many lives and involved huge expenditure and ultimately proved his provocative diplomacy devoid of statesmanship. His policy towards Afghanistan was bitterly criticised by Gladstone. The heavy loss of lives during the famine of 1878-80, the measures taken to cut the freedom of the Vernacular Press and the Afghan war expenses gave ample ground for criticism against Lord Lytton. He, therefore, resigned forthwith when Gladstone returned to power in 1880. He was made an Earl in 1880 and subsequently served as an ambassador to France from 1887 to 1891. Lytton died in Paris on 24 November 1891. [KM Mohsin]