[Solved] Evaluate the policies of Lord Curzon and their long term implications on the national movements (UPSC 2020)

Lord Curzon was Governor-General with high sovereign ambition. Lord Curzon succeeded Lord Elgin and served as India’s Viceroy between 1899 and 1905. He became the youngest Viceroy of India at the age of 39. The policies of Lord Curzon are termed reactionary as they stem from small incidents and do not have a long-term vision. Lord Curzon, India’s Viceroy between 1899 and 1905, was one of the most contentious and consequential holders of that post. The partition of the undivided Bengal Presidency in 1905 was one of Curzon’s most criticized moves.

Curzon’s Foreign Policies

  • North-West Frontier Policy: Curzon, not like his pre­decessors, pursued a policy of consolidation, strength, and security of the British occupied terri­tories in the north-west.
  • Afghan Policy: Lord Curzon’s Afghan administration was condi­tioned by the political and economic interests, fear of Russian expan­sion in Central Asia and Persian Gulf area.
  • Policy towards Persia: It was vital for the British interest to maintain British influence in the Persian Gulf area as Russia, France, Turkey was also try­ing to extend their influence in the region.
  • Relation with Tibet: Lord Curzon’s Tibet policy was also motivated by fear of Russian dominance in the region.
  • Partition of Bengal
    The partition of Bengal was one of the biggest policy blunders of Curzon. It was aimed at dividing Bengal communally into Hindu majority West Bengal and Muslim majority East Bengal. He propped up the Muslim league to counter Indian National Congress.
  • University Commission
    Curzon had a major role in reforming Universities by bringing in University Commission in 1904. The Commission initiated the process of improving educational standards in higher education.
  • Calcutta Corporation Act
    Curzon introduced the Calcutta Corporation Act in 1899 that reduced the number of elected Indian members in the corporation. He termed Indians as unworthy and aimed to make the administration completely British dominated.
  • Ancient monuments Act
    The Ancient monuments Act 1904 was introduced by Curzon to protect important monuments in the empire. It made the protection of monuments compulsory under the act.

Implications of policies on national movement

Rise of nationalism

The partition of Bengal started mass movement in Bengal as well as across the country. The anti-partition movement, Swadeshi movement and Vande Mataram movement were all effect of Curzon’s policies.

Rise of communalism

Curzon was the proponent of communal politics. He pitted Muslim leaders against congress leaders in an attempt to divide the country but it strengthened the movement.

Alienate Indian support

Curzon’s policies effectively alienated sympathetic Indians from British administration. As the effects of policies unravelled, it started the process of British withdrawal.

Reforms in Various Fields

Curzon believed in a strong centralized government and powerful bureaucracy.

Calcutta Corporation Act, 1899: The act reduced the number of elected legislatures and increased the number of nominated officials to deprive Indians from self-governance.

Economic: In 1899, the British currency was declared legal tender in India and a pound was declared equivalent to rupees fifteen.

Famine: When Curzon arrived in India, it was in a grip of terrible famine which affected the extensive territories in south, central and western India. Curzon provided all possible relief to the affected people.

Agriculture: In 1904, the Co-operative Credit Societies Act was passed to induce the people to form societies for the purpose of deposits and loans, mainly to save peasants from the clutches of the money-lenders who usually charged an exorbitant rate of interest.

Railways: Curzon decided to improve railway facilities in India and also to make the Railway profitable to the government.

Education: In 1901, Curzon called an education conference at Shimla following which the University Commission was appointed in 1902.

Army: In 1902, Lord Kitchener came to India as the Commander-in-Chief and carried out much needed reforms in the army.

Judiciary: Under the judiciary reforms, the number of judges of the Calcutta High Court was increased, the salaries of the judges of the High Courts and subordinate courts were enhanced and the Indian Code of Civil Procedure was revised.

Monument Act, 1904: The Act established an Archaeological Department under a director.

It was assigned the responsibility of repair, restoration and protection of historical monuments.

Lord Curzon asked the native rulers to take similar measures in their respective states and urged the provincial governments to open museums for the safe preservation of rare objects.

Partition of Bengal

The partition of the undivided Bengal Presidency in 1905 was one of Curzon’s most criticised moves, which triggered widespread opposition not only in Bengal but across India, and gave impetus to the freedom movement.

Curzon’s Role in the Partition of Bengal:

Bengal was the most populous province of India, with around 8 crore people.

It comprised the present-day states of West Bengal, Bihar, parts of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Assam and present day Bangladesh.

In July 1905, Curzon announced the partition of the undivided Bengal Presidency.

A new province of East Bengal and Assam was announced, with a population of 3.1 crore with a Muslim-Hindu ratio of 3:2.

The western Bengal province was overwhelmingly Hindu.

Although the British claimed the partition was to make the administration of the large region easier, it was clear to the Bengal Congress and patriotic Indians that Curzon’s actual motive was to crush the increasingly loud political voices of the literate class in the province, and to provoke religious strife and opposition against them.

However, the protests against the partition did not remain confined to this class alone.

Impact of the Partition:

The partition provoked great resentment and hostility all over India. All sections of the Congress, the Moderates and the Radicals, opposed it.

The struggle that unfolded in the response, came to be known as the Swadeshi movement, was the strongest in Bengal but with echoes elsewhere too; in deltaic Andhra for instance, it was known as the Vandemataram Movement.

Impact of the Protests:

Curzon left for Britain in 1905, but the agitation continued for many years.

Partition was finally reversed in 1911 by Lord Hardinge in the face of unrelenting opposition.

The Swadeshi movement, which had grown significantly during the agitation, later reached nationwide proportions.

The partition of Bengal and the highhanded behaviour of Curzon fired the national movement and the Congress.

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