Lord Curzon: Notes for UPSC Modern Indian History

George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (11 January 1859 – 20 March 1925) was known commonly as Lord Curzon, was a British statesman who served as Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905.

He is well remembered in Indian history for his controversial decision to partition Bengal into two provinces.

This article will give brief information about Lord Curzon within the context of the IAS Exam

Early Life of Lord Curzon

Curzon was the eldest son of the 4th Baron Scarsdale, rector of Kedleston, Derbyshire. He was educated at Eton, where he proved to be an emotional and combative student who clashed with his tutors but had a knack for assimilating content in books and flair for debates.

He would later go to Oxford where he was elected president of the Oxford Union in 1880 and made a fellow of All Souls College in 1883. He had a gift for making friends in high places, and this was apt to be resented by his contemporaries.

Curzon became Assistant Private Secretary to Salisbury in 1885, and in 1886 entered Parliament as Member for Southport in south-west Lancashire.

Subsequent performances in the Commons, often dealing with Ireland or reform of the House of Lords (which he supported), received similar verdicts. He was Under-Secretary of State for India in 1891–92 and Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1895–98.

Viceroy of India

In January 1899 he was appointed Viceroy of India. He has created a Peer of Ireland as Baron Curzon of Kedleston, in the County of Derby, on his appointment. This peerage was created in the Peerage of Ireland (the last so created) so that he would be free, until his father’s death, to re-enter the House of Commons on his return to Britain.

Within India, Curzon appointed a number of commissions to inquire into education, irrigation, police and other branches of administration, on whose reports legislation was based during his second term of office as viceroy. Reappointed Governor-General in August 1904, he presided over the 1905 partition of Bengal.

Motives behind the Partition of Bengal

  1. Curzon came up with the idea to suppress the rising tide of nationalism. Curzon wanted to spread the idea that the bitter attitude adopted by the British against the Muslims was now to be replaced by a benevolent attitude, and that the longevity of British rule in India can only be ascertained with the active alliance of the Muslims.
  2. Thus, if we trace the background of the communal scenario, after the revolt of 1857, some British scholars tried to prove, that it was a Muslim conspiracy.
  3. With the publication of the book, ‘Indian Musalman’, by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, and with his active alliance, the attitude of the British towards Muslims changed significantly.
  4. Thus Curzon wanted to ensure that the minority consciousness should be used against the majority and that this would then break the solidarity of Indian society, and in turn, break the solidarity of the Indian National Movement as well. Thus, his active agenda was to create a feeling of minority consciousnesses. The ‘Partition of Bengal’ was at the core of his policies.
  5. Bengal was one of the largest states and the most prosperous state. The population of Bengal was balanced- wherein Hindus and Muslims were numerically almost equal. Their consciousness was that of a Bengali consciousness and not at all a religious contradiction between Hindus and Muslims, and the Bengali intelligentsia was primarily responsible for the spread of nationalism in different parts of India.
  6. In the closing era of the 19th Century, there were various streams of nationalism such as moderate nationalism, extremist nationalism, revolutionary nationalism, all were all emanating from Bengal and were diverted to different parts of India.
  7. Curzon knew that Bengal was a nerve-centre of Indian Nationalism, and the prosperity and the balanced pattern of the graph of Bengal was the biggest strength of Bengal. Thus, Curzon wanted to divide Bengal, and the grounds for such a division were demographic inequality. The western part of Bengal was mostly a Muslim minority, and a Hindu majority, while the eastern part of Bengal was mostly a Muslim majority and Hindu minority.
  8.  Thus, in this context, it was very easy for the ruling system to play the card of minority consciousness. Curzon had said that since the days of Prophet Muhammad, Muslims have been fighting for their own homeland, and it was the right time to give it to them. Thus it was the ‘responsibility’ of the British to fulfil this demand of a separate homeland for the Muslims. It was this ‘appeasement’ policy that created a wave of communalism in Bengal.
  9.  Through this division, the economic crippling of Bengal was also possible, because, in eastern Bengal, there were Muslim majority peasants, who used to cultivate jute, and in western Bengal, there were many jute processing mills that were owned by Hindu mill owners, so the solidarity between them, was the basis of the jute economy of Bengal.
  10.  But, in the wake of communalism, this social solidarity was broken and that ultimately resulted in a rise of communalism, which in turn led to the crippling of the jute based economy of Bengal. Thus, Curzon wanted to divide Bengal in order to create a socio-economic crisis. This socio-economic crisis would, in turn, create local problems which would be enough to subvert the rising tide of nationalism.

But officially, Curzon mentioned that Bengal was a large state and that due to its large size, administrative manageability cannot be enforced properly. But in reality, it was the rising tide of nationalism in Bengal which was affecting various other parts of India, and thus, Curzon wanted to create a local crisis so that the feeling of nationalism would subside easily. Curzon had a brief conversation with the British Home Minister, Risley, who observed, “Bengal united is a power; Bengal divided will pull in several different directions”. This statement was very strong and important as it reflects the design of the British policy of divide and rule, and it also reflects Curzon’s motive.

Frequently Asked Questions on Lord Curzon

Q 1. Why is Lord Curzon famous?

Ans. Lord Curzon was appointed as the Viceroy of India in 1899. He was reappointed as the Viceroy of the country in 1904, after which in 1905 he presided over the partition of Bengal to suppress the rising tide of nationalism in India.

Q 2. What were the policies of Lord Curzon?

Ans. Two main policies introduced by Lord Curzon were:
  • In 1898, he passed an Act wherein, speaking or provoking someone against the British was taken as an offence
  • In 1899 Calcutta Corporation Act was passed as per which the strength of elected members from India reduced and the British were in majority

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