Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton, known commonly as Lord Lytton was an English politician who served as Viceroy of India from 1876 to1880.
He is commonly regarded as a ruthless viceroy due to his approach to the Great Indian Famine of 1876-1878 and the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
The article will give details about Lord Lytton within the context of the Civil Services Examination.
Background of Lord Lytton
Lytton was born on 8 November 1831 to Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Rosina Doyle Wheeler. His mother being an ardent advocate of women rights put her odds with his conservative father.
Lord Lytton joined the diplomatic corps in 1849, being appointed as an attaché to his uncle, Sir Henry Bulwer. His career in diplomacy began in earnest in 1852 when he was posted to Florence. He worked in various other European cities such as St Petersburg, Vienna, and Paris until his selection as the British Consul General at Belgrade in 1860.
By 1876, Lytton was appointed the Governor-General and Viceroy of India in 1876.
Find the difference between Governor-General and Viceroy by visiting the linked article
Tenure as Viceroy of India
Lytton’s tenure as viceroy was marked by ruthlessness in both domestic and foreign affairs. At the time India was reeling from famine caused by crop failure from 1876. His response was to convene a durbar in which he declared Queen Victoria as ‘Empress of India. The lack of response from his administration contributed between 6.1 million and 10.3 million deaths.
Historians allude that his belief in Social Darwinism is what contributed to his poor attitude towards Indian peasants suffering from the famine.
Lord Lytton – UPSC Notes – Download PDF Here
The Vernacular Press Act was enacted in 1878. The act gave powers to the Viceroy to seize the press of any Indian vernacular publishing house that put forth content regarded as ‘seditious’ by the government. As a result, a public agitation happened in Calcutta helmed by Surendranath Banerjee.
To know more about other British Legislations in India visit the linked article.
He also abolished the tax on foreign cotton coming to India, benefitting British traders at the cost of causing severe hardships for the local economy.
The Great Game – a series of political manoeuvres for influence in Central Asia between the Russian and British Empire – was played out in Afghanistan during Lord Lytton’s tenure. Afghanistan was a key element in this game as its location acted as a buffer between the two empires.
Lord Lytton made friendly overtures to the Amir of Afghanistan, Sher Ali Khan. It was believed that Shel Ali Khan had pro-Russian leaning and no effort was spared to change his mind. In September 1878, Sir Neville Bowles Chamberlain was sent as an envoy to Afghanistan but no audience was granted to Sir Nevilles. Having exhausted all diplomatic options, Lytton planned an invasion of Afghanistan, leading to the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Britain won all the battles and ultimately the Treaty of Gandamak put a more British receptive Amir as the ruler of Afghanistan.
But it came at a huge cost for the colonial government along with heavy losses to the British Army. This was enough to be a factor for the defeat of the Conservative Party in London of which Lytton was a part of.
The outcome of the war was not what the British had in mind, but it did bring an end to the ‘Great Game’, ending years of struggle with the Russians. The Pyrrhic victory of the British army would play a critical yet small role in the scramble for Africa. For his part, Lytton resigned along with the Conservative government in London.
For NCERT Modern Indian history notes for UPSC, visit the linked articles.
Later Life of Lord Lytton
Lord Lytton served as the Ambassador to France from 1887 to 1891. He previously served as Secretary to the Ambassador to Paris before his appointment
Lytton passed away on 24th November in 1891. He was accorded a state funeral, something rare for a British diplomat at the time. He was interred at his family mausoleum in Knebworth Park
Candidates can find the complete UPSC Syllabus through the linked article. More exam-related preparation materials will be found through the links given below: