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Afghanistan, over whose ruler British influence was powerful enough to keep him from foreign aggression. The letter i was signed by Lord Northbrook and the Members of his Council-Lord Napier of Magdala, Sir Henry Norman, Sir Arthur Hobhouse, Sir William Muir, and Ashley Eden.
Lord Salisbury's rejoinder, dated November 1875, is one of the least creditable documents which have ever been penned by a British Minister.
“The first step, therefore, in establishing our relations with the Amir upon a more satisfactory footing, will be to induce him to receive a temporary Embassy in his capital. It need not be publicly connected with the establishment of a permanent Mission within his dominions. There would be many advantages in ostensibly directing it to some object of smaller political interest, which it will not be difficult for your Excellency to find, or, if need be, to create." 2
Lord Northbrook's reply to this strange despatch was strong as it was dignified. He urged that if a permanent Mission was to be sent to Afghanistan, it was better to candidly inform the Amir of its true nature and object. But the step was not necessary.
“We are convinced that a patient adherence to the policy adopted towards Afghanistan by Lord Canning, Lord Lawrence, and Lord Mayo, which it has been our earnest endeavour to maintain, presents the greatest promise of the eventual establishment of our relations with the Amir on a satisfactory footing; and we deprecate, as involving serious danger to the peace of Afghanistan, and to the interests of the British Empire in India, the execution, under present circumstances, of the instructions conveyed in your Lordship's despatch.” 3
The same mail which brought this earnest and dignified remonstrance to England, conveyed also Lord Northbrook's resignation of his high office.
i Dated June 7, 1875. • Secret Despatch, dated November 19, 1875. 3 Letter dated January 28, 1876.
With Lord Northbrook's administration ended the period of peace and reforms which had commenced in 1858. With Lord Lytton's administration began an era of restless Imperialism.
GREAT as were the reforms of Lord Canning in every department of Indian administration, his greatest were those which benefited the agricultural and landed classes of India. His Bengal Rent Act of 1859 not only gave an adequate protection to the cultivators of Bengal, but helped his successors to pass similar Rent Acts for other Provinces of India. A brief account of the land reforms effected in Northern India by Canning and Lawrence is given in this chapter.
When the land revenue of Bengal was permanently settled by Lord Cornwallis in 1793, a provision was made in the Act empowering the Government to take action for the adequate protection of the cultivators. Inquiries were made from time to time into the condition of the cultivators, but for a period of over sixty years the cultivators of Bengal did not obtain the promised protection. This was not owing to the negligence of the Company's servants who administered Bengal; it was owing rather to the extreme difficulty of finding a proper basis of legislation between the classes and the masses.
The difficulty was at last overcome by Lord Canning. His Bengal Rent Act (Act x of 1859) is considered the Charter of the Bengal Cultivators. It divided the settled cultivators of Bengal into three classes. For those who had held lands at the same rents since 1793, the law declared that the rental should remain unaltered for all the time to come. For those who had held lands at the same rents for twenty years, the law presumed that they had paid the same rents since 1793 until the contrary was proved. And, lastly, to those cultivators who had held lands for twelve years, the right of occupancy was conceded; and their rents could not be raised in future except on specific and reasonable grounds laid down in the law.
This law created a revolution in Bengal. And the population of Bengal are at the present time more resourceful and prosperous than elsewhere in India, firstly, owing to the limitation placed on the State-demand from landlords in 1793, and, secondly, owing to the limitation placed on the landlord's demand from tenants.
OUDH. The Province of Oudh has a history of its own. When the Province was annexed by Lord Dalhousie in 1856, the landlords or Talukdars were found to be the virtual proprietors of their estates, and Village Communities were less developed than in other parts of Northern India.
The British Government overlooked this difference. Settlement Officers tried to set aside Talukdars in many cases, and to make settlements with village proprietors. This, however, could not be effected in the majority of cases; and out of the 23,543 villages of Oudh, 13,640 were settled with Talukdars in 1856, and 9903 were settled with village proprietors. This disregard of the old leaders of the people in a newly annexed Province was neither a just nor a wise act. The Oudh Talukdars felt that their rights had been confiscated; and when the Indian Mutiny broke out in the following year, they joined the Mutiny.
The war ended, all lands were confiscated by Lord Canning by his Proclamation of March 1858, which has become historic. The Governor-General singled out six loyal landlords whose rights were to be respected; and he held out a promise of “reward and honour" to others who might establish their claims.
· The Right of Occupancy has been extended to other cultivators, and the rights of tenants-at-will assured, by subsequent legislation.
8 Baden-Powell's Land Systems of British India (1892), vol. ii. p. 201.
"The Governor-General further proclaims to the people of Oudh that, with the above-named exceptions, the proprietary right in the soil of the Province is confiscated to the British Government, which will dispose of that right in such manner as it may deem fitting.
“To those Talukdars, Chiefs, and Landholders, with their followers, who shall make immediate submission to the Chief Commissioner of Oudh, surrendering their arms and obeying his orders, the Right Honourable the Governor-General promises that their lives and honour shall be safe, provided that their hands are not stained with English blood murderously shed. But as regards any further indulgence which may be extended to them, and the condition in which they may hereafter be placed, they must throw themselves upon the justice and mercy of the British Government.” 1
The greatest admirers of Lord Canning will admit that this Proclamation was a mistake. Wholesale confiscation was probably never his object; and a Proclamation ordering a wholesale confiscation was uncalled for and impolitic. The Proclamation created an impression that the British Government would set aside the Talukdars of Oudh in their future land settlements, to a greater extent than had been done in 1856. And it justified the fears that the new rulers would sweep away the old land system of the country, in order to have a clean slate on which they would record their yet unknown land policy.
Lord Ellenborough, who had become President of the Board of Control on the return of the Conservatives to power in 1858, saw the mistake. Another man in his place would have secretly pointed out the mistake of the
1 Oudh Papers, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, May 7, 1858.