The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence

By Anthony Read; David Fisher | Go to book overview

17
'The Empty Fruits of Office'

While the Congressmen argued among themselves over the 1935 India Act, there had been important changes in Britain. On 7 June 1935, Ramsay MacDonald's failing health had forced him to resign as prime minister, and Baldwin moved back into Downing Street. In October, Attlee became leader of the Labour Party. And on 16 November Baldwin called a snap general election, which swept the Tories back into undisputed power. The days of the National Coalition Government were over. On 21 January 1936, the political climate in London was unsettled again when King George V died, coincidentally only two days after the death of the Poet Laureate of the Raj, Rudyard Kipling.

One of Baldwin's first changes was to move Sam Hoare from the India Office to the Foreign Office. As it happened, he did not last long there, being replaced by Anthony Eden on 18 December after making a pact with French premier Laval to appease Mussolini over his aggression in Abyssinia. Hoare was replaced as secretary of state for India by the second Marquess of Zetland, a sporting peer who was a steward of the Jockey Club.

Zetland was a tall, slim, bespectacled figure, wearing one of those peculiarly Edwardian moustaches that were once thought to inspire confidence in bank managers. He was born in Yorkshire 58 years earlier, though the family originally hailed from Scotland and still retained estates there. Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, he had a less than glorious academic career - he had left Cambridge without a degree but he had at least been master of the university drag hounds. He knew India well, having started his career on the personal staff of Lord Curzon, returning later as governor of Bengal. In spite of this background, he was becoming steadily more liberal towards India as he grew older. Unfortunately, however, he was a political lightweight carrying little influence in Cabinet his under-secretary of state, R.A. Butler, whose family had long connections with India, looked on him as something of a figure of fun.

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