'If Fifty Men Cannot be Found ...'
From the Indian point of view, the only good thing to come out of the second Afghan war was that it brought down Disraeli's Tory government in the spring of 1880, and opened the door to Gladstone and the Liberals. Gladstone sent out Lord Ripon as Viceroy, with instructions 'to give India the benefits and blessings of free institutions'. Ripon approached his task with evangelical fervour, putting a stop to Lytton's Afghan adventure, repealing the Vernacular Press Act, and boosting the spread of education. Then he set about introducing a measure of local self-government in districts, sub-divisions and municipalities, with elected representatives rather than nominated stooges on their governing boards.
In practice the new boards were controlled and bullied into submission by the British ICS officers who chaired them, but at least it was a start. At last, what Ripon himself described as 'the rapidly growing ... intelligent class of public spirited men who it is not only bad policy, but sheer waste of power, to fail to utilise' 1 could begin gaining vital experience of government. In fact, that was Ripon's intention, as he clearly stated: 'It is not primarily with a view to improvement in administration ... it is chiefly desirable as a measure of political and popular education.' 2 How Macaulay would have applauded — his 'proudest day' was back on the political agenda.
Although the 100,000 Britons in India — the Anglo-Indians as they now described themselves — disliked Ripon's local government changes, they grudgingly accepted them, knowing the ICS would always have the last word. But when he tried to put an end to racial discrimination in the courts by allowing Indian judges to try cases involving Europeans, it was a very different matter.
Ripon had seen this as an innocuous bit of tidying up, suggested by the law member of his Executive Council, Sir Courtney Ilbert. For some time, Indian justices had had the right to try Europeans in towns and cities, but not in country districts: the Ilbert Bill merely sought to remove this anomaly. It did not affect the