Rudyard Kipling's Indian years from 16 -1/2 to 23 were also the time when the battle of ideas at Home under Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was also being played out in India. The Gladstone era, especially during his 1880-1885 premiership, was also marked by little known but trenchant criticism of his policies in the sub-continent. The acrimony at Home surrounding the personality of Gladstone, revered by Liberals as the Grand Old Man (GOM) and reportedly lampooned by his bête noire and Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli as God's Only Mistake, had its echoes across the seas.
A raging battle over the legislation popularly known as the Ilbert Bill, nicknamed after Courtenay Peregrine Ilbert, the civil servant who drafted it, divided the white expatriates across India. Blessed by the Liberal Viceroy Lord Ripon and Prime Minister Gladstone, it proposed to extend the jurisdiction of native Indian magistrates to try white under-trials. It infuriated majority of white sahibs in India to no end. As Kipling recorded in his autobiographical volume ‘Something of Myself: “The European community were much annoyed. They went to the extremity of revolt ��" that is to say even the officials of the Service and their wives very often would not attend the functions and levees of the then Viceroy, a circular and bewildered recluse of religious tendencies.”
The virtual collapse of this Bill, though passed formally with severe amendments, was soon followed by the exit of Viceroy Lord Ripon from India and the fall of Gladstone government at Home.
A jubilant Kipling as part of the white-owned press was also ranged against the newly christened Indian National Congress founded by Scotsman Alan Octavian Hume in 1884, barely two years after Kipling's arrival in India. Like the rest of his conservative compatriots, Kipling refused to see the cause of that event which ultimately led to India's independence.
Author: Subhash Chopra