Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Big men think small

It is month since the 320th anniversary of the Corporation of Chennai, so it is as good a time as any to talk a bit about the man whose name is synonymous with the Corporation's offices today. George Frederick Samuel Robinson, the First Marquess of Ripon, was a Viceroy of India towards the end of the 19th century. But much before that, he had served a term as the Secretary for India under the first Earl Rusell. Between the two appointments, he also served as the Chairman of the Joint Commission to draft the Treaty of Washington, between Great Britain and the United States of America, sometime in the 1870s.

It is likely that the Marquess' thinking was shaped by how the former colonies had progressed after freeing themselves from Great Britain. He must have anticipated the clamour for self-rule that would rise from India and to head it off, he was prepared to allow native Indians to exercise more powers. Not all of his efforts were in vain; he managed to contribute significantly to local governement, by having appointed officials replaced - or matched - with elected ones. He repealed legislation that required Indian editors give undertakings to not publish any articles criticising the governement. His actions did make the Marquess quite popular among the Indians, but I am unable to find any specific reason why Madras has been so much in awe of him.

Be that as it may, when the Corporation of Madras moved to its current premises in 1913, it was Lord Ripon they chose to honour, for all his efforts in bridging the gap between the government and the governed - you can't miss this statue, it is one of the very few (if there is any other at all) black installations in front of a shining white building!

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