Victor Alexander John Hope, 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow, Governor-General and Viceroy of India from 1936 to 1943, died on the 5th of January, 1952.
The 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow, whose ancestors had been Highland Earls in for two centuries, was a British statesman who is best known for having been the Viceroy of India from 1936 until 1943 and the man to have held that post for the longest period. When he retired in 1943, after an eventful seven years in the history of the Raj, Linlithgow’s obituaries were unanimous in considering him to have been one of the most skilful of Colonial Officers to have held high office. It’s debatable with hindsight and in retrospect, but at the time and from a purely British point of view, he was lauded and admired for his achievements. His list of credits focuses on two main themes: furthering the cause of Indian independence through the adoption of a federal form of government; and suppressing opposition to Britain during the Second World War.
Victor Alexander John Hope was born in Hopetoun House, in South Queensferry, on the 24th of September, 1887. He received a privileged education at Eton College and, on the 29th of February, 1908, he succeeded his father as 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow. During the First World War, Linlithgow was decorated whilst serving as an officer on the Western Front and ended the War with the rank of Colonel and command of a battalion of the Royal Scots. His early political career saw him serve in various minor roles in the Tory governments of the 1920s and 1930s. In between times, from 1922 until 1924, he served as the Civil Lord of the Admiralty and as if that wasn’t odd enough for an ex-squaddie, he also served as President of the Navy League, from 1924 until 1931.
Linlithgow made a habit out of ‘chairmanships’ as he served in that capacity for the Unionist Party Organization, for two years from 1924; for the Medical Research Council; for the Governing Body of the Imperial College London; for the Committee on the Distribution and Prices of Agricultural Produce; for the Royal Commission on Agriculture in India, from 1926 to 1928; and from 1933 to 1935, for the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, which produced the famed ‘Linlithgow Report’. He was President of the Edinburgh and East of Scotland College of Agriculture until 1933 and, in 1944 and 1945, good Presbyterian that he was, he served as Lord High Commissioner to the Church of Scotland. He became Viceroy of India on the 18th of April, 1936, after having declined the post of Governor-General of Australia, a position that his father had held previously as the very first such office holder.
Prior to his being appointed Viceroy of India, Linlithgow had earned a reputation as a specialist in Indian politics, having overseen the introduction of the 1935 ‘Government of India Act’. As ‘Time Magazine’ of Monday, the 27th April, 1936 reported his arrival in India, “Ahead of him had arrived his ‘New Deal’, the renovated and liberalized Indian Constitution, based on Lord Linlithgow’s own exhaustive 350-page investigation and recommendations.” The article in ‘Time’ went on to add, “What made 350,000,000 Indians so anxious last week for a sight of …their new Viceroy was that the new Constitution gives him the power to be either a messiah or a tyrant.” His remit was the creation of autonomous Indian Provinces and a self-ruling, all-India Federal Government. The bottom line was to create a genuinely British India or perpetuate British rule by force. As Viceroy, Linlithgow retained absolute powers, such as the right to single-handedly overrule his own Executive Council and to veto laws passed by the Indian Legislature if he thought they would “affect the safety or tranquillity of British India”.
The year after he became Viceroy, he successfully oversaw the implementation of those plans for local self government in India, initiating the first provincial general elections in India. During the course of the Act’s implementation, Linlithgow made several significant, constitutional and political changes, which resulted in government led by the Congress Party in five of the eleven Provinces, which had been made autonomous units of a Federation. He also oversaw the separation of Burma, which was given its own constitution. At the time, the conflict between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League prevented the full establishment of Indian self government. Nevertheless and significantly, Linlithgow’s reasonable belief in preserving and protecting the interests of minority communities ensured that they had representatives in every provincial government. Part one of the story ends thus, reasonably positively.
It is claimed that Linlithgow’s reforms later allowed India to become fully independent without armed conflict. Whatever you might think of that, India’s independence wasn’t achieved without a good deal of strife. The period of the Second World War was a critical one in the history of India, during which independence became the major theme. At its outset, Linlithgow displayed a high-handed disregard for India’s ruling Congress when he declared war on Nazi Germany without bothering to consult its leaders. The likes of Ghandi and Nehru temporarily resigned, but far from appealing for unity, Linlithgow’s subsequent actions only served to encourage the Muslim League, at odds with the predominantly Hindu Congress, in its desire for separate nationhood.
Throughout the War, Congress, which professed to speak for all Indians, was emasculated by the refusal of Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslims, to cooperate. In 1940, the Viceroy, who was unrelenting in his belief that the Raj shouldn’t come to an end, produced the ‘Linlithgow Offer’, which would’ve conceded Dominion status to India after the War, but behind the public facade, rather than calming things down, the Viceroy’s actions served only to foster the unrest and lack of cooperation between the Muslims and the Hindus. The inability of Congress to unite and the lack of agreement on independence eventually led to massive civil disobedience and the ‘Quit India’ resolution of 1942. In one area of Bengal, nationalists declared themselves a part of ‘Free India’, but Linlithgow brutally suppressed all disturbances. His administration jailed thirteen thousand Indians and over one thousand people were killed. By the time that he stood down in 1943, Lord Linlithgow, despite his intentions, was largely responsible for creating the conditions that ultimately led to the break up of his beloved Raj, the creation of an independent India and, significantly, the formation of the ‘Land of the Pure’ – Pakistan – in 1947. Thus ends part two of the story. Victor Alexander John Hope, 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow, who died on the 5th of January, 1952, was certainly no messiah, but you can decide for yourself whether or not he was a tyrant.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.