Reading, Lord

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READING, LORD (1860–1935), viceroy of India (1921–1926). Lord Reading (Rufus Isaacs) was Britain's Lord Chief Justice in David Lloyd George's Liberal Cabinet prior to his appointment as viceroy of India in 1921. Reading was one of the most distinguished jurists of his time, the only person of Jewish faith appointed viceroy of India. Arriving so soon after Amritsar's Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, in the midst of Mahatma Gandhi's first nationwide satyagraha, Reading ruled India during one of its most revolutionary half decades. His judicious temperament and calm patience helped keep India's body politic from further chaos during his era, when constitutional reforms inaugurated under the Government of India Act of 1919 were introduced.

Reading held six lengthy interviews with Gandhi, whose deep religious convictions and "sincerity" he "liked," but with whom he could reach no political agreement on any issue. Concerned about a possible Afghan invasion at the time, Reading asked Gandhi how he would deal with it, to which the Mahatma replied that he would go personally to "meet" the invaders and "conquer them by love." The viceroy tried his best to dissuade Gandhi from his boycott of the reforms and elections, insisting that they were honestly designed to help Indians enjoy a more representative form of government than had ever been possible before. But since the 1919 massacre in Jallianwala Bagh, and its aftermath of brutal martial "laws" (including crawling orders inflicted on Indians residing in Amritsar), Gandhi mistrusted British officialdom, even their most seemingly selfless acts, which he viewed as wily tactics of "divide and rule," designed only to keep all Indians permanently enslaved.

Reading also met with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, finding him less radical than Gandhi, but "rather extremist," nonetheless, and forthright in demanding the dismissal of Punjab officers who had committed the grossest violations of human rights. He rightly recognized barrister Jinnah's "acute sensibility and subtlety of mind," but failed to take advantage of Jinnah's willingness to serve as honest "broker" between himself and Gandhi, possibly helping to avert the tragedy of South Asia's partition two decades later.

Lord Reading hosted Edwina Ashley, granddaughter of his wealthy banker friend, Sir Ernest Cassel, on the eve of her engagement to Lord Louis Mountbatten, who first visited India as aide to his cousin Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1921–1922. The Mountbattens would return to India a quarter century later to preside over the British transfer of power and the partition.

In 1923 Reading's government introduced civil service examinations in New Delhi, held simultaneously with those in London, thus making it possible for young Indians to sit for those prestigious administrative tests without having to embark on a long expensive voyage to England. He also created a popular Tariff Board in New Delhi, which soon abolished cotton excise taxes, allowing Indian cotton mill owners, including the Birlas and Tatas, to compete fairly with Manchester imports. But to compensate for the resulting annual loss of revenue, Reading doubled the salt tax, which was to become the prime target of Gandhi's most successful satyagraha campaign in 1930.

Stanley Wolpert

See alsoBritish Crown Raj ; Gandhi, Mahatma M. K. ; Government of India Act of 1919 ; Satyagraha


Hyde, H. Montgomery. Lord Reading: The Life of Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading. London: Heinemann, 1967.

Judd, Denis. Lord Reading: Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading, Lord Chief Justice and Viceroy of India, 18601935. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, l982.

Khan, Syed Sirdar Ali. The Earl of Reading. London and New York: Pitman, 1924.

Reading, Second Marquess of. Rufus Isaacs: First Marquess of Reading. 2 vols. London: Hutchinson, 1943–1945.