Sir Surendranath Banerjee
(November 10 1848
– August 6 1925
) was one of the earliest Indian
political leaders during the British Raj
. He founded the Indian National Association
, one of the earliest Indian political organizations, and later became a senior leader of the Indian National Congress
Surendranath Banerjee was born in Calcutta
, in the province of Bengal
to a kulin Brahmin Hindu
family. He was deeply influenced in liberal, progressive thinking by his father Durga Charan Banerjee, a doctor. Banerjee was educated at the Parental Academic Institution and at the Hindu College
. After graduating from the University of Calcutta
, he traveled to England
in 1868, along with Romesh Chunder Dutt
and Behari Lal Gupta
to sit for the Indian Civil Service
examinations. He cleared the exam in 1869, but was barred owing to a dispute over his exact age. After clearing the matter in the courts, Banerjee cleared the exam again in 1871 and was posted as assistant magistrate in Sylhet
. However, Banerjee was dismissed soon from his job owing to racial discrimination. Banerjee went to England to protest this decision, but was unsuccessful. During his stay in England (1874-1875) he studied the works of Edmund Burke
and other liberal philosophers.
Upon his return, Banerjee became an English
professor at the Metropolitan Institution, the Free Church Institution
and at the Ripon College
. He began delivering public speeches on nationalist and liberal political subjects, as well as Indian history. He founded the newspaper, The Bengali
, and founded the Indian National Association
, the first Indian political organization of its kind, on July 26 1876
. He used the organization to tackle the issue of age-limit for Indian students appearing for ICS exams. He condemned the racial discrimination perpetrated by British officials in India through speeches all over the country, which made him very popular.
When Banerjee was arrested for publishing remarks in contempt of court, protests and hartals erupted across Bengal, and in Indian cities such as Agra, Faizabad, Amritsar, Lahore and Pune. The INA expanded considerably, and hundreds of delegates from across India would come to attend its annual conference in Calcutta. After the founding of the Congress in 1885 in Bombay, Banerjee merged his organization owing to their common objectives and memberships. He would serve as Congress President in 1898 and 1904.
rishan was one of the most important public leaders to protest the partition of the Bengal province in 1905. Banerjee was at the front of organizing protests, petitions and extensive public support across Bengal and India, which finally compelled the British to reverse the bifurcation in 1912. Banerjee became the patron of rising Indian leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Sarojini Naidu. Banerjea was also one of the senior-most leaders of the "moderate" Congress - those who favoured accommodation and dialogue with the British - after the "extremists" - those who advocated revolution and political independence - led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak left the party in 1906. Banerjee was an important figure in the Swadeshi movement - advocating goods manufactured in India against foreign products - and his popularity at its apex made him, in words of admirers, the "uncrowned king of Bengal."
The declining popularity of moderate Indian politicians affected Banerjee's role in Indian politics. Banerjee supported the 1909 Minto-Morley reforms
- which were resented and ridiculed as insufficient and meaningless by the vast majority of the Indian public and nationalist politicians. Banerjee was a critic of the proposed method of civil disobedience
advocated by Mohandas Gandhi
, the rising popular leader of Indian nationalists and the Congress Party. Accepting the portfolio of minister in the Bengal government earned him the ire of nationalists and much of the public, and he would lose the election to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1922 - ending his political career for all practical purposes. He was knighted for his political support of the Empire. Banerjee made the Calcutta Municipal Corporation a more democratic body while serving as a minister in the Bengal government.
Banerjee died in 1925. He is remembered and widely respected today as a pioneer leader of Indian politics - first treading the path for Indian political empowerment. He published an important book, A Nation In Making which was widely acclaimed.
The British respected him and referred to him during his later years as "Surrender Not" Banerjee.