Banerjea, Surendranath

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Surendranath Banerjea

Banerjea, Surendranath (1848-1925) nationalist leader and a founding father of the Indian National Congress, was born on 10 November, 1848 in a Kulin Brahmin family in Calcutta. Surendranath Banerjea's father, Durga Charan Banerjea, was a medical practitioner. Surendranath studied at hindu college and graduated from the university of calcutta, he went to England to compete for the Indian Civil Service. Though he cleared the examination in 1869, trouble occurred over his exact age. After the settlement of the issue in a law-court, he sat for the final examination in 1871, came out successful and was posted at Sylhet as Assistant Magistrate. He was, however, soon dismissed from service owing to an alleged irregularity committed while posted in Sylhet. Surendranath proceded to England to seek justice about the dismissal. But he failed reverse the dismissal order. But his London visit did not go all in vain. During this stay in London in 1874-75, he made an intensive study of the writings of Burke, Mazzini and other liberal thinkers of the West.

On his return home, Surendranath took to the teaching profession. He became a Professor of English, first in the Metropolitan Institution, then in the Free Church College and finally in the Ripon College. As a teacher, he inspired his students with a new spirit of nascent Indian nationalism. At this time, he also began to deliver public speeches in and outside Calcutta on topics like 'Indian unity', 'life and thought of Mazzini'; and 'the history of Shivaji and the Sikhs'; etc.

His eloquence made a great impact on the Indian mind, which had already been stirred by the early 19th century socio-religious reform movements. But Surendranath tried to deflect their mind from social reformation to political regeneration. This was Surendranath';s unique contribution to the national awakening of India.

Surendranath tried to arouse the spirit of nationalism, and endeavored to give it a tangible shape by forming the indian association on 26 July 1876. He took up the cause of reducing the age-limit of ICS examinees, the common grievance of the English-educated Indians against the Raj, and for this he made an extensive propaganda tour all-over India. These tours earned him an enormous popularity. Hartal was observed all over Bengal when he was sentenced to imprisonment on a charge of contempt of court for remarks made by him in his paper, the Bengali. It ignited the political consciousness of the masses. Even public meetings of protest were held in Agra, Fyzabad, Amritsar, Lahore, Poona and several other places.

From 1883, under Surendranath's leadership, the Indian Association began to hold annual conferences in which hundreds of delegates from different parts of India participated. But in 1886 Surendranath led the Indian Association to its merger with the indian national congress during the latter's second session in Calcutta. Henceforth, he played a leading role in the Congress and twice became its President, in 1895 and 1907.

Surendranath's unique leadership style was clearly demonstrated during the agitation against the partition of bengal, 1905 and the swadeshi movement which made him the 'uncrowned king' of Bengal. He was now at the zenith of his political career, but soon the decline started. The tussle between the Moderates and the Extremists within the Congress led to the steady decline of the Moderates of which Surendranath was an important member. Moderates gradually faded as the formation of Home Rule League and the emergence of Gandhi brought the people of India into a new political awareness. In defiance of the Congress non-cooperation, he supported the reforms enacted by the Act of 1919 and accepted the portfolio of a minister. This led to his ouster from the main stream of Congress politics and he came to known as a stooge of the British. It must be recognized that whatever constitutional right the people got in local self-government was the result of his endeavour largely. For his cooperation to the British Raj, Surendranath was knighted in 1921. His image as a leaded waned so much so that he failed to get elected to the Bengal Legislative Council in the 1923 general elections. Soon after he retired from active politics. In spite of his almost total political eclipse in politics, he remained noted for his scholarly work A Nation in Making (1925). He breathed his last on 6 August 1925. [Ranjit Roy]