Surendranath Banerjee was a famous Indian freedom fighter. He was one of the earliest leaders during the British Raj. He established the ‘Indian National Association’ which was one of the early political organizations of India. He went on to become the senior leader of the Indian National Congress. He was also known by the nickname ‘Rashtravaguru’. Surendranath Banerjee was one of the moderate leaders of Congress who always opposed British rule and promoted the interests of the countrymen. Moderate leaders like Surendranath Banerjee and Gopalakrishna Gokhale dominated the early decades after the founding of the Congress. According to these leaders, the rights of the countrymen could be changed by cooperating with the British. Gradually, his ideas started opposing within the Congress itself. Although many people disagreed with his ideas and ways of attaining independence, there can be no denying that these leaders prepared a strong ground for accelerating the freedom movement.
Surendranath Banerjee Biography
Surendranath Banerjee always tried to change the law by putting pressure on the British rule for the interests of the countrymen. Moderate leaders, including Banerjee, differed with the leaders of the extremist party on the grounds that the extremists wanted to bring the right to governance to the Indians by bringing changes in the political system and for this they could also adopt violent methods.
Surendranath Banerjee was born on 10 August 1848 in Calcutta into a Brahmin family. He was deeply influenced by the liberal and progressive views of his father Durga Charan Banerjee. He got his early education in the family’s Hindu education institute ‘Hindu College’. In 1868, after graduating from the University of Calcutta, he moved to England to appear for the Indian Civil Service Examination. He passed the examination in 1869, but his selection was rejected due to the controversy over the age, but after the intervention of the court, he again sat the examination and was re-elected in 1871. After selection, he was made assistant magistrate in Sylhet but the British administration removed him from his government job by accusing him of racial discrimination. He went to England against this decision of the government but there was no result. During his stay in England, he read the works of Edmund Burke and other liberal philosophers. This helped them to resist the British government.
After his return to India in 1875, he became a professor of English at the Metropolitan Institution, Free Church Institution and Ripon College. After this he started giving public lectures on subjects like national, liberal, political and Indian history. On 26 July 1876, he formed the ‘Indian National Association’ in association with Anand Mohan Bose. It was one of the earliest political organizations in India. He raised the issue of age limit of Indian candidates in ‘Indian Civil Service’ through this organization. Through his speeches across the country, he strongly condemned the policy of apartheid by the British authorities and gradually became popular all over the country.
In 1879, he founded the newspaper ‘The Bengali’. When he was arrested in 1883 due to an article printed in his letter (which was considered contempt of court), it was fiercely opposed in other cities of the country, including Agra, Amritsar, Faizabad, Lahore and Pune. Gradually the number of members of the ‘Indian National Association’ also increased and in 1885, Surendranath Banerjee merged it with the ‘Indian National Congress’ as the goal of the two organizations was the same. He was subsequently elected President of the Congress twice (Pune – 1895 and Ahmedabad – 1902).
Surendranath Banerjee was one of the leading leaders who strongly opposed the Partition of Bengal (1905). He went ahead and participated in the movement and organized protests and petitions, which led to the withdrawal of the Bengal partition decision in 1912. He also became the patron of emerging leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Sarojini Naidu.
He was one of the senior moderate leaders within the Congress and was of the opinion that the path of discussion should be adopted in harmony with the British rule. His idea was completely opposite to the extremist party which wanted complete independence along with revolution.
He was a great campaigner and promoter of the Swadeshi movement. He urged people to boycott foreign goods and adopt Swadeshi.
The declining influence of moderate leaders during the freedom movement also reduced the influence of Surendranath Banerjee. He praised the ‘Morley Minto Reforms’ of 1909, while it was fiercely opposed by large parts of the country and nationalist politicians. He also did not agree with political weapons such as ‘civil disobedience’ of Mahatma Gandhi. After accepting the post of minister in the Bengal government, he was severely criticized and in the election of 1923 he lost to Bidhan Chandra Roy of ‘Swaraj Party’ and his political life was almost over.
He was embellished with the title of Knight to support the British Raj. While a minister in the Bengal government, he made the Calcutta Municipal Corporation more democratic.
Creator of Indian nationalism
Surendranath Banerjee played an important role in developing nationalism in India, first through ‘Indian National Association’ and then ‘Indian National Congress’. He fought for many decades to give more share in the governance of the country, but with the changing times, the national movement turned into a demand for independence which was beyond the imagination of Surendranath. By the time his last came, the nature of the freedom movement had completely changed, but there is no doubt that his name is among the leaders who laid the foundation of the national movement in the country.