Source: Sir Verney Lovett, “Sir Surendranath Banerjea: Awakener of Indian Political Consciousness”, Great Men of India, ed. L.F. Rushbrook Williams (The Home Library Club: 1939), 262

Surendranath Banerjee

Sir Surendranath Banerjee was born in 1848 and is descended from a respectable family of Rarhu Brahmans, a sub-division of the well-known Kulin Brahmans of Bengal.

While a student, the speeches of Keshub Chunder Sen of the Brahmo Samaj drew his admiration and attention to the power of oratory over the Indian consciousness. At Calcutta University, he caught the eye of Mr. Sime, then its principal, who suggested to his father that he should be sent to England to compete for the Indian Civil Service examination.

He returned to India where he was posted as Assistant Magistrate at Sylhet. He later fell into trouble over the trial of a case and was reported to the High Court and the Bengal Government. The matter was investigated by a special commission which gave an unfavourable report. He had presented himself in London to plead his own cause and on being informed of the verdict, had decided to return to India as a barrister. However, the Benchers declined to call him to the Bar as he had been dismissed from the Indian Civil Service. The incident dealt him a harsh shock, causing him feel that he had suffered as an Indian, “a member of a community that lay disorganised, that had no public opinion, and no voice in the counsels of their government.” This idea would be one that shaped his subsequent career in politics.

Upon his return to India, he joined the Metropolitan Institution at Calcutta as professor of English. This was followed by various appointments at other educational institutions.

He began his foray in politics with the establishment of the Indian Association at Calcutta in 1876 alongside Mr A.M. Bose. The Indian Association was established with the idea of eventually bringing all Indians together upon a shared political platform. He later became a member of the Calcutta Corporation in the same year and the Chairman of the North Barrackpur Municipality.

Considered to be one of India’s greatest orators, he applied his talents to both the written and spoken word. His political popularity hit a high in 1883, when the Indian Association, of which he was then Secretary, held the first National Conference. He was further elected by the Corporation of Calcutta to represent it in the Bengal Legislative Council. In 1895, he was nominated President of the Poona Congress. As a journalist, he similarly displayed his oratory prowess. After taking over the Bengalee newspaper in 1879, he made it into one of the most popular newspapers in India.

On retiring from office, he finished his Memoirs, which he ends by pleading earnestly with his countrymen for a policy of co-operation and assimilation, as opposed to non-co-peration and isolation. He died on August 6, 1925.

Source: Bhargava Parag Narain, Who’s Who in India (Lucknow: Newul Kishore Press, 1911), 125-127; The Indian Nation Builders: Part 1, 7th ed (Madras: Ganesh & Co.), 53-96; Sir Verney Lovett, “Sir Surendranath Banerjea: Awakener of Indian Political Consciousness”, Great Men of India, ed. L.F. Rushbrook Williams (The Home Library Club: 1939), 262-269

 

Works

The Trumpet Voice of India: Speeches of Sir Surendranath Banerjea Delivered in England, 1909 (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1909)

Ideas of IndiaIdeas of India