Source: The Indian Nation Builders: Part II, 5th ed (Madras: Ganesh & Co.)

Womesh Chunder Bonnerjee

Womesh Chunder Bonnerjee was born in 1844 into a family of lawyers. From a young age, he held a desire to be of service to his country and with this in mind, he started the Bengalee.

He was called to the Bar in 1867 and became an Advocate of the Calcutta High Court in 1868. He soon gained great prominence as a lawyer and was made standing counsel by the Government.

As a lawyer, the administration of justice, particularly criminal, captured his interest and he held that a a trial held in the form of a Jury was not alien to the country.

He served as the first President of the Congress during its first meeting in Bombay in 1885. In response to critics who viewed the Congress as one made up of men disloyal to the British, he  was of the opinion that there was no contradiction between an aspiration to be managed in accordance to prevailing ideas of Government in Europe and loyalty to the British government. He further voiced that all that the Congress sought for was an expansion of the basis of Government, with a “proper and legitimate share” given to the people.

While recuperating in England from bad health, he addressed English audiences across the country and strove to educate them on Indian ambitions and grievances. He further countered the notion that there were no representative institutions in India in the past, citing the village systems as concrete examples before returning to India in 1888. In 1890, he made a notable achievement in encouraging the delegates of the Congress to adopt a resolution necessitating the holding of an annual Congress in India. He was further elected for a second term of Congress Presidency in 1892.

Bonnerjee adopted a English lifestyle, dividing his time between his homes in England and India. He was further not of the belief that social reform had to necessarily precede political regeneration and objected to identifying the Congress with social reform.

He left India in 1902 for Croydon and passed away in 1906.

Source: The Indian Nation Builders: Part II, 5th ed (Madras: Ganesh & Co.), 51-66

Ideas of IndiaIdeas of India