Sir Surendranath Banerjee (10 November 1848 – 6 August 1925) was one of the earliest Indian political leaders during the British Rule. He founded a nationalist organization called the Indian National Association, through which he led two sessions of the Indian National Conference in 1883 and 1885, along with Anandamohan Bose. Banerjee later became a senior member of the Indian National Congress. Surendranath repudiated Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms, unlike Congress, and with many liberal leaders he left Congress and founded a new organisation named Indian National Liberation Federation in 1919. He was one of the founding members of the Indian National Congress.He is given the epithet of Rashtraguru, roughly “teacher of the people.”
Birth and Family: Surendranath Banerjee was born on November 10, 1848, in Calcutta. His father, Durga Charan Banerjea, was a leading medical practitioner.
Education: After graduating from the University of Calcutta, he went to England and passed the Indian Civil Service Examination. Thereafter, he started his Civil Service Career in 1871 as an Assistant Magistrate. He could not continue long in that assignment as he was dismissed on a specious charge. To mould his future career as a national leader, he again went to England. He was a gifted writer and orator as well. In June 1875, he returned to India and took up teaching as a profession. He became Professor of English, firstly in Metropolitan Institution, then in Free Church College and finally in Ripon College, now named after him.
Political Life: On July 26,1876 he founded The Indian Association with a view for making it the focus of all India political movements. From 1878 onwards he edited a paper called ‘Bengalee’ and wrote fearlessly on topics of national interest with emphasis on culture, unity, and freedom.He was a member of the Indian Legislative Council and The Calcutta Corporation (1876 – 99). Under His able guidance The Indian Association flourished and from 1883 he started conducting annual conferences, in which delegates from every part of India participated actively. In 1885, the Indian National Congress was established, with similar ideals and goals. Surendranath decided in 1886 to merge The Indian Association with Congress, at the latter’s second session in Calcutta. He nurtured the newly established Congress, assuming its Pre-President ship on two occasions, in 1895 and 1907. He was a vehement opponent of the Partition of Bengal in 1905 and led the Swadeshi movement with distinction. However, with the growing tide of a more radical form of nationalism gripping the country, he gradually withdrew from the Congress in 1918, espousing a more moderate line with greater emphasis on Hindu-Muslim unity. In 1921 he was knighted with the title Sir, and he served as a Minister of Local Self-Government in Bengal (1921-24).
Other Activities: As a teacher, he was keen on inspiring his students with the zeal of nascent Indian nationalism. In addition, he started delivering public speeches on important topics such as ‘Indian Unity’ etc. His eloquence generated tremendous impact on the Indian mind which had already been triggered by socio-religious reform movements led by Raja Rammohan Roy in the 19th century. In this context, the unique contribution of Surendranath to the national cause of India lay in his success in deflecting the mind of the nation from social reformation to political regeneration. He was, however, instrumental in advocating various social reforms like widow remarriage, raising the age of marriage of girls etc.
Death: With his passing away on 6th August 1925, not only Bengal but the entire nation lost one of its noblest sons.