The idol of yesterday is the demon of today, ruthlessly trodden in the dust.
Surendranath Banerjee, Indian political leader (10 November 1848–6 August 1925)
Surendranath Banerjee was one of the earliest Indian political leaders during the British rule and propelled the foundations of modern India. His father, Durga Charan Banerjee, a doctor, deeply influenced him through his liberal and progressive thinking. He studied the works of Edmund Burke and other liberal philosophers; including writings of Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini. They helped mould his political thinking.
Banerjee was born in Kolkata, India. Post his graduation, he competed in the Indian Civil Service examinations held in England and was appointed to Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) as an assistant magistrate (1871-1874). He returned to London and joined The Honorable Society of The Middle Temple. But a year later, he was dismissed and returned to India.
On his return, Banerjee began his 37 years old career as a professor of English. He founded the Ripon College, later renamed as Surendranath College in Kolkata. He delivered public speeches on nationalist and liberal political subjects and Indian history; to create and mould political awareness. In 1879, he purchased The Bengalee, a newspaper he edited for 40 years from his nationalist viewpoint.
On 26th July 1876, he co-founded India's first avowed nationalist organisation, Indian National Association, with Anandamohan Bose to bring Hindus and Muslims together for political action. In 1883, Banerjee was arrested for publishing remarks in his paper, marking him as the first Indian journalist to be imprisoned. On his arrest, protests and hartals erupted across cities.
In 1886, Banerjee merged his organization with the Indian National Congress, owing to their common objectives and memberships. He was elected the Congress President in 1895 at Poona and in 1902 at Ahmedabad. The increasing rift between the moderates and extremists factions resulted in walking out of the moderates, Banerjee included, from the Indian National Congress in 1906. Later, Banerjee founded the Indian Liberation Federation.
Banerjee protested the partition of the Bengal province. He advocated the Swadeshi Movement and supported both Morley-Minto Reforms and the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, resented and ridiculed by the vast majority of the Indian public. He was neither for the extremist views of Bal Gangadhar Tilak nor the non-cooperation standpoint of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Britishers appointed him as minister in the Bengal government, but he lost the legislative assembly elections in 1923 to Bidhan Chandra Roy, thus ending his political career. Banerjee worked towards making the Calcutta Municipal Corporation a more democratic body during his tenure as minister. The same year, the Britishers knighted him for his political support to the empire. He wrote the widely acclaimed A Nation in Making: Being the Reminiscences of Fifty Years of Public Life, published in 1925. He passed away that year at Barrackpore town, Kolkata, India.