Surendranath Banerji, a great freedom fighter of India

The British called him 'Surrender Not Banerji', since he never surrendered before the might of the British; but his name was Surendranath Banerji, and he was one of the tallest fighters for India's Independence during the formative period of the movement. He was a great teacher, powerful orator, editor, and undaunted patriot. When the British decided to partition the province of Bengal, the people rose against it and the movement was led by Surendranath Banerji. And in 1911, the British rulers of India had to withdraw the decision. Quite naturally people hailed Surendranath as 'the uncrowned King of Calcutta'. But within the next ten years, he changed from confrontation to co-operation with the British and accepter the honorific title of 'Sir' from them.  And again, quite naturally the people did not accept the change of mind of their 'former King of Calcutta'.

Surendranath was born in 1848 in an aristocratic family of Calcutta. Keshab Chandrasen, the spell-binding orator and the leader of Brahmo Samaj, and Eashwara Chandra Vidyasagar were his early influences. After taking his B.A. degree, he went to England and passed the ICS (1871), and started his official life as an assistant magistrate, but sacked for some minor slip. Though he qualified as a barrister, he was not allowed to practice law because he was once thrown out of government service. But he was appointed in Eashvara Chandra Vidyasagar's school. He formed a forum for students and inculcated in his students through his powerful speeches a deep sense of patriotism and freedom. One among his students was Narendranath who was to become a towering figure in history as Swami Vivekananda.

In 1892 he was elected to the legislative assembly of Bengal and in 1895 and in 1902 he was chosen as the president of the Indian National congress. He entered into journalism as a reporter for 'Hindu Patriot', an English Daily. He championed the cause of the freedom for the vernacular dailies, though was not fully successful. In 1879 he bought 'Bengli', a weekly newspaper from Calcutta, and in 1900 converted it into a daily and was its popular editor for more than 20 years. In 1913 he was nominated to the Central legislative council.

Surendranath could not support Gandhi's civil disobedience movement, and so he formed a new party styled 'Liberal Federation', a to toe a moderate line vis-à-vis the British rule. It is to be marked that he did not relinquish he title 'Sir', when other Indians did it in protest against the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh. He was supportive of the British. All this made him unpopular, and he distanced himself with the people.

His autobiography, 'Fifty years of Public Service' gives a candid account of life and work. He died in 1925.