Romesh Chunder Dutt

President: 1848-1909 (1899 - Lucknow ; 15th Session)

Sir Romesh Chunder Dutt was born in Calcutta on August 13, 1848 into a family already famous for its academic and literary attainments. He had his early education in Bengali schools in Calcutta and in the districts.

He passed the First Arts examination of the University of Calcutta from the Presidency College in 1866, standing second in order of merit and winning a scholarship. While still a student in the B.A. class, he left for England in 1868 and qualified for the Indian Civil Service.

Dutt began in 1871 an outstanding career in the Indian Civil Service and in Indian public life. He retired from the Indian Civil Service in 1897 at the relatively young age of 49 while serving as the Commissioner of Orissa.

His work as a civil servant evoked praise from all quarters, including Lieutenant Governors and Governor - Generals. A more fruitful part of his career began after his retirement, when he became free to devote his time fully to public activities and writing.

Even when he was in the Civil Service, he earned a reputation as a first-rate orator and as a man who was not afraid to express independent views. His views on the causes of poverty in India or on the problems of administration, including those relating to the controversial Ilbert Bill, were not always in line with official thinking.

He became President of the Indian National Congress in 1899 and was regarded by the growing politically - conscious educated public as one of their most effective spokespersons. Dutt was appointed a lecturer in Indian History in the University of London shortly after his retirement from the Civil Service.

He, however, returned to India in 1904 to serve the State of Baroda as Revenue Minister for three years; and he came back to India again in 1908 as a member of the Decentralisation Commission.

His first book on the economic problems of the cultivators was 'Peasantry of Bengal', written in 1875; the ideas developed in this book were expanded fully in 'Famines in India,' published in 1900, containing his strongly-argued thesis about the over-assessment of land revenue and containing a plea for the extension of the Permanent Settlement to the Ryotwari area and also for a permanent fixation of rents payable by the Ryots to the intermediaries.

His greatest works in the, field followed soon after, with the publication, of ‘India under Early British Rule, 1757 - 1837’ in 1901, and the ‘Economic History of India in the Victorian Age’ in 1902. The thesis on land revenue was reiterated in the famous ‘Open Letters’, to which Lord Curzon's Government gave an official reply in the Resolution of 1902.

He died at the age of 61 in 1909, when a further period of fruitful work seemed to lie ahead. As a civil servant, as a spokesman of the new generation of educated Indians, as a political leader of the liberal school, as a perceptive student of economic issues, as a scholarly historian and as a creative writer, Romesh Dutt was all that the rising Indian intelligentsia aspired to be.

“There are two sides to every question, and it is absolutely necessary for the purposes of good government and of just administration that not only the official view, but the people's view on every question should be represented and heard.

There are local bodies in different parts of India which give expression to the people's views on local questions; but this National Congress is the only body in India which seeks to represent the views and aspirations of the people of India as a whole in the large and important, and if I may use the word, Imperial questions of administration.

Therefore, this National Congress is doing a service to the Government the value of which cannot be overestimated, and which I feel certain is appreciated by the Government itself.”

From the Presidential Address – Romesh Chunder Dutt I.N.C. Session, 1899, Lucknow