President: 1848-1925 (Poona, 1895, Ahmedabad, 1902)
Sir Surendranath Banerjea was born on 10 November 1848 in Calcutta. He got his school education in the Parental Academic Institution, attended chiefly by Anglo-Indian boys. He graduated from the Calcutta University in 1868, and proceeded to England to compete for the Indian Civil Services.
He passed the competitive examination but as there was some trouble over his exact age he was declared disqualified. On his return to India in June 1875, Banerjea began his new career as a Professor of English.
He took full advantage of his teaching profession to infuse Indian students with a new spirit. He was the most eloquent speaker that India had so far produced. This transference of Bengali youth's interest and energy to national regeneration constitutes his first great contribution to the national cause of India.
His second great contribution was the founding of the Indian Association on 26 July 1876 which was intended to be the centre of an all - India political movement. For the first time there emerged the idea of India as a political unit. Thus in the shape of an all India political conference sponsored by the Indian Association he had set the stage for a more practical demonstration of the newly awakened sense of political unity of India.
The first session of the National Conference, held in Calcutta on December 28 - 30, 1883, was attended by more than a hundred delegates from different parts of India. The second session was more representative than the first and the plan of holding annual sessions of the Conference in different parts of India was accepted.
For the first time in history a realistic picture of the political unity of India was held out before the public eye, forestalling the Indian National Congress. Immediately after the conclusion of the second session of the National Conference in Calcutta, the first session of the Indian National Congress was held in Bombay (December 28, 1885).
The Calcutta session of the Congress in 1886 marked a distinct advance in its tone and sprit and henceforth he played a leading part in the National Congress; he became its President twice in 1895 and 1902.
He reached the climax of his political career in 1906, and then set in the decline. The cleavage between the Moderates and the Extremists led to the steady decline of the Moderate Party of which Surendranath Banerjea was the strongest pillar. The Home Rule league and the emergence of Gandhi ji made the people lose faith in the programme of the Moderate Party, and publication of the Montagu Chelmsford Report was a signal of war between the Moderates and the rest.
The Moderates went down, and when they walked out of the Congress in 1918, Banerjea along with them practically walked out of India's struggle for freedom. He died in 1925.
“We cannot afford to have a schism in our camp. Already they tell us that it is a Hindu Congress, although the presence of our Mohammedan friends completely contradicts the statement. Let it not be said that this is the Congress of one social party rather than that of another.
It is the Congress of United India of Hindus and Mohammedans, of Christians, of Parsis and of Sikhs, of those who would reform their social customs and those who would not. Here we stand upon a common platform - here we have all agreed to bury our social and religious differences.”
From the Presidential Address – Surendranath Banerjea I.N.C. Session, 1895, Poona