SURENDRA NATH BANNERJEA the barest justice to the Edmund Burke of Bengal, —for that would be a very apt characteri sation of the famous political leader and nation builder with whom we are now dealing—that very few surpass him, even if some equal him, in point of the vigorous appeal he directs to the emotions. The writer has had the privilege of attending meetings of the Indian National Congress and public gather ings of a political or quasi-political nature, where Bannerjea's powerful and burning eloquence had electrified vast audiences and swayed their feelings as does the powerful gust of wind sway the blades of corn in a field. But it must also be said to Bannerjea's credit that when the feelings of his audience are raised to a pitch of intense excitement, he strikes the right note of moderation and sanity, realising that the reason why feelings should be purged of their dross in the fiery furnace of idealism, is that they should become a motive force in con stitutional agitation. " Evolution and not Revo lution " was the burden of his political counsels to the radical and ardent spirits of young Bengal, when demands for the reversal of the partition were grow ing insistent and even clamorous, and when Boycott and Swadeshi were the only ringing war-cries, whose echoes drowned every other interest.
B annerj ea's is pre-eminently a restraining influence in the sphere of Indian politics—not the restraint whose exercise involves a surrender of independent action or suggests a playing for governmental favours, but that which tempers idealism with sanity and which foresees the futility of irresponsible action. He would always warn his countrymen of the dangers implicit in " playing with the fire " and in allowing their imagination to run away with itself. But he would never allow the counsels of restraint to degenerate into mere reactionary influences or to serve as a wet blanket on the newly awakened enthu siasm of the young. His sound political instincts tell him that new-born forces that make for freedom and progress cannot be suppressed, but should be wisely harnessed to well-considered schemes of reform. His persistent refusal, on the one hand, to inflame the dangerous passions of an excitable crowd and his equally sustained opposition to the reactionary attitude shown, from time to time, by the conservative bureaucracy in India, have in the past somewhat compromised the position which he would worthily fill under a liberal regime. His unique service consists in his placing himself at the head of the agitation against the partition of Bengal and in favour of encouraging Indian industries—which laudable resolution took an organised shape under the Swadeshi movement.
From his place in the Imperial and provincial Councils he has always lifted his voice in favour of reforms well-known to students of the National Congress propaganda. Thus whether the demand is for enlisting Indian volunteers on terms of equality with Europeans, for the defence of their country, or whether the request formulated is for separating judicial functions from executive control, or whether the demand be for the retrenchment of military expenditure and the diversion of revenue to more constructive purposes, Bannerjea's attitude has been uncompromisingly liberal and consistent throughout his long and honourable career. Never has he deviated one iota from the principles that he imbibed in his earlier years, and whose appli cation to India gave promise, according to him, of her future greatness. Being at times extreme in his moderation and at others moderate in his extrem ism, he has somehow missed that popularity that falls to unscrupulous fire-brands or those that see visions of governmental patronage after a short-lived political activity. But still, without doubt, he occupies a very prominent place in the esteem and affection of both old and young Bengal.
Technically, Bannerjea may not be considered a whole-time worker in the service of India. But if only we tried and penetrated below appearances, we shall discover that whether as proprietor and editor in-chief of the Bengalee or as founder of the Ripon College and now as its principal, Bannerjea's time and attention have been fully occupied in the pro motion of objects that have profound national importance. True, he has not practised the austerities of Gokhale, or Jesuit-fashion renounced emoluments and position, yet efficiency in the political sphere may remain quite unimpaired even if the leader does not submit to privations or extreme simplicity. Besides, Bannerjea's whole tenor of life is and has been, quite simple and unostentatious : any means that he may have amassed have been by sheer exertion and conspicuous ability, and quite apart from his engagement in any commercial enter prise that has not a direct bearing on his political propaganda. In the Council chamber as on the public platform, in his capacity as editor or while playing the role of principal, Bannerjea's one all engrossing passion has ever been to engage in the service of the mother-land.