Surendranath Roy was my paternal great grandfather. He was an eminent statesman of his time, sometime President of the Bengal Legislative Council, and close political friend of CR Das who led the Indian National Congress before MK Gandhi. SN Roy helped pioneer Indian constitutionalism under several British governments: Carmichael, Ronaldshay, Lytton, the Simon Commission too.
Lytton’s letter dated 1 May 1922 denied SN Roy appointment as President of the Bengal Legislative Council; instead, Lytton imported HEA (Evan) Cotton (1868-1939) from England in a classic case of British imperial racism in Indian governance.
SN Roy was a pioneer of primary education, and a legislative expert on local and general public finance as well as the federal politics of his time, authoring books on the “Princely” States of Gwalior and Kashmir, and proposing the origins of what became the Rajya Sabha. He also protested the Salt Tax as early as 1918. SN Roy Road in Kolkata is named after him. The first photograph is of him as a newly graduated advocate-at-law, the second may have been after his book on Gwalior was published in 1888. He also gave the Tagore Law Lectures in 1905, on the subject of customary law; these are available at India’s National Library. His friends included the academician Ashutosh Mukherjee and the scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose. His role in the development of the legislative process in Bengal after the Morley-Minto reforms will be described further here in due course, as will be his role as a pioneer of primary education.
Postscript: We did not know until recently he was present and badly injured, along with Ardeshir Dalal, by Bhagat Singh’s bomb thrown in the Central Legislative Assembly on 8 April 1929 during the Simon Commission deliberations. He died seven months later.
S N Roy hears from Lytton: A 1922 case of British imperial racism in Indian governance (with lessons for today) [Draft text 10 Feb 2018]