Bengal Legislative Council 1921

This is a 1921 photograph of the Bengal Legislative Council with the Governor of Bengal, the Earl of Ronaldshay (later Secretary of State for India and  known as the Marquess of Zetland) at the centre. To his immediate right is Surendranath Roy, then President of the Council. Seated second to the left of the Governor is Surendranath Banerjee, the eminent leader of the Indian National Congress (and mentor of GK Gokhale and other “moderates” in the national movement); he and Surendranath Roy were friends and political colleagues.

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MK Gandhi, SN Roy, MA Jinnah in March 1919: Primary education legislation in a time of protest

In March 1919, Indian politics were extremely tense over the draconian “anti-terrorist” law known as the Rowlatt Act.  On March 23, MK Gandhi called for the general strike or hartal on April 6 that came to be known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha (and was soon to be followed by the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in Amritsar on April 13).  On March 28, MA Jinnah resigned his membership of the Viceroy’s Imperial Council  in protest  that  the Rowlatt Act had not been amended as demanded by the Indian members of the Council.   In midst of such tumultuous events, my great grandfather Surendranath Roy, on March 27 1919, seems to have quietly managed to get his  “Bengal Primary Education Bill” passed in the Bengal Legislative Council.

From India in 1918: A Chronological Record of the Phases of Developments in Indian Polity During 1918, HN Mitra (ed),  Annual Register Office, Sibpur, 1921.

Surendranath Roy (1860-1929)


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 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 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.

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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.

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see also

Origins of India’s Constitutional Politics: Bengal 1913

Carmichael visits Surendranath, 1916

MK Gandhi, SN Roy, MA Jinnah in March 1919: Primary education legislation in a time of protest

Bengal Legislative Council 1921

Jaladhar Sen writes to Manindranath at Surendranath’s death, c. Nov-Dec 1929

Sarat Chandra visits Surendranath Roy 1927

The Roys of Behala 1928

Manindranath Roy 1891-1958

Two scientific Boses who should have but never won Nobels

Pre-Partition Indian Secularism Case-Study: Fuzlul Huq and Manindranath Roy

Life of my father, 1915-2012

“I’m on my way out”: Siddhartha Shankar Ray (1920-2010)

Bengal Legislative Council 1923


Bengal Legislative Council 1923

SN Roy, then President of the Bengal Legislative Council 1923, is seated to the left of the Governor of Bengal, Lord Lytton, who has the Chief Justice on his right.  At Surendranath Roy’s left sits his friend and colleague, Surendranath Banerjee.