British Indian Association

Bengal in 1857 was not prepared for systematic political efforts for the achievement of a well-defined political programme. There were, however, bold adventurers who could perceive dimly the inevitable trend in India’s political evolution. Harish Chandra Mukherjee wrote in the Hindu Patriot on 14 January 1858, in connection with the proposal for transferring the government of India to the Crown: “Can a revolution in the Indian government be authorised by Parliament without consulting the wishes of vast millions of men for whose benefit it is proposed to be made? The reply must be in the negative. The time has nearly come when all Indian questions must be solved by Indians.” [1]

Sengupta, Nitish

The British Indian Association was established on 31 October 1851. Its formation was a major event of 19th-century India. Its establishment meant Indians had come together and could no longer be ignored. It developed enormous hopes amongst the Indians about their future.[2]

The first committee of the association was composed of : Raja Radhakanta Deb – President, Raja Kalikrishna Deb – Vice-President, Debendranath Tagore – secretary, Digambar Mitra – Asst Secretary, members – Raja Staya Saran Ghosal, Harakumar Tagore, Prasanna Coomar Tagore, Ramanath Tagore, Jay Krishna Mukerjee, Asutosh Deb, Harimohan Sen, Ramgopal Ghosh, Umesh Chandra Dutta (Rambagan), Krishna Kishore Ghosh, Jagadananda Mukhopadhyay, Peary Chand Mitra, and Sambhunath Pandit.[3]

Most of the early leaders of the British Indian Association were conservatives by tradition and temperament, although there were some progressive like Ramgopal Ghosh and Peary Chand Mitra.[1]

It was formed by the amalgamation of the Landholders’ Society and the Bengal British India Society.[1]

Landholders’ Society

It gave to the people the first lesson in the art of fighting constitutionally for their rights, and taught them manfully to assert their claims and give expression to their opinions. Ostensibly, it advocated the rights of zamindars, but as their rights were intimately bound up with those of the ryots, the one cannot be separated from the other.[1]

Mitra, Rajendra Lal

The Zamindari Association, which was later renamed Landholders’ Society, was established in 1838 by Dwarkanath Tagore, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Radhakanta Deb, Ramkamal Sen and Bhabani Charan Mitra.[4][5]

It has been described as “the first organisation of Bengal with distinct political object.” [1] The society virtually became defunct after the death of Dwarkanath Tagore.[4]

British India Society

The British India Society was set up in 1839 in England primarily as a result of the efforts of William Adam, who had come to India and befriended Ram Mohan Roy. On his return to England he took up India’s cause. Others involved were George Thompson, William Ednis, and Major General Briggs. They organised meetings and enlightened people about conditions in India. In 1841, it started publishing a newspaper named British Indian Advocate, edited by Professor William Adam[1][6]

In 1842, Dwarkanath Tagore went to England, accompanied by Chandramohan Chatterjee and Paramananda Maitra,. It was the second visit abroad by educated Indians and the first since that of Ram Mohan Roy.[6] Dwarkanath Tagore returned from England with George Thompson. His oratory charmed everybody and drew in Young Bengal members such as Ramgopal Ghosh, Tarachand Chakrabarti and Peary Chand Mitra.[7]

As a result of the efforts of George Thompson the Bengal British India Society was founded on 20 April 1843.[8] The object of the society was to secure the welfare, and advance the interests of all classes, but it would “adopt and recommend such measures only as are consistent with pure loyalty to the person and government of the reigning sovereign of the British dominions.” [1]

Its first executive committee consisted of four Europeans and eleven Indians with George Thompson as President, GF Remfry and Ramgopal Ghosh as Vice-Presidents, Peary Chand Mitra as Secretary. The members on the committee were Tarachand Chakrabarti, Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee, Brojonath Dhar, Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Hari Mohan, Govind Chandra Sen, Chandra Sekhar Deb, Shyama Charan Sen and Satkari Datta.[9] There were people like Ramtanu Lahiri, also associated in some way.[10]

In 1849, John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune prepared drafts of certain legislative efforts aimed at bringing the British-born subjects of the crown under the jurisdiction of the British East India Company, but the Europeans named these bills the Black Acts and opposed them tooth and nail.[1][11] This opposition led Indians to think that their fortunes were not linked to those of the Europeans and that they needed associations of Indians to take care of their interests. Moreover, some changes were anticipated with the possible termination of the Company’s charter.[1] Ramgopal Ghosh and Digamber Mitra played a particularly significant role in the formation of the British Indian Society.[4]

Objectives and extent of British Indian Association

During the early years the activities of the association consisted mainly of submissions of petitions to the Government and to the British Parliament on grievances. There was an inherent trust in the good intentions of the rulers. The association sought to take up issues on behalf of all sections of society but occasionally it made conscious efforts to protect the right of the landed aristocracy.[1] Despite its shortcomings, it was the only association of Indians which took up their causes and represented to the government.[4][12]

From the very beginning, the British Indian Association had an all-India outlook. Associations were formed in different parts of the country and they maintained correspondence with each other. Its first annual report noted with satisfaction the formation at Poona, Madras and Bombay successively of associations of similar nature, “though they elected to carry on operations independently.”[1] In Lucknow, Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee established the Awadh British Indian Association in 1871 and campaigned for the formation of a provincial government with equal number of nominated and elected legislators.[13]


The British Indian Association has been roundly criticised by subsequent political stalwarts. Ambika Charan Mazumdar, a Congress President, wrote: “Constructive policy they had none and seldom, if ever, they laid down any programme of systematic action for the political advancement of the country.”[1]

Bipin Chandra Pal complained that it had failed to cover the country with a network of branches.[1]

However, the British Indian Association played a catalytic role in building up political consciousness in India and more effective organisations followed. The Indian Association was formed in 1876,[1] and the Indian National Congress in 1885.[14]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Sengupta, Nitish K. (2001). History of the Bengali-speaking People. Ubs Pub Distributors Limited. p. 284. ISBN 978-81-7476-355-6.
  2. Sastri, Sivanath, Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Banga Samaj, (in Bengali) 1903/2001, New Age Publishers Pvt. Ltd., p. 116.
  3. Sastri, Sivanath, pp. 115–6.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Sastri, Sivanath, p. 115.
  5. Khan, BR (2012). "Zamindari Association, The". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  6. 1 2 Sastri, Sivanath, p. 99.
  7. Sastri, Sivanath, p. 101.
  8. Sastri, Sivanath, pp. 101–2.
  9. Khan, BR (2012). "Bengal British India Society". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  10. Sastri, Sivanath, p. 102.
  11. Sastri, Sivanath, p. 114.
  12. Mahmood, ABM (2012). "British Indian Association, The". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  13. Sengupta, Subodhchandra (1998). Sansad Bangali charitabhidhan. p. 202. ISBN 978-81-85626-65-9.
  14. Sengupta, Nitish, p. 290.
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