Life Of Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee, The First Congress President

Life Of Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee, The First Congress President

July 21, Friday marks the 116th anniversary of the passing of Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee, who played a significant role in establishing a Congress branch in London and presided over the first session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay in 1885.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Thursday, July 20, 2023, 10:02 AM IST
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Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee, also known as WC Bonnerjee or Umesh Chandra Banerjee: Co-founder and inaugural president of the Indian National Congress. | Twitter

July 21, Friday marks the 116th anniversary of the passing of Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee, also known as WC Bonnerjee or Umesh Chandra Banerjee. He holds the distinction of being the co-founder and inaugural president of the Indian National Congress. Notably, he played a significant role in establishing a Congress branch in London and presided over the first session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay in 1885, with 72 members in attendance.

Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee is the first Indian to serve as a Standing Counsel, which he became four times. Here is a brief outline on his life.

Education and Career

Born on December 29, 1844, in Calcutta's Kidderpore area (now Kolkata), Womesh Bonnerjee was the son of Girish Chunder Bonnerjee, an attorney, and Saraswati Devi. He received his education at the Oriental Seminary and the Hindu School. Womesh married Hemangini Motilal in 1859.

In 1862, he commenced his career as a clerk at WP Gillanders, a law firm associated with the Calcutta Supreme Court, where he gained familiarity with legal matters. After four years, in 1864, he journeyed to England to pursue legal studies, after receiving a scholarship by RJ Jijibhai of Bombay. There, he joined the Middle Temple and was called to the bar in June 1867. Notably, Bonnerjee became the first Indian to contest a seat in the British Parliament as a representative of the Liberal Party, although he was unsuccessful in the election.

Bonnerjee and the Congress

During his time in England, Bonnerjee played an instrumental role in funding the British Committee of Congress and its publications in London. He has also served as the general secretary of the London Indian Society, an organization founded by Dadabhai Naoroji. In 1868, he returned to Calcutta and established his legal practice, earning a reputable standing as a barrister. One of his notable cases was defending Surendranath Banerjee in a contempt of court case in the High Court of Calcutta.

First session of Congress in 1885, attended by 72 members.

First session of Congress in 1885, attended by 72 members. | Twitter

In December 1885, Proposed by Allan Octavian Hume, Womesh Bonnerjee assumed the position of President in the first session of the Indian National Congress, held in Bombay. The first session of Congress was attended by 72 members. During the subsequent session in the following year, presided over by Dadabhai Naoroji, Bonnerjee proposed the establishment of Standing Committees for each province to enhance coordination and efficiency within the party's functioning.

He was elected as Congress President once again during its Allahabad session in 1892. Womesh was a strong supporter of the Swadeshi movement. Among other things, he dejected the salt tax, calling it completely unjust. After battling a long illness, he passed away in Calcutta, at the age of 61 years.

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