Indian National Congress

Bishan Narayan Dar

President: 1861-1946 (Calcutta, 1911)

Pandit Bishan Narayan Dar, one of the most prominent nationalist leaders in the early phase of the Indian National Congress, was born at Barabanki (U.P.) in 1864. He started his education in the traditional way of North Indian aristocracy, with Urdu and Persian.

He had his college education at Lucknow. Then he went to England where he studied Law and was called to the Bar. On his return in 1887 he started his practice as a barrister in Oudh.

His interest in public affairs and the welfare of his country, however, did not allow him to remain content with a successful professional career. He was drawn into politics in 1892 and remained a most active figure in the national movement till his death in 1916.

It was in 1892, that Bishan Narayan Dar first attended the Indian National Congress, and from that time on he was a regular participant in the Congress sessions. He was one of the most eloquent speakers at the Congress.

In 1911, he presided over the Calcutta Session of the Congress and his Presidential address was one of the best in the history of the Congress. He was also a prominent figure in the U.P. Political Conference.

As a member of the Imperial Legislative Council for several years in the beginning of the 20th century, he boldly advocated the nationalist cause and criticised governmental policies and measures. His political ideas were best reflected in the speeches he delivered at the Congress sessions and in the Imperial Legislative Council, and also in his numerous writings.

Speaking of the reform of the Legislative Councils at the 1890 session of the Congress, he opposed the idea of special minority representation. "The Legislative Council is a body where national interests ought to be represented and where all sectarian interests and class bias should be excluded. The object of a National Assembly is only to discuss those matters which are common to the whole Indian Nation. On principle therefore, I object to any clause for the representation of minorities." Again in his Presidential address at the 1911 session of the Congress, he said, "Sectarian political organisations are always objectionable, and nowhere more so than in India, where racial, religious and social prejudices are apt to enter into their composition and pervert the real aim for which they are started."

Like other nationalists of his day, Bishan Narayan Dar had also faith in the British sense of justice. But at the same time he was a vehement critic of governmental policies and measures. He was in favour of Indianisation of the bureaucracy, and wanted simultaneous Civil Service examinations in England and India.

In 1893, when the cow-killing riots took place in Azamgarh (U.P.) which led to a wholesale persecution of the Hindus, he took up the cause of the persecuted Hindus and fought on their behalf in the law courts and in the press.

In this Azamgarh pamphlet he criticised the Government officials in their dealing with the situation. It created a sensation all over the country. He was a prolific writer. His article in the 'Leader', entitled 'Present Political Situation', published in March 1910, provoked the Government to take action against the editor and the publisher.

Bishan Narayan Dar held very liberal views on religion and social reforms. The Kashmiri Pandit community had declared him an outcast for going to England and demanded a Prayaschit on his return in 1887. He boldly refused, and ultimately succeeded in breaking the old Dharma Sabha and in forming, with the help of the progressive elements, a new organisation which came to be known as Bishan Sabha.

“So far as it rests with Indians to discharge that great duty, it is done by the Congress by its humble but earnest endeavours. For the last 26 years it has been telling the people what they owe to the British Government, and the British Government what it might do to make its rule even more beneficent than it is.

But by a strange perversity of fate this organisation - national in its composition and loyal and patriotic in its aims - has been maligned, misrepresented, abused and ridiculed.”

From the Presidential Address - Bishan Narayan Dar I.N.C. Session, 1911, Calcutta.