Indian National Congress

Satyendra Prasanna Sinha

President:  1863-1928 (Bombay, 1915)

Lord Satyendra Prasanna Sinha was born at Raipur in March 1863. His father was a rich and aristocratic Kayastha. After Lincoln's Inn he was called to the Bar in 1886 and returned to Calcutta. While there he acquired a large practice and in 1903 became the Standing Counsel of the Government of India, overriding the claims of an English Barrister.

Prasanna Sinha was an active member of the Indian National Congress from 1896 to 1919 when along with other moderates he left the organisation. At the Calcutta session of the Congress in 1896, he brought forward a proposal that no ruler of any Indian State should be deposed without an open judicial trial.

He was the first Indian to become the Advocate-General of Bengal in 1905, also the first Indian to enter the Governor General's Executive Council in 1909 which for so long had been the preserve of Englishmen.

However, this meant a great financial loss to him. Due to a difference of opinion with the Government over the Press Bill he tendered his resignation but later withdrew it on request. He returned to the Bar in 1910. He was knighted in 1914. In 1915, he was elected to preside over the Bombay session of the Congress. As President, he delivered a closely reasoned address demanding an authoritative statement from the British Government regarding the British policy towards India and this led to the historic announcement by Edwin Montagu the Secretary of State for India, on August 20, 1917.

In 1919, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Sinha of Raipur and appointed Under-Secretary of State for India. In both these capacities he was the first and only Indian to attain such distinctions. He was entrusted with piloting the Government of India Bill in the same year through the House of Lords.

In 1920, he returned to India to take up the Governorship of the Province of Bihar and Orissa. He held this position only for a short while and in 1921 was compelled to retire on grounds of health.

Prassana Sinha was a liberal in outlook. Due to the influence perhaps of the Tagore family, he became a supporter of the Brahmo Samaj. A moderate in politics, he was a firm believer in constitutional methods. To him, India's political goal was "autonomy within the Empire, which should be reached not by any sudden or revolutionary change, but by a gradual evolution and cautious progress." The recipient of many honours, he was perfect synthesis of the East and West and possessed a modesty which no success could spoil.

“Let us argue out for ourselves freely and frankly the various ways by which we can obtain the priceless treasure of self-government. It seems to me that it is possible only in one of the three following ways: First, by way of a free gift from the British nation.

Second, by wresting it from them. Third, by means of such progressive improvement in our mental, moral and material condition as will, on the one hand, render us worthy of it and, on the other, impossible for our rulers to withhold it.”

From the Presidential Address - Lord Satyendra Prasanna Sinha I.N.C. Session, 1915, Bombay.