The year 1851 was a time when the nation was still a conglomeration of British territory, protectorates and a sprinkling of sovereign states whose rulers as well as the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar carried out the wishes of the board of directors of an trading company operating from England. Nearly a century had gone by after the battle of Plassey. The nation was still six years away from. its first bid to shake off the foreign yoke. The society was sharply divided over child sacrifice and widow burning. The iron horse was in the process of being introduced. The medieval age had almost departed and the modern times was about to step in when British Indian Association (BIA) was set up. It was the first political body of the nation and can really challenge Indian National Congress for the title of the Grand Old Party. With Radhakanta Deb as its first president and Debendranath Tagore as its secretary, BIA has come to stay. The next year, it opened its doors to European landholders of Bengal and Bihar and suggested that the both the Sudder Diwani and Sudder Nizamat Adalat be merged with the Supreme Court, at what was then known as Calcutta. As the years rolled by BIA became inextricably linked with the life of the nation. An association of the landed gentry who at that time were the rich and famous of the day, its activities were not always confined to prayers and petitions to the Raj. Nor was it a typical rich men’s club whose activities usually tend to be in support of the powers that be. Kali Prasanna Singh and Pratap Chandra Sinha of Paikpara, both members of the BIA had paid the “vast sum” of Rs 1000 when Reverend James Long was fined for translating, publishing and circulating Dinabandhu Mitra’s play Nildarpan. Covering itself with glory, BIA marched on. Such was its stature, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhaya, deputy magistrate of Khulna and Dr Mahendralal Sarkarc the founder of Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science became its members. At the height of its glory in 1885, BIA did not care much when the Indian National Congress was established. The INC overshadowed BIA. But the nation’s oldest political body had the last laugh when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, then a little known bar-at-law from Durban visited BIA for drawing up a memorandum to the viceroy to highlight the plight of the Indians in South Africa.

Glorious Past

Over the years, British Indian Association continued to be a happy mixture of conservatism and progress. Perhaps, it is this facet which would see the BIA maintain its existence when the British had departed and holding on to large plots of land which often covered districts was an unthinkable state of affairs in post-independence India. The founders of the BIA and their successors being products of colonial rule found it prudent to associate themselves with the then powers that be. Little wonder, on a November day in 1857 such leading land owners as Dwarkanath Tagore, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Radha Kanta Deb had the foresight to rope in the editor of The Englishman, W C Harry when they formed the Zamindar Association which later came to be known a Landholder’s

Society. Can one hazard a guess that the LS took a leaf from the formation of British India Society which came into being in 1839 in England by Adam, an associate of Rammohan Roy ? But the scourge of colonial rule continued to hurt the landed gentry as well as the common people. The former were more acutely aware of its bias towards the white than as the rulers and the subject race were placed on unequal footing before the eyes law. A proposed Bill to bring the British born subjects under the trial of local courts was vehemently opposed

But BIA continued to be the voice of the leading Indians of the day. Its pressure seeking representation culminated in Prasanna Coomer Tagore appointed as “clerk assistant:” for the Legislative Assembly. Its members placed suggestions during the drafting of Indian Penal Code and made their presence felt in the Police Commission while drafting the Police Act. Suggestions came forth for creation of Municipal Corporation of Kolkata now better known as KMC. Gheraos And bandhs were nowhere in the in the horizon and skillfully drafted memorandums were the orders of the day leading to the rolling back of Income Tax Act as well as that of on tobacco. In keeping with the changing times successful professionals like Bankim Chandra Chattopadhaya and Mahendralal Sarkar were inducted into the association. The association’s efforts came to nought when Income Tax Act was reintroduced. But instead of throwing up its hands, the BIA demanded scrutiny by Indian representatives into home charges, PWD, income tax, legislative council beside supporting the agitation against lowering of age for Indian Civil Service examination. The BIA congratulated the Indian National Congress when it was formed in Poona. The INC held its second meeting at BIA and Dadabhai Naoroji’s name was proposed as its president by septuagenarian Joykrishna Mookerji

“the Nestor of Bengal Zemindars” The INC and BIA continued to exchange views and delegates. On 11 November, 1896, a little-known barrister from South Africa walked up the stairs of BIA seeking its help to pen a memorial to the viceroy to draw his attention to the plight of Indians in South Africa. The association geared itself up for the 20i1 century restricting its membership to Indians and landholders. It protested against Bengal Tenancy Act Amendment Bill. The” association also raised its voice against the Government of India Consolidation Act. It deprived a citizen from filing a suit against secretary of state for India complaining the jurisdiction of High Court was being reduced. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who had sought the BIA’s help for a cause dear to his heart took a step forward to endear himself to the soul of the nation when he led an agitation to break the salt law. Living in comfort, the BIA members were not oblivious of the role of salt in the lives of those less fortunate than them. The association supported agitation against the enhancement of salt duty. Though the BIA may not have participate in agitations and courted prison terms like Congress workers, the men clad in three piece suits and the finest dhoti kurta had greater foresight than the men in khadi. The BIA members strongly protested against the Communal Award which the INC chose to support throwing its political wisdom to the winds.

The Dragon Seed

The dragon seed for the BIA was sown when the then Premier of Bengal, Abul Kasem Fazlul Haq moved a Bill in the state Assembly seeking amendment of Bengal Tenancy Act. The wily politician who could teach a lesson or two to the modern day politicians in creating a votebank. He may have had personal relations with some of the BIA members, but sought to champion the cause of the majority-the peasants. The man who had graduated in mathematics had in no time worked out the simple electoral arithmetic that the ryots far outnumbered the zamindar and his clan. Ironically, the Bill seeking the amendment of Bengal Tenancy Act was moved by the the revenue minister, Sir B P Singh Roy, a prominent member of the association. The BIA’s contention that it was a move to undo the Permanent Settlement enacted by the British parliament which an Indian legislature cannot tamper with fell on deaf ears.

Up Against A Wall

The Partition came as crushing blow to the BIA’s existence. Extensive landholdings including, Mymansingh, Natore, Gouripore, Dighapatia, Bhagyakul, Santosh found itself in what was then east Pakistan. The association moved court seeking compensation of what had overnight become enemy property. Payment and quantum of compensation was a sore point with the association. It expressed its dissatisfaction with the inadequacy of compensation and formula worked out for it. Things worsened with the passing of Abolition of Zamindary Bill during the chief ministership of Dr B C Roy. Many a litigation in the trial courts and Calcutta High over the grievances of big urban property owners continued to be made by the association.

Picking Up The Pieces

The BIA was saddled with the maintenance of a large building and larger number of tenants paying a paltry rent. In July, 1998 it entered into an agreement to develop its property. Looking forward to a bright future it vacated the building where generations of land holders and deliberated upoq matters of import to themselves and the state. Its members walked into the spanking new building on 1 April, 2003 and the association began itS second innings. It reinvented itself into a new auteur. Old books found a place in the library. In all, 30 oil paintings were restored. On 18 May, 2007 the then Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi inaugurated the new building where his grand father, yet to become the. Father of the Nation had come to seek the BIA’s help for the cause of fellow Indians in South Africa. The association’s efforts to connect its glorious past ith the vibrant present continues. With grants-in-aid from the Union ministry of culture modernisation of books and documents have been made. Symposiums are regularly held, The most significant of them was addressed by Dr Robert Travers, an associate professcr of history, Cornell University, USA. Two volumes of past proceedings were released by

Rudrangshu Mukherjee. The membership is open to all Indians now and its primary goal is promotion of education, research and culture. As the 21st century rolls on, the BIA progresses with its legacy keeping pace with an ever changing world around it but keeping in touch with its roots. Let us wish it well with cheering words. ” May a swift wind assist your passage.” It deserves no less.


The Library of British Indian Association is one hundred and sixty-three years old and has an invaluable collection of Books, Reports, Newspapers and Gazettes of the colonial period.


Books are mainly on History, Political Science, Economics, Law and Biography. Some rare books of this library :

The Historians’ History of the World/ Ed. By Henry Smith Williams .-

  1. London: The Times, 1908 (25 vols).
  2. A History of European thought in the nineteenth century/John Theodore Merz. Edinburg: William Blackwood/ 1912 (4 vols).
  3. Ayeen Akbery or Akbar’s Regulations for the Government of Hindustan/ Abul Fazi Allami/ Tr.by Francis Gladwin/ Ed.by Jagadis Mukhopadhyaya.- Calcutta: The Indian Publication Society Ltd.,1783.
  4. Sketch of Mairwara; giving a brief account of the origin and habits of the Mairs/ Lieutenant Colonel C.J.Dixon.- London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1850
  5. A History of British India/ Sir William Wilson Hunter.- London: Longman, Green & Co., 1899(2vols)
  6. Memoirs of the Emperor Jahangir. Written by himself & tr. from a Persian Manuscript / By Major David Price.- Calcutta: N.Chakraborti B.Elctro Machine Press, 1896.
  7. Lord Rosebery’s speeches (1874-1896).- London: Neville Beeman Ltd., 1896. 
  8. Speeches by George Thomson / Ed.by Raj Jogeshur Mitter.- Calcutta: S.K.Lahiri Co., 1895
  9. Introduction to Political Science/ J.R.Seeley.- London: Macmillan, 1896.
  10. Correspondence of Charles, first Marques Cornwallis/ Ed.by Charles Ross.-London: John Murray, 1859.
  11. The British government in India  the story of Viceroys and Government houses/ The Marques Curzon of Kedleston, K.G.- London: Cassel & Coltd.,1925 (2vols).
  12. New India or India in Transition / Henry Cotton.- London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.,1907.
  13. The State: elements of historical and practical politics/ Woodrow Wilson / Rev. by Edward Elliot.- London: D.C. Heath. 1919.
  14. The Principles of Economics of a treatise on the Industrial Mechanism of Society and other papers/ W.Stanley Jevons.- London. Macmillan & Co., 1905.
  15. Report on Indigo Commission


  1. Some invaluable reports of undivided Bengal
  2.  Report on the Administration of Bengal (1892-93 onwards. 
  3.  Reports of the Agricultural Development, Bengal (1909 onwards. 
  4. Reports on the working of the District Boards in Bengal (1904-05 onwards)
  5.  Annual Report of the Department of Land Records & Agriculture, Bengal (1887-88 onwards) 
  6.  Reports on the Legal Affairs of the Bengal Government (1878-79 onwards)
  7.  Reports on the working of Municipalities in Bengal (1892-93 onwards)
  8.  Season & Crop report of Bengal (1901-02 onwards)
  9.  Bengal trade by Rail and River (1901-02 onwards)
  10.  Report on Public Instruction of Bengal (1906-07 onwards)
  11.  Report on the working Hospitals and Dispensaries in Bihar, Orissa (1912 onwards)


The Association has in its possession four important newspapers, i.e

  1.  The Statesman : Published by R.Knight and Sons. Propritors: Anath Nath Patra (1918 onwards)
  2.  The Englishman : Published by R.L.Bapta for the Englishman Ltd. (1907 onwards)
  3.  Amrita Bazar Patrika: Published by T.k. Biswas, Patrika Press, 12, Ananda Chatterjee Lane, Calcutta (1907 onwards)
  4.  The Hindoo Patriot: The Oldest Native Paper in India, The Hindoo Patriot Press,Calcutta. Published by Priya Nath Das (1893 onwards)


  1.  The Gazette of India (1873 onwards)
  2.  The Calcutta Gazette ( 1911 onwards)
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