Dadabhai Naoroji, also known as the ‘Grand Old Man of India’, was an important Indian nationalist leader and well known critic of the British economic policy of India. He is also regarded as one of the founding fathers of Indian Nationalism.
Born in Khadak, near Bombay, Dadabhai Naoroji was the only son of Naoroji Palanji Dordi, a Parsi priest, and his wife, Manekbai. In 1845, he graduated and went to London as a business partner in a firm. In 1850, at the age of twenty five, he became a leading professor of natural philosophy and mathematics at the Elphinstone Institution in Bombay. He played a key role in reforming societies, and was a founding member of the Bombay Association in 1852.
While in England, Naoroji wished to speak about the responsibilities of the British towards the Indians. He delivered speeches and published articles to highlight his view that the Indians were not being treated fairly under British rule. In the late 1860s, he established the East India Association to keep Britain well-informed of India’s needs and requirements, and to ensure fair treatment of the Indians. After his return to India, he succeeded in persuading the princes to fund the Association, which provided a forum for his campaign to allow Indians to enter the Indian Civil Service.
Further, Naoroji expounded the idea of ‘Drain Theory’ to demonstrate the way in which the wealth and resources of India were being exploited by the British. He published his statements by ways of facts and figures in a book titled ‘Poverty’ and ‘Un-British Rule in India’. This is believed to be the first economic critique of colonial India. Apart from this, he also founded several magazines and journals such as Rast Goftar and Voice of India.
In 1892, Naoroji was elected as Member of Parliament for Central Finsbury, London. Being a Parsi and not a Christian by birth, he strictly refused to take the oath of office on the Bible and took an oath in the name of God on his copy of Khordeh Avesta, the Zoroastrian sacred text. Apart from this, in 1895 he was appointed a member of the royal commission on Indian expenditure. In 1906, he publicly demanded ‘Swaraj’ for India from the Congress platform. He was the president of the Indian National Congress in 1886, 1893 and 1906. In the session of 1906, he tactfully postpond the unavoidable split between moderates and extremists in the Congress Party.
Naoroji was also the first Indian to be elected to the British House of Commons.
In his sixties and seventies, Naoroji became interested in English sports; he was the president of the football club in his parliamentary constituency, Central Finsbury.
Naoroji passed away on 1917.
1) The people of Great Britain found in difficult to pronounce his name correctly. Many newspapers, posters and letters addressed his differently as, Dedabhan Naorji, Devan Novoriji and Dadabhai Nowraggie.
2) As Dadabhai Naoroji was the senior-most Indian resident in the United Kingdom, he was often called upon to preside over issues related to Indians residing in the UK.