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Dadabhai Naoroji biography

Dadabhai Naoroji

(1825-1917)

biography

Dadabhai Naoroji
Dadabhai Naoroji
        Dadabhai Naoroji was born on 4 September 1825 in a priestly Parsi family of Bombay. His father, Naoroji Palanji, died when his son was only four years old and Dadabhai was brought up by his mother,
who though uneducated, had boundless courage and fortitude, and managed to give a good education to her son. Dadabhai was educated at the Elphinstone Institute and later graduated from Elphinstone College, Bombay; in 1845 He was the product of pre-university English education but was in no way inferior to the university era. His mother was eager to get her son married. Thus, Dadabhai was married at the age of eleven to a seven-year old Parsi girl Gulabi, thus revealing that child marriage was not the monopoly of the Hindu society. They had three children; one son and two daughters.
After his graduation, Dadabhai was appointed head assistant at his alma mater, the Elphinstone Institute, and in 1850, he shifted to Elphinstone College as assistant professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. In 1855, he went to England to join as a representative of Cama & Co, the first Indian firm to open a branch in London. But soon differences cropped up between the company’s management and him because he did not want to be party to their fraudulent and deceitful conduct. He parted company with Cama & Company in 1859. In the meantime, he was appointed professor of Gujarati at the University College. London. He held that post for ten years till 1865-66. In 1859, he started his own firm Dadabhai Naoroji & Co, which flourished for a while and then ran into bad days. After that, Dadabhai concentrated more on political and economic issues facing India and educating the people in England through speeches and writings about the plight of Indians under the British Rule. During 1865 to 1876, Naoroji travelled back and forth between India and England. He was an admirer of the Western system of education like a number of his contemporaries. Thus, he was active in the field of education during his sojourns in India, establishing several schools including those for girls, and also worked towards improving the teaching methods and efficiency of the existing schools. He was also active in the social reform movement concerning the Parsi and Hindu communities. Back in London, Dadabhai gradually became the most distinguished member of the small band of Indians who made England their centre of activity for political advancement of India by awakening the consciousness of the English towards their sense of duty and awakening their democratic instinct and liberal principles about which they were noted in the world. In order to carry out this work more effectively, he, in collaboration with W.C. Bonnerjee, started a society in 1865 called London Indian Society. Dadabhai was the president and Bonnerjee its secretary. The society was amalgamated within a year with another society known as the East India Association' which was formed in 1866. I his society became very popular and counted among its member’s patrons and sympathizers, a large number of Englishmen." It also had branches in India at several places. In 1869, Naoroji came to India for a brief period during which he started a branch of the East India Association in Bombay and undertook a lecturing tour to educate the Indian people about the objectives of the association.
In 1874, Naoroji was appointed Dewan of Baroda state, but resigned after a year due to differences with the Maharaja and the British Agent stationed there. In July 1875, he was elected member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation and to the Town Council but the following year, he resigned from both and left for England. In 1883, he was nominated as Justice of Peace and was elected to the corporation for the second time. In January 1885, when the Bombay Presidency Association was formed, he was made one of its vice-presidents. In August the same year, he was nominated to the Bombay Legislative Council. Then, in December, the Indian National Congress was formed in Bombay. He took active part in its formation; he was made its president thrice, in 1886, 1893 and 1906.
      Early in 1886, he went to England to contest the election to the British Parliament, but did not succeed. In fact, he contested four times and succeeded only once in 1893 from Central Finsbury constituency in London. He sat as a Gladstonian Liberal, the party which stood for Home Rule for Ireland. He was the first Indian to become a member of the British Parliament. However, his speeches outside the Parliament proved more effective than those he delivered inside, which were not many anyway. The British public heard him as he was a liberal and a moderate, who believed that India had benefited greatly from the British rule and advocated the continuation of the British connection. Like other moderates' he had full faith in the sense of justice and fair play of the British people. At the same time, in line with other moderates like Gokhale and R.C. Dutt, he was very critical of the economic policies of the British administration – the administration which was fully supported by Whitehall, London.
He made significant contribution to Indian economic thought, especially finance. He brought home before the British public, the fact that Indian capital and wealth was being depleted year after year, to enrich England. His famous observation that the streets of London were paved with the wealth of India, was repeated from hundreds of platforms in India for years. He wrote a series of papers on the appalling poverty of the Indian people and on Indian finance. He made a concerted effort in enquiring about the causes of Indian poverty and wrote a paper, Poverty in India, in 1870, which he read before the East India Association. Later he developed this subject and published a pamphlet, Conditions of India. Continued research into the subject during his stay in England, was undertaken with the help of official files and documents in the India Office Library. He also entered into voluminous correspondence with public figures there, to propound his now famous ‘Drain Theory’ i.e. drains of India’s wealth to England. His finding resulted in his most famous book, Poverty and Un-British Rule in India, published in London in 1901. He was also the first Indian to have estimated the per capita income of India. Naoroji vigorously pleaded for readjustment of Indo-British Financial relations. The appointment, in 1873, of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Indian Finance, known as the Fawcett Committee, was largely the result of his efforts and he gave evidence before it. Not much carne out of the Committee but, undaunted, he continued his efforts, which resulted in the appointment, in 1896, of the Royal Commission on Indian Expenditure (better known as Welby Commission) of which he was the only Indian member. Not satisfied with the findings of the commission, Naoroji, along with Wedderburn and Thomas Caine, submitted a minority report. In 1898, he also gave evidence before the Indian Currency Commission.
Naoroji was a powerful speaker and for years he continued t0 express his views through his well-attended lectures. Perhaps the most memorable, was the one which he delivered on 6 July 1900 in the aid of Indian Famine Relief Fund in which he sarcastically admired Lord Salisbury, secretary of state, for revealing the truth that ‘India must be bled'. He said, ‘You have formed this great British Empire at our expense, and you will hear what reward we have received from you. The European army in India at any time was comparatively insignificant. During the Indian Mutiny you had only forty thousand troops there. It was two hundred thousand Indian troops that shed their blood and fought your battles which gave you (your) magnificent Empire. It is at India’s cost and blood this Empire has been formed and maintained up to the present day. It is in consequence of the tremendous cost of these wars and because of the millions you draw from us every year that India is so completely exhausted and bled you impose upon us an immense European military and civil service; you draw from us a heavy taxation. But in the disbursement and the disposal of that taxation we have not the slightest voice. I ask anyone here to stand up and say that he would be satisfied, if after having to pay heavy taxation, he was given no voice in governance. I ask any one of you whether there is any great mystery in these famines and plagues. No other country, exhausted as India has been exhausted by an evil system of government, would have taken it for even half the time.’
Apart from publishing tracts and books on the Indian problem, he also ventured into journalism. In 1883, he started the voice of India in Bombay which was later incorporated in the Indian Spectator. He regularly contributed articles in papers like India, Manchester Guardian and other British papers. He wrote hundreds of ‘Letters to the Editor’ in those papers. In 1889, he started the Rast Guftar, (Path of Truth) a Gujarati weekly concentrating on social reform. It lasted for only two years.
Naoroji was an ardent social reformer and also promoter of education in the Bombay Presidency, endowing schools for the poor and women, especially for the Parsi community. For that purpose, he founded many important organizations like Framji Institute, Irani Fund, Parsi Gymnasium, and Widow Re-marriage Association. He also helped in establishing the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Asiatic Society in Bombay.
He played a memorable role in the Indian National Congress, presiding over its session in 1886 and 1893. But the most memorable one was that of 1906 at Calcutta, when he was asked to preside and patch up the differences between the moderates' led by Gokhale and extremists' led by Tilak. Naoroji had stayed above internal quarrels in the Congress, thus earning the respect of both the factions. The conflict between the two factions thus did not come out in the open at Calcutta but resulted in ugly scenes and a split at Surat next year. There was no Naoroji in 1907 to serve as a peacemaker. The 1906 session of the Congress is also significant because the idea of Swaraj was propounded by Naoroji from the Congress platform for the first time, though it meant self-rule within the Empire at that time.
Dadabhai came to India for good in 1913 and was welcomed back as a triumphant hero by the people of India. His active life was over. He died on 30 June 1917 at the age of ninety-one in Bombay. Thousands of his admirers joined in the funeral procession. It is given to but few to live so full and complete a life as Dadabhai Naoroji did.

Quotes

Indians were British citizens with a birthright to be free"[ and that they had] every right to claim an honorable fulfillment of our British pledged rights....It is futile to tell me that we must wait till all the people are ready. The British people did not -wait for their parliament....Self-government is the only and chief remedy. In self-government is our hope, strength and greatness. I am a Hindu, a Muslim, a Parsi, but above all an Indian First.

Be united, persevere, and achieve self-Government, so that the millions now perishing by poverty, famine, and plague may be saved, and India may once more occupy her proud position of yore among the greatest and civilized nations of the world".

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