Patriots > Early Nationalist and Moderates >Naoroji Dadabhai
Naoroji Dadabhai (1825-1917)
Dadabhai Naoroji was born at Bombay on 4 September 1825, in a priestly Parsi family. His father was Naoroji Palanji, and his mother Manekbai, who shaped and moulded Dadabhai’s mind and character from his early childhood. Manekbai became a widow when Dadabhai was barely four years old. Despite her misfortune and in the face of several hardships, she gave of her best to bring up and educate her son. She gave him the best education and thus moulded him into the type of man Dadabhai later grew to be.

Dadabhai has himself stated, “ She made me what I am.” Dadabhai married early when he was only in his eleventh year. His wife, Gulabi, who was barely seven at the time, was the daughter of Shorabji Shroff. He had three children, one son and two daughters.

Dadabhai had his early schooling in a primary institution run by a Mehtaji at Bombay. On its completion, Manekbai, as urged by Mehtaji, sent her son to the Elphinstone Institution, Bombay, for his secondary education. This was followed by a course of studies at the Elphinstone College. Dadabhai’s performance here was outstanding, and in 1840 he obtained the Clare Scholarship. He became a graduate in 1845. In 1916, he was awarded the Honorary degree of LL.B. by the Bombay University.

On 27 June 1855 he left for London to join business as a partner in Cama’s firm in London. Four years later he started his own firm, having returned to India in the meantime, He travelled back and forth on business between India and England during 1865 to 1876. In 1886 he went to England to contest for election to Parliament and in 1907 to espouse the cause of the freedom on India from British rule.

Foreign travel left its mark on his character and personality. Himself a product of liberal western education, he was an admirer of the western system of education. He sent his daughter abroad for medical education. His son, Adi, was taken to London at the age of 5 and was put to school there. Dadabhai believed that India had cause to be grateful to the British for introducing the western system of education in India and he helped several Indian students who went to England for higher studies.

Books and friends added their contribution to the flowering of his personality. ‘Shahnama’ of Firdausi, ‘Improvement of Mind’ by Watt, the works of Carlyle, Mill and Herbert Spencer, to name a few, made a deep impression on him, His constant companion was ‘The Duties of the Zoroastrians’, which stressed pure thoughts, pure speech and pure deed.

His friends among foreigners were innumerable. They started with Professor Orlebar of the Elphinstone College who hailed Dadabhai as “the promise of India”, and Sir Erskine Perry, the Chief Justice of the Bombay Supreme Court, who was so struck by Dadabahai’s academic distinction that he suggested that he should be sent to England. He was willing to pay half the expenses provided the community was prepared to share the other half. Later, he helped Dadabhai on the Civil Service issue.

Samuel Smith, a leading cotton merchant was impressed by Dadabhai’s character and became a close friend and partner in Dadabhai’s fight for the freedom of India. Allan Hume, the founder of the Indian National Congress, was another friend. So too were Sir W. Wedderburn Martin Wood, the Editor of the Times of India, who supported Dadabhai’s candidature to Parliament, Henry Mayers Hyndmann a British Socialist, Major Evans Bell of the Madras Staff Corps, Sir George Birdwood, Sheriff of Bombay, Charles Bradlaugh, M.P., W.S. Caine and W.A. Chambers. The bond that united them with Dadabhai was love for India and a keen desire to understand her problems.

In India, his friends included Sorabjee Bengali the social reformer, Khursetji Cama, Kaisondas Mulji, K.R. Cama, the Orientalist, Naoroji Furdonji, Jamesdji Tata, and some Indian Princes. Among his younger friends were R.G. Bhandarkar, the Orientalist, N.G. Chandavarkar, the nationalist reformer, Pherozeshah Mehta, G.K. Gokhale, Dinshaw Wacha and M.K. Gandhi.

Soon after graduation in 1845, he was appointed as the Native Head Assistant at the Elphinstone Institute, Bombay. In 1850 he became an Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at the Elphinstone College, Bombay. He was the first Indian to be appointed Professor at this College. He taught in the special classes held for the spread of women’s education. In March 1856, he was nominated as Professor of Gujarati in the University College, London, a post he continued to hold till 1865-66. During this period Dadabhai took a keen interest in and laboured hard for the spread of education.

In 1855-56, he became a business partner and took charge of the London Branch of Cama and Co., and also became a member of the Manchester Cotton supply Association, Further, he took an active part in the deliberation of the Council of Liverpool, the Athenaeum and the National Indian Association.

In 1865 he founded, along with W.C. Bonnerjee, the London India Society and became its President. He continued as President till 1907, when he returned to India. Thereafter, till his death he remained as its Honorary President’.

In 1861 he established the London Zoroastrian Association. In 1862 he separated from Cama and Co., and started his own business in the name of Dadabhai Naoroji & Co. On 1December 1866 he founded the East India Association, London, whose scope for activity was wider, and became its Secretary.

In 1974 he was appointed the Dewan of Baroda and a year later, on account of differences with the Maharaja and the Resident, he resigned the Dewanship. In July 1875 he was elected a Member of the Municipal Corporation, Bombay, and in September of the same year, he was elected to the Town Council of the Corporation. In 1876 he resigned and left for London. He was appointed as Justice of the Peace in 1883 and was elected to the Bombay Municipal Corporation for the second time. In August 1885 he joined the Bombay Legislative Council at the invitation of the Governor, Lord Reay.

On 31 January 1885, when the Bombay Presidency Association came into being, he was elected as one of its Vice-Presidents. At the end of the same year, he took a leading part in the founding of the Indian National Congress and became its President thrice, in 1886, 1893 and 1906.

During this period, he was engaged in other important activities. In 1873 he gave evidence before the Parliamentary Committee on Indian Finance, the Fawcett Committee, which was appointed through his efforts. Here he sought to prove that the incidence of taxation in India was very high, while the average income of an Indian was barely Rs. 20/-.

In 1883 he had started a newspaper called the Voice of India.
In 1887 he gave evidence before the Public Service Commission. In

1902 he was elected as a Member of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons, representing Central Finsbury. He was a firm believer in parliamentary democracy and he thought that he should espouse the cause of Indian freedom on the floor of the Commons.

In 1897 he was appointed a Member of the Royal Commission on Indian Expenditure Kinden known as the Welby Commission. He gave evidence as a witness before this Commission in 1897, and in 1898 he submitted his views in the form of two statements to the Indian Currency Commission.

In 1905 he represented India at the International socialist Congress at Amsterdam. Dadabhai was frequent contributor of articles and papers to various journals and magazines. He wrote regularly for the Students Literary Miscellany, a journal started by the students Literary and Scientific Society at the Elphinstone College, Bombay, which was founded in 1850. He himself edited his society’s Gujarati journal the Dnyan Prakash. In 1889, along with a few collaborators, he started the Rast Goftar (Truth Teller), a Gujarati weekly which was known for its advanced and progressive views, and edited it for two years.

In 1883 he started the Voice of India in Bombay and later incorporated it into the Indian Spectator. He contributed articles to newspapers and magazines in England like the Commerce, the India, the Contemporary Reviews,the Daily News, the Manchester Guardian, the Weekly News and Chronicle and the Pearson’s Magazine. The Gujarati paper Samachar Darpan published a series of articles by him entitled “Dialogues of Socrates and Diogenese”.

In 1878 he published a pamphlet, ‘Poverty of India’, later revised and enlarged in the form of a book published in 1901 from London, under the title ‘Poverty and un-British Rule in India. He is known in the history of Indian economic thought for his pioneering work in assessing India’s national income, Under the title ‘Dadabhai Naoroji’s Speeches and Writings’, G.A. Natesan & Co., Madras, Published various learned papers which he wrote and read before different societies.

Under the title ‘The Right of Labour’ Dadabhai had formulated and published a scheme for the establishment of Industrial Commissioners’ course and for the recognition of labour’s right to protection. If passed into law, it would have ensured justice to all wage earners and industrial peace.

He founded the Framji Institute after he left India for London to join business, the Irani Fund, the Parsi Gymnasium, the Widow Remarriage Asociation and the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1851. He founded several important organizations and belonged to many leading societies and institutions, both in India and the U.K. Some of the important organisations which he helped to found are the Indian National Congress, the East Indian Association London, the Royal Asiatic Society of Bombay and so on.

In personal life Dadabhai was simple, dignified and of a helpful disposition. His letters, which he wrote in his own hand, are revealing and bring out the truth-loving and warm-hearted character that he was. He was a lover of books and he presented his vast library to the Bombay Presidency Association.

He was a leading social reformer of the second half of the nineteenth century. He did not believe in caste restrictions and was a pioneer of women’s education and an upholder of equal laws for men and women. Having been a teacher himself of girls, he realized the importance of girl’s education. He stressed the importance of primary education.

A keen Zoroastrian, but catholic in outlook, with friends among non-Parsis, like Hume, Wedderburn, Badrudin-Tyabji, Dr. Bhau Daji, K.T.Telang, G.K.Gokhale, he exuded the need for purity in thought, speech and action in his book ‘The Duties of the Zoroastrians’.

He was a prominent nationalist of progressive views. He prefaced his Calcutta Congress (1906) speech by quoting Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman: “Good government could never be a substitute for government by the people themselves.” In the same speech he declared: “We do not ask any labour, we want only justice. The whole matter can be compressed in one word, 'Self-Government' or ‘Swaraj’ like that of the United Kingdom or the Colonies.” He belonged to the school of moderates, and was a great believer in constitutional methods.

He as well-informed about international politics. He contrasted in detail the condition of Ireland with that of India in their financial relations with Britain. He was concerned about the South African issue.

He was a strong critic of British financial administration of India. He complained about the lack of proper distribution of expenditure in the “costliest administration of India”. To Britain’s financial exploitation, he ascribed epidemics like plague, famine, etc, because Government seldom spent an adequate sum to organise preventive measures.

In economics, he believed in self-sufficiency and the importance of cottage industries. He declared: “Swadeshi is a forced necessity for India in its unnatural economic muddle. As long as the economic condition remains unnatural and impoverishing…. The talk of applying economic laws to the condition remains unnatural and impoverishing….the talk of applying economic laws to the condition on India is adding insult to injury.” Although he was a champion of Swadeshi, he was not against the use of machines for organising key industries in the country. He urged Tata to raise Indian capital for his iron and steel plants.

Dadabhai was a great public speaker, both in English and in Gujarati. His speeches were remarkable for their simplicity and forcefulness.

Known as ‘The grand old man of India’, Dadabhai Naoroji was a great public figure during 1845-1917. He was in the forefront of the Social Reform Movement. He was indefatigable in his efforts to lift Indian women from their backwardness and channelise the energies of young men who had received the benefits of western education in wholesome directions.

Dadabhai was universally acknowledged to be honest, impartial and fair. When a dispute arose between the Parsi priests of Udwada and Navsari, he was selected to be the sole arbitrator of the dispute.

His forte, however, was Finance. The appointment of the parliamentary committee in 1873 to inquire into Indian Finance was due to his untiring efforts.

He was a patriot and a nationalist of a high order. India was constantly in his thoughts. As Dinshaw Wacha said: “By universal consent, he has been acclaimed as the Father of Indian Politics and Economics”. Through the innumerable societies and organisations with which he was associated and his contributions to organs of public opinion, he voiced the grievances of the Indian people and proclaimed their aims, ideals and aspirations to the world at large. He won with effortless ease high distinction on many fronts and will always be remembered in the history of the national movement.

Author : V. K. R. V. Rao