Sir Pherozeshah Mehta

views updated

Sir Pherozeshah Mehta

Sir Pherozeshah Mehta (1845-1915) was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, a member of the Imperial Legislative Council of India, and an outstanding leader of the Bombay municipality.

Pherozeshah Mehta was probably born in Bombay, of respectable middleclass Parsi parents. He was one of the first Indians to secure Western higher education and the first Parsi to take the master's degree. He also became a barrister-at-law in London, where he absorbed the ideals of Gladstonian liberalism, which thereafter guided his political life.

By 1872 Mehta was prominent in the Bombay municipality, and it was to his leadership that the city owed its Magna Charta, the Act of 1888. The Duke of Connaught stated that the municipal constitution of Bombay was the product of Mehta's genius. Mehta was also the founder of the Bombay Presidency Association, which, under his tutelage from 1885 to 1915, was the organizational arm of the National Congress in Bombay. In 1886 he was appointed to the Bombay Legislative Council, where he was noted for his upright and independent character and his willingness to fight for a just cause. He also came to be noted as a splendid orator.

In 1911 Mehta was chosen president of the Bombay municipality, in which he had played so prominent a role for so many years. In 1898 he was named to the Imperial Legislative Council and served with distinction until poor health forced his resignation.

Mehta was active in the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885. He continued to play a prominent role in the affairs of the Congress until his death. In 1890, and again in 1909, he was chosen president of the Congress. For undisclosed reasons he resigned the presidency a few days before the sessions began. On two other occasions he served as chairman of the important Reception Committee, which, in those days, dominated the proceedings.

A man of broad interests, Mehta was also an elected member of the senate of Bombay University and served on the board of several pioneer Indian business concerns. His career was summarized by a leading British journalist who said that Mehta "had stood alone against the bureaucracy, had displayed a courage equal to Gokhale's, an eloquence hardly second to Surendranath Banerjea's, and power of sarcasm hardly rivaled by Motilal Ghoses's." He continued to exert great influence in the last years of his life. In 1914, when Gopal Krishna Gokhale was on the verge of arranging a harmonious resolution of the serious rift in the ranks of the Congress, it was Pherozeshah Mehta who sent an emissary to advise Gokhale against the move. Gokhale bowed to Mehta's opinion, and the rupture was not healed.

When Mehta died, the viceroy described him as "a great Parsi, a great citizen, great patriot, and a great Indian."

Further Reading

Probably the best book in English on Mehta is Hormasji P. Mody, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta: A Political Biography (1921). See also V. S. S. Shastri, Life and Times of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta (1945).

Additional Sources

Srinivasa Sastri, V. S. (Valangiman Sankaranarayana), Life and times of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1975. □