Dadabhai Naoroji

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Dadabhai Naoroji

Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917) was an Indian political leader and one of the founders of the Indian National Congress. A leading nationalist author and spokesman, he was the first Indian to be elected to membership in the British Parliament.

Dadabhai Naoroji was born into a leading Parsi family in Bombay. After an outstanding career at Elphinstone College, Naoroji served briefly as professor of mathematics at Elphinstone. In 1855 Naoroji became a partner in an important Parsi commercial firm in London, and in 1862 he set up his own commercial house there. In the same year he founded the influential East Indian Association to educate the English public on Indian affairs.

In 1873 Naoroji accepted the difficult post of Divan, or chief minister, of the prominent Indian princely state of Baroda but left it fairly soon for an elected seat in the Bombay Municipal Corporation. It was here that his public service career truly began. After several busy years in the public life of the province, Naoroji published his famous indictment of British exploitation of India, Poverty and Un-British Rule in India. This book guaranteed his position in the very front rank of the Indian nationalist movement.

In 1885 Lord Reay, the governor of Bombay, appointed him to the Legislative Council, and in the same year Naoroji played a leading role in the creation of the Indian National Congress, the major organization promoting Indian nationalism. A year later he was elected president of the Indian National Congress at its second session. During the same year he was one of a very few prominent Indians chosen to testify before the Royal Commission on the Public Services in India.

In 1892 Naoroji was elected to the British Parliament on the Liberal ticket from Central Finsbury. He was the first Indian to win a seat in the House of Commons. A year later he was, for the second time, elected to the presidency of the Indian National Congress. In 1895 Naoroji lost his seat in Parliament, but in 1896 he was appointed to the influential Royal Commission on Indian Expenditures, to whose labors he made a significant contribution. The report of the commission was important in shaping Indian fiscal practices. In 1906 Naoroji's public service was given special mark when he was elected to a third term as president of the National Congress. Naoroji's probity, care in the use of evidence, painstaking research in Indian economic conditions, and persistent advocacy of the Indian cause were the hallmarks of his active and impressive career.

Further Reading

A convenient one-volume edition of Naoroji's writings and speeches is Essays, Speeches, Addresses and Writings, edited by C. L. Parekh (1887). The best study in English of Naoroji is Rustom P. Masani, Dadabhai Naoroji (1939). See also Vidya Dhor Mahajan, The Nationalist Movement in India and Its Leaders (1962).

Additional Sources

Rawal, Munni, Dadabhai Naoroji, a prophet of Indian nationalism, 1855-1900, New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 1989. □

Naoroji, Dadabhai

views updated Jun 27 2018


NAOROJI, DADABHAI (1825–1917), Parsi politician from Mumbai, the "Grand Old Man of India." Dadabhai Naoroji graduated from Elphinstone College, Mumbai (Bombay), in 1845, and became a professor of mathematics in 1854. He was cofounder of the Students' Literary and Scientific Society and of the Bombay Association (1844). After the Mutiny of 1857—which shattered British self-confidence but also ended as a setback to the precocious nationalism of India's Western-educated elite—Naoroji dared to launch the East India Association in 1866. He later became a cofounder of the All-India National Congress in 1885. Subsequently he sailed to England and was elected one of the first Indian members of the British Parliament, representing Finsbury in the House of Commons from 1892 to 1896 as a member of the Liberal Party.

In 1901 he published his most famous book, Poverty and Un-British Rule in India, in London. Assessing the British in terms of their own liberal standards, he found their colonial rule "un-British." He blamed them for the increasing poverty of India and expounded his theory of Britain's "drain of India's wealth." Checking the export and import data of British India, in the long run, he found out that lucrative gains from trade accrued to the British, whereas India did not receive adequate returns. His theory was an important contribution to India's economic nationalism, which gained more and more adherents over time.

Naoroji presided over two earlier sessions of the National Congress, but his most important presidency was in 1906 at the Kolkata (Calcutta) Congress, when Congress first called for swaraj (self-rule). The partition of Bengal in 1905 had fanned revolutionary radicalism in India, but in 1906 the Liberal Party won national elections in Great Britain, and the moderate wing of Congress hoped for major constitutional reform in India. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the great moderate leader, implored Naoroji to keep the Congress united by presiding at this important annual session; at the age of eighty-one, Dadabhai traveled home and succeeded in preventing a split of the Congress, though it broke apart a year later, in 1907. Service to his country was the greatest principle of Naoroji's life, and he is still revered in India for that.

Dietmar Rothermund


Besant, Annie. How India Wrought for Freedom. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1915.

Ganguli, B. N. Dadabhai Naoroji and the Drain Theory. Mumbai: Asia Publishing House, 1965.

Naoroji, Dadabhai. Poverty and Un-British Rule in India. 1901. Reprint, New Delhi: Commonwealth, 1988.

Rothermund, Dietmar. The Phases of Indian Nationalism and Other Essays. Mumbai: Nachiketa Publications, 1970.