Dadabhai Naoroji

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Dadabhai Naoroji

Dadabhai Naoroji was born in Bombay on 4th September 1825, the son of Maneckbai and Naoroji Palanji Dordi, a poor Athornan (priestly) Parsi family. At the age of 4, Dadabhai's father died and his mother was left the difficult task of bringing up the family, and she managed admirably. According to prevailing customs, she arranged the marriage of Dadabhai to Gulbai at the early age of 11. For the rest of her life, Maneckbai remained a close companion and mentor to Dadabhai. "She made me what I am" noted Dadabhai in 1901 when he gave an account of his early life in "The Days of my Youth." Dadabhai became a scholar at the Elphinstone Institution (now Elphinstone College, Bombay) and had a brilliant academic career. In 1850 at the early age of 25, he was appointed Assistant Professor, and 4 years later, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at the Elphinstone Institution. Professor Orlebar of the college called him "The Promise of India". Dadabhai, being an Athornan (ordained priest), founded the Rahnumae Mazdayasne Sabha (Guides on the Mazdayasne Path) on 1st August 1851. The ethos of the Rahnumae at its inception was to restore the Zoroastrian religion to its original purity and simplicity. The society is still in operation in Bombay.

Visit to England:

On 27th June 1855, Dadabhai sailed for England to join the first Indian business firm of the mercantile Cama family. In 1859, Dadabhai established his own business firm under the name of Dadabhai Naoroji & Co.

The London Anjuman:

On 31st October 1861, an association was founded in the name of "THE LONDON ANJUMAN" and Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji was its Patron, Founder and First President.

Other Activities:

During his time in England, Dadabhai endeavored to educate the British people about their responsibilities as rulers of India. He delivered speeches and published articles to support his opposition to the unjust and oppressive regime of the British Raj. In 1867 he helped to establish the East India Association of which he became the Honorary Secretary. The purpose of the Association was to keep Britain well informed of India's plight and needs and to secure fair treatment for India's people. This was his first political move and his colleagues were not slow in realizing his aspirations, echoing Professor Orlebar's sentiment as "The Promise of India". Dadabhai presented to the British people the "Drain Theory", which put before them the facts and figures illustrating systematic bleeding of the wealth and resources of India. His ideas were put into a volume called "Poverty and UnBritish rule in India". This was a charge against the British Empire, and he asked for immediate appointment of a Royal Commission to look into the charges. Dadabhai was one of the members of the Royal Commission. Dadabhai went back to India in 1869 but soon returned to England to give evidence before the Parliamentary Commission on Indian Finance. Dadabhai returned to India in 1874, having been appointed Dewan of Baroda State. He came back to England in 1886 with the idea of getting into the British Parliament to enable him to fight from within the system, and further the cause of his native country India.

Election to Parliament:

Dadabhai was elected to Parliament on the 5th of July 1892 and entered the House of Commons as a Liberal, representing the Central Finsbury constituency. He delivered his maiden speech in the House of Commons in August 1892. This was indeed a historic occasion as Dadabhai Naoroji became the first ever Indian/Asian Member of the British Parliament. Dadabhai immediately championed various causes in the House of Commons. He made many speeches both in England and in India on political reforms, fair play and justice for India,which spearheaded the beginning of the freedom struggle. He was renowned as the founding father of Indian Nationalism. Other Members of Perliament: Dadabhai's success on being elected to the Parliament was followed by two other Indian Parsi Zoroastrians; Sir Muncherjee Merwanji Bhownagree and Sir Sorabji Saklatvala. Dadabhai's reputation and his help facilitated the political careers of both these gentlemen.

Indian National Congress:

Dadabhai was one of the moving spirits and founder of the Indian National Congress. He took part in the inauguration of the Indian National Congress that was held in Bombay in 1865, before his departure to England. Dadabhai was thrice elected President of the Congress. Dadabhai Naoroji had attempted to keep the Freedom movement on a moderate path during the formative years of the Congress. He had put his faith in the British. He believed that if they were informed of India's problems, they would reform their method of rule. However, his experience of the British political system and years of dealing with British officialdom led to increasing disillusionment. Dadabhai began to despair when even moderate claims were not considered. In 1904 Dadabhai demanded "SWARAJ" Self Government for India. Dadabhai said "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 ait 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".

Mahatma Gandhi:

On lst September 1888, Gandhi sailed from Bombay with a letter of introduction to Dadabhai. Mahatma Gandhi wrote " will, therefore oblige me greatly if you will kindly direct and guide me and make necessary suggestions which shall be received as from a father to his child". Gandhi further wrote: "The story of a life so noble and yet so simple needs no introduction from me or anybody else. May it be an inspiration to the readers even as Dadabhai living was to me". "And so Dadabhai became real DADA to me".

The Grand Old Man:

The Grand Old Man of India once asked "Is it vanity that I should take great pleasure in being hailed as the Grand Old Man of India? No, that title, which speaks volumes for the warm, grateful and generous hearts of my countrymen, is to me, whether I deserve it or not, the highest reward of my life". A great life nobly lived, spanning nearly a whole century, great, indeed in the greatness of its simplicity, purity and benignity and lofty in its concept of man's mission on earth, came to an end on 30th June 1917. Dadabhai passed away at the ripe old age of 93.


Sir Narayen Chandravarkar at the "Memorial Meeting" paid a warm affectionate tribute to the life and character of the dear departed sage of India. "If we take stock of his life and his example, may I not say with perfect justice and truth that in his career, in all he did, in all he suffered and in all he taught, he was the prophet Zoroaster's religion personified because he was the man more than anybody else of pure thought, of pure speech and pure deeds". Sir Dinshaw Wacha in a speech full of feeling said: "There is no doubt .. Dadabhai served his country with a sacrifice and singleness of purpose which it may be rightly said, without exaggeration, was rare. A devout follower of Zoroaster, he faithfully followed the ethics of that Great Prophet - pure in thought, word and deed". Kusoom Vadgama, a prominent writer in London in her recent book "India in Britain" writes: "One whose contributions to Britain by any standards remain memorable and who represented culture, intelligence and public spirit was Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian Member of Parliament".

Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe secretarial help produced this article based on documented historical information. The association was founded by Dr. Naroji while he lived in London.

Timeline of Dadabhai Noorji's life

1825, September 4 ● Dadabhai Naoroji was born in a poor Parsi priest family. ● He lost his father, Naoroji Dordi, when he was four years old. ● His mother Maneckbai took responsibility to educate him, sending him to the Native Education Society school. ● After finishing school he was selected to go to the Elphinstone Institute where his professors were all Englishmen. ● At the Institute he read literature of the world, but Firdausi's Shahnameh was his favorite, and duties of a Zarathushti. ● At age 15, he received Clare's scholarship and was considered a scholar. Professor Orlebar called him "Promise of India" ● At age 20, he became the first Indian professor (of Mathematics & Philosophy) at Elphinstone Institute. ● He was Treasurer of the Student Literary & Scientific society and editor of its proceedings published for the public. 1849, August 4 ● He along with other society members laid the foundation of female education in Bombay, by going door to door urging parents to send their girls to school (at that time girls were not allowed to go to school) ● He volunteered to teach free at the first girl's school opened by the Society in a cottage loaned by Jagannath Shankar Sheth, a member of the Board of Education, and with improvements funded by Mr. K.N.Cama ● He started two religious magazines - Dharma Marg Darshak and Rast Goftar to educate Parsis about their religion 1851, August 3 ● At age 26, he started a society Rahnumae Mazdayasnane Sabha in cooperation with educationist Naoroji Furdunji, which still exists and has regular meetings. 1855, June 27 ● He sailed to London with K.R.Cama and M.H.Cama to join the first Indian business started in England by the Cama family. 1856 ● He left the Cama family business and became a Professor of Gujarati, in the University college, London, and worked there for 10 years. 1861 ● He founded the London Zoroastrian Association and remained its president until 1907 ● He was the first to work systematically for the intellectual uplift of the Indian public. He used every opportunity in England to voice the grievances of the Indian people under colonial rule. 1859 ● He started his campaign of agitation about injustice in the system of recruiting for the Indian Civil Service. Sudden change of age limit had debarred the first Indian student, Rustamji Hirjibhai Wadia from appearing for entrance exam. 1886 ● He was active in the newly founded "East India Association" to promote the welfare and interest of Indians. He devoted full time to the education of the masses of India on their rights and people of England toward Indians. 1869, July ● A public meeting was called by Maharaja Bhagwat Singhji of Gondal and the Sheriff of Bombay, at the Framji Cowasji Institute, to honor Dadabhai and a purse of Rs.25,000 was presented, most of which he donated to the East India Association Fund. ● He helped the Maharaja, Malharrao Gaekwad, of Baroda in his problems with the British Agent, and pleaded his case in London. In return the Maharaja offered him the post of Diwan (prime minister) of Baroda State. 1875, January 11 ● After introducing many reforms as Diwan of Baroda, he resigned and left Baroda on January 11, 1875. The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda has named one of its student hostels as Dadabhai Naoroji Hall (I myself lived in that hostel when I was an Engineering student there). 1875, July 26 ● At age 50, he was elected to the Bombay Municipal Corporation. He discovered and reported an error by the Accountant General in calculating principal and interest payable to the Government. 1876, August ● He resigned from the Corporation and went to England for business. 1883 ● He was re-elected to the Bombay Municipal Council and worked there until 1886. As an appreciation for his public services a marble statue of Dadabhai adorns the Corporation Hall. 1885 ● He was the moving spirit and Founder of the Indian National Congress, which had its first meeting in 1885, at the Gokuldas Tejpal Pathshala, at Gowalia Tank. This was the institution that started the task of gaining Indian independence. 1886 ● He went back to England in 1886, where he contested in the election for the British Parliament but was unsuccessful. He used his visibility to publicize the grievances of the Indian public among the British citizenry. 1886 ● At the end of 1886, he was called to attend the second session of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta, where he was elected President. He patched up a conflict between two great leaders, Tilak and Ranade. He went back to England after the Congress, and got elected to the British Parliament (first Asian to be elected), in spite of being insulted by the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury who called him "a Black Man". He politely refused to take the oath on the Bible as he was not a Christian, and because of his reputation and moral character he was allowed to take the oath of office in the name of God on his small book of Avesta. He was felicitated by the Maharajas of Baroda, Bhavnagar, and Kutch, Nawab of Junagadh, and prime minister of Hyderabad. ● In Parliamentary debates he charged that gross corruption and oppression by the Europeans had reduced India to a state of abject poverty. His ideas were put into a volume called "POVERTY & UNBRITISH RULE IN INDIA", which was a chargesheet on the British Empire, and he called for immediate constitution of a Royal Commission to look into his charges, which the British did and included him as a member. His speeches were followed keenly in India, and he was invited as president of the Indian National Congress in Lahore. ● A large crowd received him at Apollo Bunder, and Pherozeshah Mehta drove him to his residence at Khetwadi. Huge crowds and receptions were arranged for him at Baroda and Ahmedabad. In Armritsar, he was presented a robe of honor by the officiating priest of the Golden Temple. In Lahore, the Congress reception committee chairman said to Dadabhai "The greatest gift the Parsis have bestowed on India is in your own good self". He replied "I am a Hindu, a Muslim, a Parsi, but I am an Indian first". William Hunter wrote in the "Times" newspaper that Dadabhai had a welcome greater than the British Viceroy of India. ● The Indians and Englishmen wanted to bestow the title of "Sir" on Dadabhai, but he discouraged the idea. He also politely declined the Shah of Iran's offer to decorate him. ● After finishing his term in the British parliament, he continued his fight for the Indians as a member of the Royal Commission. He got other prominent Indians such as Dinshaw Wachha, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Surendranath Bannerjee, and Subramanian Iyer, to join him on the Commission, and organized a campaign to educate the British public about conditions in India and the demands of Indians. Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, who was fighting for Indian rights in South Africa, considered Dadabhai as his Guru and constantly sought his advice through letters. In India the appreciative public keenly followed his actions on their behalf and in 1903 they started celebrating September 4th annually, as "Dadabhai Day". 1906 ● In 1906, at the age of 80, Dadabhai was invited for a third time to be president of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta, and he helped to patch up a conflict between the moderates and the extremists. In his keynote speech he demanded "Swaraj" or Self-Rule from the British, which delighted the Congress attendees and the Indian public. He said "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". ● He returned to England but had an attack of bronchitis. His two grand-daughters, Mrs. Nargis and Gosi Captain attended to him and he recovered. ● In October, he returned to India, where at his house in Versova, Dr. Maneckbhai, his daughter and grand-daughter Dr. Mehrbanoo looked after his health. Foreign dignitaries, such as Sir George Clarke, Lord Hardinge, and Lord Willingdon, regularly visited him. 1916 ● At age 91, Bombay University bestowed the honorary degree of L.L.D. on him as well as on Phirozeshah Mehta. 1917, June 30 ● Dadabhai Naoroji passed away. After his body was consigned to the Tower of Silence, Sir Narayan Chandavarkar paid the following tribute to him (excerpted): "If we take stock of his life and his example, may I not say with perfect justice an trust that in his career, in all he did, in all he suffered, and in all he taught, he was the Prophet Zoroaster's religion personified, because he was the man more than anybody else of pure thought, of pure speech and of pure deeds..... The Sun that rose ninety-three years ago, over India is set, but I say, it is set to rise again in the form of regenerated India, for Dadabhai lived and worked for us with a devotion which must remain for all of us an inspiring example".