Wednesday 3 August 2011

Remembering Dadabhai Naoroji

Parsi intellectual, Dadabhai Naoroji was an educator and an early Indian political leader. A  peerless patriot, he  has been considered as the architect who laid the foundation for the Indian freedom struggle. He was  instrumental in the establishment of the Indian National Congress, founded by A. O. Hume and Dinshaw Edulji Wacha in 1885.
Dadabhai was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1886 and he held that post thrice. During his third term, he prevented a split between the  moderates and extremists in the party. The extremists advocated the boycott of British goods while the moderates wanted to use constitutional methods to gain autonomy. Dadabhai was a staunch moderate within the Congress.
Although Bal Gangadhar Tilak first raised the slogan  “Swaraj is my birth right”, it was Dadabhai Naoroji who demanded  Swaraj from the platform of Congress in 1906.  He   was a mentor to both Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was  the paternal uncle of J.R.D Tata, the renowned, industrialist.
In politics, Dadabhai was conscious of the benefits that the Indians derived from the British rule in India. However, he was the first Indian who drew the attention of both  Indians as well as the Europeans, regarding the economic exploitation of India. He brought to the public notice the drain of Indian wealth to the European countries and the resulting poverty of  Indians.
His book Poverty and Un-British Rule in India brought attention to this.
The East India Company acquired a 20-year lease to ‘manage’ India from the British Government in 1833. The Company applied for renewal of the lease in 1853,  but Dadabhai strongly opposed  this. He organised large meetings and sent petitions to the British Government in England to deny the Company a renewal.
The British government ignored his pleas and renewed the lease. But his petitions dispelled a lot of ignorance regarding India.
He felt that the British misrule of India was because of illiteracy and hence he set up the Gyan Prasarak Mandali (Society for Promotion of Knowledge) for the education of adult men-folk. He began free literacy classes for girls in Marathi and Gujarati and established a girls’ high school in Bombay for educating  women. It is he who established the Bombay Association, the first political association in India in 1852.
He wrote several petitions to Governors and Viceroys regarding India’s problems, as he felt that the British people and the British Parliament must be made aware of them. Dadabhai got an opportunity when the Cama family invited him to join in a business venture in England.
He set sail for England on June 27, 1855 at the age of 30. Later he became a Professor of Gujarati at the University College, London.
The British Government had appointed an inquiry into the misdeeds of Mulharrao Gaekwar, the Maharaja of Baroda and the latter sought Dadabhai’s help. The Maharaja  persuaded Dadabhai to become his Diwan (Prime Minister) in 1874. Within a year, the whole administration was reformed and efficiency was brought into the system. Once the task was completed, Dadabhai resigned in 1875 and became a member of the Legislative Council of Bombay (1885-88).
Dadabhai moved to Britain once again and continued his political involvement. He was elected to  British Parliament in 1892 from Central Finsbury as a Liberal Party candidate, he becoming the first British Indian MP of the House of Commons and the first Asian to hold that post.
Since he was not a Christian, he refused to take the oath of office on the Bible, but was allowed to take the oath in the name of God on the book of Avesta. In his political campaign and duties as an MP, he was assisted by Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the future founder of Pakistan.
In England, Dadabhai founded the British Indian Society to bring Englishmen and Indians closer to discuss problems concerning the welfare of India.
He also founded the East India Association in 1897 in order to propagate his ideals among the European people. It was one of the predecessor organisations of the Indian National Congress with the aim of putting across the Indian point of view.
The Association comprised of high-ranking officials from India who had access to members of  British Parliament.
He got a resolution passed in the British Parliament for holding preliminary examinations for the Indian Civil Service (ICS) simultaneously in India and England. Dadabhai’s efforts were rewarded in 1866 when the Secretary of State for India agreed to appoint nine Indians out of 60 to the ICS by nomination.
Dadabhai Naoroji was born in the house of a poor Parsi priest in Bombay on September 4, 1825. His father, Naoroji Palanji Dordi, died when Dadabhai was only four years old. He was raised by his mother Maneckbai who despite being illiterate herself ensured that Dadabhai got the best possible English education.
As a student Dadabhai was very good in Mathematics and English. Child marriages were common  those days and Dadabhai was married to Qulbai at the age of 11. He studied at the Elphinstone Institution (now Elphinstone College), Bombay and on completion of  education, he was appointed  the Head Native Assistant Master. Dadabhai became a professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at the age of 27 and he was the first Indian to hold that post. In 1854 he founded Rast Goftar (The Truth Teller), a fortnightly publication to clarify Zoroastrian concepts.
Dadabhai  died in Bombay on June 30, 1917, at that age of 92. By that time  Dadabhai was known as the ‘Grand Old Man of India’. Two months later, the Minto-Morley reforms were passed in  British Parliament granting much of what Dadabhai had been fighting for. The great leader served India for over seven decades. He will ever remain one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of Indian politics.
Article by : V. N. Gopalakrishnan
Source: Bhavan's Journal 15 May 2011
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