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Dadabhai Naoroji – Grand Old Man of India

Dadabhai Naoroji

Born in the third decade of the 19th century Dadabhai Naoroji is popularly known as the Grand Old Man of India. That is true as well. He began rumblings in the slumbering masses of India. He was the first and major person in awakening the people and to print towards the of the British’s misrule who had actually sneaked in as traders and gradually became masters of this ancient country. Naoroji was the predecessor of the class of moderates like Ranade and Gokhale that followed the methods adopted by him. Though he was forty when Abraham Lincoln gave his life for the cause of the nation after facing and managing a bloody war against those who exploited the black negroes, none of his biographies hints at his taking any inspiration from that great soul. The French revolution for democracy also had no marking upon him. For a very long time Dadabhai felt that the British were a fair-minded and justice loving people. Though he felt that the ills like famines, poverty, ignorance and many others were due to the the British’s misrule yet his belief was that harm to India was done by their ignorance of the Indian way of life and the Indian people’s needs. That is why in his first speech in the Bombay Association Dadabhai Naoroji had said, “Under the British Government we do not suffer any great zoolum. Whatever evil we have to complain of, originates from one cause, namely, the ignorance of European officers, coming fresh from home”.

Later on Dadabhai got disillusioned with the ‘justice loving’ British. In one of his articles he said, “England has, in reality, been the most disastrous and destructive foreign invader of India”. He wrote to the Secretary of State for India, “Failure to redress would drive the people to a boycott, not only of the British wares but of the British rule”. In 1906 while presiding over the Calcutta session of Indian National Congress he, demanded ‘Swaraj’, or self-rule for India for the 1st time. He said, “Good government could never be a substitute for government by the people themselves. We do not ask for any favour, we want only justice. The whole matter can be compressed into one word, self government or ‘Swaraj’, Swaraj is the only remedy for India’s ills”. Again in 1895 in his oral evidence before the Willey commission Dadabhai was bold enough to say that the people in India did not want any British officers below the Viceroy, the Governors and the Commander-in-Chief; and in due course the Indians would get rid of them too. Thus the mental currents in Dadabhai underwent a sea of change from 1852 to 1906. In his later sayings he might have been influenced by the first war of Independence in 1857 and by the huge gatherings and following of the so-called extremists in the Indian National Congress. The young educated class was more impressed by the so-called extremists like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bhikaji Cama and Savarkar rather than by Ranade and Gokhale. The British remained soft with Dadabhai and later on with all the moderates including M.K. Gandhi.

Dadabhai Naoroji was born on September 4, 1825 in a poor priestly family in Bombay. His race from poverty achievements. He had to live for ten years more to guide the people.

So far as social reforms are concerned Dadabhai was in line with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Raja Rammohan Roy. Like them he too fought for the cause of widows and against child marriages. He was a great scholar and academician too like them. But he went a step forward. While the activities of the former two were limited to Bengal only Dadabhai covered the whole country so far as the political issues were concerned. Of course he didn’t become violent either in action or speech looking to the times he could gather courage enough to elaborate the misrule of the British. The British of course did not attack India as the Muslim invaders had. But their method was more effective in establishing their rule. Besides the trade channels they got the advantage of the rivalries of the local rulers Rajas and Nawabs even the Zamindars to overcome them at one point or the other. They kept their separate identity too and gradually established themselves as superior to the humble man of this country. In this way they did not only exploit the people but created a craving among the well to do Indians to copy them in dress as well as thought. The emergence of the new bureaucracy of Kala Sahebs was rather more unhealthy.

As Naoroji Pallonji Dordi, the father of Dadabhai passed away when he was only four his mother Manikbai had to work hard to bring him up. Besides imparting to him a noble character she had a longing to give him the best English education. At school he showed great intelligence and skill in mental arithmetic. He received higher education at Elphinstone Institution at Bombay. He showed equal interest and mastery over Mathematics as well as English. He was the shining star of the College so much so that Sir Erskine Perry the then Chief Justice of Bombay and the President of the Board of Education offered to pay half of the expenses if Dadabhai was sent to England for higher studies. Parsi elders had to bear the other half. But the problem was, and genuine one too that a number of students who went to England got converted to Christianity and married an English girl. Thus the Parsi Community of Bombay did not agree with the proposal. Thus Dadabhai had to show his mettle in India only rather in Bombay. After he completed his education he got the job of Head Native Assistant Master at the Elphinstone Institution. Later on he was made Assistant Professor, ultimately to be Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Dadabhai considered it a great achievement as he was the first Indian to hold this post.

Dadabhai was just twenty-four when he acquired a comfortable career. The seeds sown by his mother were now sprouting. He believed that men and women are equal, but the lower status of women was because of the illiteracy that prevailed among them. Thus he decided to start free literacy classes for girls in Gujarati and Marathi with the help and assistance of students’ Literacy and Scientific Society of the Elphinstone Institution.

The efforts of Dadabhai were resisted vehemently by the orthodox people. They would not send their daughters and sisters to these classes. They thought that they would get corrupt through such education. Thus Dadabhai and his friends had to go from door to door to persuade people to send the girls and had the right response. People did not only send the girls, but provided suitable buildings for two schools. Dadabhai and his friends worked as honorary teachers in their spare hours. The rich Cama family financed the schools for two years after which they were not only managed and financed by voluntary organisations but some more schools were opened. Dadabhai work was over. The Governor praised it as “an epoch in the history of education in Bombay Presidency”. Dadabhai did not confine only to education. He founded the widow remarriage Association. He was bent upon fighting against injustices prevailing against women.

Now was the turn of education of adult men who were illiterate and ignorant. Dadabhai innovated a method that was never practiced earlier by anyone. He started Dnyan Prasarak Mandali. He would collect people. In these large gatherings he and his friends would take up topics of general awareness. They would speak on subjects of popular science in their own language Marathi or Gujarati. They were accompanied with demonstrations too where necessary. This resulted in a great change in the general awareness of the people as well as in their way of life and ideas. This was followed by the opening of Parsi Gymnasium, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Framji Cowasji Institute. He went a step forward and started a network of Temperance Societies all over the country. His personal involvement and guidance was always there besides collecting funds and donations from a number of sources. To carry on his reform movement Dadabhai founded Rast Goftar (Truth Teller) a magazine in Gujarati. The fortnightly was financed by Khurshedji Nusserwanji Cama while Dadabhai worked without remuneration. The first edition was published on November 15, 1851. It carried no advertisements and was distributed free of cost.

It was not destined for Raja Rammohan Roy or Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar to take interest in politics. But Dadabhai turned a politician and stood somewhere between these former reformers and the later politicians from Ranade to Tilak. He was sometimes as mild as Ranade and Gokhale, but at times he touched the periphery of Tilak’s violent mood too. He was a government servant and had his limitations too. Still when the East India Company applied for the renewal of its twenty-year charter i.e. lease in 1852 Dadabhai opposed it tooth and nail. He organised a large meeting at the Elphinstone Institution. Educated Indians who considered the Company responsible for the ills and miseries of the people had already started the Bombay Association. It was the first political organisation in the country formed on August 26, 1852. Dadabhai was rather a patron of the Association. The Association did not turn aggressive. But it wrote a strong petition agaminst the renewal of the Charter and sent it to the British government in England. All knew that the renewal won’t be stopped. But it was the first of its type received against the British rule. It created stir in England. Some English leaders spoke and wrote in support of India’s demand. Thus Dadabhai had his first taste of politics in his life. Now his sphere of work would go beyond that of a social reformer.

Dadabhai chalked out a three-fold programme. The first was to educate the Indian masses. He had already started it through his educational and reformist programmes. The second was to let the British bureaucracy know the real problems of India. For this he wrote petitions to the Governors and the Viceroy against their wrong policies. He wrote petitions for securing scholarships for the training of Indian students in England. He also wrote that Indians should be more involved in administration by securing higher posts. He petitioned for holding the I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service) examination simultaneously in India and England. His third motive was to remain in touch with the British public and their Parliament to let them know about the problems of India. It meant that he should stay in England for a long time. It was not possible for a man like Dadabhai who had limited means and had to support his family too.

It was as this stage that the rich Cama family decided to set up a business concern in England. It offered partnership to Dadabhai. He could ill afford to resist the temptation and accepted the offer. Some of his friends eulogized it as a self imposed exile for the sake of the motherland. But many took it as building a monetary career. He was holding honourable post of Professorship. His resignation surprised many including Principal Harkness who exclaimed, “Dadabhai, what a fall?” Anyway he left his young wife Gulbai and children to care of his mother and a friend. He set sail for England on June 27, 1855 when he was just thirty.

For four years he earned a lot from his partnership with Cama and Co. But at last the teachings of his mother came to the fore. Cama & Co. traded in liquor and opium too. Dadabhai could not digest it and left the partnership. In 1859 he started his own firm Dadabhai Naoroji & Co. in England. He was very successful and could show to others too that honesty too pays. But as soon as the Civil War in USA was over the market in  England collapsed. The firms that owned money to his firm could not pay. But Dadabhai cleared his liabilities as also of those for whom he stood surety. Having earned a name for honesty and character the business again flourished and he became rich again.

After settling down comfortably monetarily Dadabhai started his socio-political work again. He started taking care of Indian students who went to England for higher education or competing for I.C.S. he did not simply help them but sowed the seeds of national pride in them. M.K. Gandhi was one of them who went to England for his Bar-at-Law degree.

When Dadabhai was well off he just ignored his business and close it down in 1881. Between 1855 and 1907 Dadabhai lived alternatively in England and India. He paid a little attention to his business too. But most of his time was spent in having contacts with people both in England and India. He became member of a number of prestigious organisations in England, delivered speeches and wrote articles for their journals about Indian problems. In 1886 he founded East India Association. Most of the members of the Associations were retired high ranking officers from India. A number of them were now Members of Parliament too. Through these friends he was able to oppose measures that were meant to harm the interest of Indians in England and South Africa. He even got questions tabled in the parliament. As he found the Association useful Dadabhai opened its branches in Madras, Calcutta and Bombay.

Dadabhai Naoroji Drain Theory

Even in his soft campaign Dadabhai was bold enough to hold the British responsible for poverty and ignorance in India. He used to say that as the government did not take preventive methods the country suffered from epidemics of plague and famine too. According to him the British ruled India not for Indians but for themselves. They did not rule over India as they ruled in British. Dadabhai was a talented mathematician. He collected statistics to prove his Drain Theory i.e. the result of foreign rulers was that wealth of India drained into the country of the rulers. He proved that the average annual income of an Indian was hardly Rs. 20. The taxation was high. Although the country was poor it had to pay the high salaries of the British officers from their exchequer. The Governor General received Rs. 20,000 per month from the people of India while the Prime Minister of England received Rs. 5000 per month from British exchequer.

Dadabhai Naoroji Books

Dadabhai Naoroji Book

Dadabhai went through the import and export figures for 37 years and found that India’s exports of raw material exceeded its imports of finished goods from England by 50 crore annually. But this amount was never deposited in India exchequer. He exposed the cunning methods used by the rulers to carry away India’s wealth. The British did not pay any attention to Dadabhai findings. On the contrary their attitude hardened. Thus Dadabhai had no other option but to collect all the statistics, his papers, petitions and articles to give it a book form. Poverty and the Un-British Rule in India was published in England. It is read with interest by the students of Indian Economics even to-day.

Dadabhai had to raise funds for the social work that he was doing. He approached the Rajas and Nawabs too. He would often give them advice on their problems too. During his this campaign he visited Malharrao Gaekwad, the Maharaja of Baroda as well in 1874. He was known for his misrule. Gaekwar insisted upon him to accept the post of Dewan in his state, which Dadabhai accepted reluctantly.

It was not liked by the Resident of Baroda who got himself transferred. Within a year Dadabhai cleaned the mess in the state and reformed the whole administration. But the strict discipline of Dadabhai was not liked either by the Maharaja or his cunning courtiers. Dadabhai had no option but to resign in 1875. He left for Bombay. Within a few days he came to know that the Maharaja was dethroned and arrested for his misdeeds. He had to go back to England. But in a way he obliged the Bombay Municipal Corporation by becoming an elected member. He was elected to its Finance Committee. During his stay as member of the committee he brought about a large saving in expenditure on the new waterworks and in payment on loans. A decade back Dadabhai could secure the appointment of nine Indians out of sixty. Of course he was not satisfied, as it was not out of competition of selection but by nomination. In 1869 the people of Bombay honored Dadabhai with an address and a purse of Rs. 30,000. He immediately donated the money to the East India Association.

Dadabhai Naoroji

In 1892 when Dadabhai had reached the mature age of sixty-seven he contested election to the Parliament as a candidate of the Liberal Party. He was declared elected from Central Finsbury the first Indian member of the Imperial Parliament on the British votes. It proved the popularity of Dadabhai in England. There was jubilation both in India and England. Now it was possible for Dadabhai to fight his battles himself. He proved himself a mature parliamentarian and won the praise of the ruling party as well as of the opposition. He spoke on economic problems of currency, exchange, money and finance. He also fought in the Parliament for the Indian students in England and for the Indians in South Africa. His first achievement was to get a resolution passed for holding the preliminary examination for the I.C.S simultaneously in India and England. On his return to India Dadabhai was given a hero’s welcome at the Bombay port. The Governor of Bombay was the first to greet him.

The Rajas, Nawabs and Zamindars were won by the Britishers through the bureaucracy. In the first war of Independence the revolutionaries were crushed. But the fire was not extinguished permanently. Specially the middle class educated gentry was not with the government or with the then leaders. It is this class that guides and controls the masses. Thus the British threw the last step on the chessboard of Indian politics. The work was given to A.O. Hume. He founded the Indian National Congress to contain  the educated youth and through them the masses. He was successful in his efforts. Dadabhai associated himself as one of its founder members. He considered it as a people’s struggle for which he had been fighting for. He  nourished the congress to the last breath of his life and worked for it even if he was in England.

Dadabhai Naoroji Contribution to Freedom Struggle

Dadabhai presided over the 1886 session of the Congress in Calcutta and went back to England. He again presided over the Lahore session in 1903. Gradually the moderates were being replaced by militants like Tilak in Congress. The differences aggravated between the two to the extent that they wanted to hold the session separately. He presided over the Calcutta session in December 1906. Dadabhai could smell the aggressiveness of the so called extremists. Thus he made a demand for ‘Swaraj’ for the first time from Congress platform. He declared, “Good government could never be a substitute for government by the people themselves. We do not ask for any favour, we want only justice. The whole matter can be compressed into one word,self-government or ‘Swaraj’. ‘Swaraj’ is the only remedy for India’s ills.”

After Calcutta session Dadabhai again left for England. Where he fell seriously ill. The doctors advised him to take rest and retire from active politics. He abided by their instructions and left England for good on October 12, 1907. He settled down at his palacios house at Versova in Mumbai. In the native climate he again gained health and again became active. But his activities were generally limited to his house only. He would receive a large number of letters from within India and foreign countries too. He replied them in his own handwriting till he could. During his last ten years in Versova he was visited by Governors, the Viceroy, Indian leaders and by common men too. They discussed the problems relating to India with him.d

The ‘Grand Old Man’ of India was a great social reformer a pioneer of women’s education and literacy. His staunch patriotism was over and above all these. It was rather spontaneous for which he sacrificed his career and business. But his method was non-violent and constitutional. That is why it was rather advantageous for the British who did not take any action against him even when he demanded ‘Swaraj’.

Dadabhai Naoroji had established about 30 voluntary organisation in India and England. He always looked after them. Even when there were problems in any one of them he tried to solve them. His perseverance worked. For his great achievements, Bombay University conferred on him an honorary  degree of Doctor of Laws in 1916 a year before his final departure from the  world on June 30, 1917 at the age of 92. He wrote long letters to Sir Morley and Lord Minto for Minto Morley Reforms which were declared two months after his demise. Although many leaders discarded it Dadabhai believed in the constitutional way. Any way Dadabhai Naoroji awoke the nation from deep slumber and handed over the torch of aspiration for freedom to the coming generations.

Also Read:

Indian Freedom Struggle – 1857 to 1947

Role of Women in Freedom Struggle – 10 Great Indian Womens

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