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|Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917)|
Dadabhai Naoroji, the first South Asian Member of Parliament, was born in 1825, the son of a Parsi Zoroastrian priest. From the very beginning he was a pioneer in many fields: he became one of the first Indian graduates of Elphinstone College in Bombay and later became the first Indian professor of that college.
In 1855 he travelled to London to become a partner in Cama & Co, the first Indian company to be established in Britain. Within 3 years, he resigned on ethical grounds and in 1859 set up his own cotton company Naoroji & Co. His London home became a centre for Indian life, attracting students and nationalists, leading to the establishment of some of the earliest South Asian associations, including the London Indian society, the East Indian Association and the London Zoroastrian Association.
He is remembered in India for his leadership of the Indian National Congress a record three times (1886, 1893 and 1906), and his economic critique of British rule in India, 'the drain of wealth theory'. Naoroji's involvement in British politics reached its highest point when, after one failed attempt, he was elected Liberal MP for Finsbury Central in 1892.
His candidature attracted negative publicity when Lord Salisbury, the Conservative Prime Minister, raised the 'race card', questioning the suitability of 'a black man' to stand for parliament in Britain. The smear tactics seemed to have backfired as Dadabhai Naoroji won the seat, temporarily rallying the Liberal party behind him and most of the press.
Despite his heavy workload and diverse commitments Naoroji was able to juggle running a business, maintaining a family in both India and England and working on a wide variety of political issues (including women's suffrage, opium, temperance and indentured Indian labourers in South Africa), as well as fulfilling his duties as a Liberal MP. Although faced with opposition from within his own party, he remained loyal to the Liberal programme. He lost his seat in 1895.
One of his main concerns was to keep India on the British political agenda. He was a staunch supporter of the principle of self-rule for India or Swaraj. Naoroji left Britain in 1907 and retired to India where he died in 1917 at the age of 92.
"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."
Warm tribute by Sir Narayen Chandravarkar at a Memorial Meeting. Read more on 'The Grand Old Man of India' at www.vohuman.org.
Creators: Dr. Shompa Lahiri
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