Updated: September 5, 2019 8:34:02 am
September 4, 2019 was the 194th birth anniversary of Dadabhai Naoroji, the “Grand Old Man of India”, who was among the first leaders who stirred national consciousness in the country.
Born in 1825 at Navsari, in present-day Gujarat, Naoroji was a prolific scholar with varied interests. His distinguished political career aside, Naoroji was a professor of Gujarati, mathematics, and natural philosophy, and also worked as a businessman.
Naoroji’s lasting intellectual contribution was to expound the ‘Drain Theory’. He was closely involved with the Indian National Congress in its early phase, and served as the first Indian member of the British parliament.
Early work in England
Naoroji began rousing public opinion in England on Indian issues in 1855, after he moved from India to Liverpool for business. His first agitation, in 1859, concerned recruitment to the Indian Civil Service (today’s IAS). During this period, Naoroji worked closely with Irish leaders in England, who found common cause with the Indian nationalist movement.
In 1865 and 1866, Naoroji helped found the London Indian Society and the East India Association respectively. The two organisations sought to bring nationalist Indians and sympathetic Britons on one platform. As the secretary of the East India Association, Naoroji travelled in India to gather funds and raise national awareness.
Leader of the Indian National Congress
In 1885, Naoroji became a vice-president of the Bombay Presidency Association, was nominated to the Bombay legislative council by Governor Lord Reay, and helped form the Indian National Congress. He was Congress president thrice, in 1886, 1893, and 1906.
The first session of the Congress in 1885 passed a resolution calling for the formation of a standing committee in the British House of Commons for considering protests from legislative bodies in India. Naoroji dedicated his efforts towards this objective when he returned to England in 1886.
Election to the British parliament
Naoroji first ran for the British Parliament in 1886, but did not get elected. His second bid in 1892 was successful, when he won the Central Finsbury seat on a Liberal Party ticket.
In the British Parliament, Naoroji worked to bring Indian issues to the fore. In 1893, he helped form an Indian parliamentary committee to attend to Indian interests. The membership of the committee significantly grew in numbers in the coming years, becoming an important lobbying force.
Naoroji was a vocal critic of the colonial economic policy in India. In 1895, he became a member of the royal commission on Indian expenditure.
A moderate himself, Naoroji acted as a liaison between nationalist Indians and British parliamentarians.
Dadabhai Naoroji was among the key proponents of the ‘Drain Theory’, disseminating it in his 1901 book ‘Poverty and Un-British Rule in India’.
Naoroji argued that imperial Britain was draining away India’s wealth to itself through exploitative economic policies, including India’s rule by foreigners; the heavy financial burden of the British civil and military apparatus in India; the exploitation of the country due to free trade; non-Indians taking away the money that they earned in India; and the interest that India paid on its public debt held in Britain.
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