Dadabhai Naoroji

Dadabhai Naoroji
Dadabhai Naoroji

Dadabhai Naoroji, known as the Grand Old Man of India, was a leading Indian nationalist and critic of the British economic exploitation of India. He was born into a Parsi (Zoroastrian) family in Bombay. The Parsi had fled Persia in the seventh century when Islam conquered them and established a colony in Bombay where they prospered through trade with the British and Portuguese.

This background was helpful to Naoroji, as he spent much of his adult life in Great Britain and established the first Indian business firm in that country. He was also the first Indian (in fact, the first Asian) to be elected to the British parliament. When taking his seat he was allowed to swear on a book of Avesta (Zoroastrian scripture) instead of the Bible.

Naoroji was educated in mathematics and natural science at Elphinstone College and taught there before moving to Great Britain in 1855. In Britain he worked as a businessman and was involved in politics and also became a professor of Gujurati at University College, London.

Naoroji continued to travel between Britain and India and remained active in Indian politics, serving as the prime minister of Baroda state (an Indian princely state) and as a member of the legislative council of Bombay. Naoroji founded the Indian National Association, which later merged with the Indian Nation Congress (INC) and served three times as president of the INC.

Naoroji was a tenacious critic of British economic policy in India. He developed the drain theory, which charged that Britain was draining money and resources from India to Britain. To amass evidence for this theory, he examined import and export figures for India for 37 years and demonstrated that there was an annual discrepancy of about $135 million in favor of Britain.

Although economic exploitation of colonies was a common practice at the time (indeed opportunity for such exploitation was a principal reason why countries acquired colonies), Naoroji continued to write and speak against it, appealing to the British self-image as a nation that engaged in “fair play.”

Naoroji died in 1917, but left a legacy of influence that touched such great Indian figures as Mahatma Gandhi.