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Dadabhai Naoroji

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Dadabhai Naoroji
Dadabhai Naoroji, c. 1889
Member of Parliament (UK)
for Finsbury Central
In office
Preceded byFrederick Thomas Penton
Succeeded byWilliam Frederick Barton Massey-Mainwaring
2nd, 9th, and 22nd President of Indian National Congress
In office
Preceded byWomesh Chunder Bonnerjee
Succeeded byBadruddin Tyabji
In office
Preceded byWomesh Chunder Bonnerjee
Succeeded byAlfred Webb
In office
Preceded byGopal Krishna Gokhale
Succeeded byRashbihari Ghosh
Personal details
Dadabhai Naoroji Dordi

(1825-09-04)4 September 1825
Navsari, Bombay Presidency
Died30 June 1917(1917-06-30) (aged 91)
Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India
CitizenshipBritish Indian
NationalityBritish India
Political partyCo-founder of the Indian National Congress
Other political
Alma materUniversity of Bombay
  • Indian independence activist
  • Politician
  • Merchant
  • Scholar
  • Writer
Known forCo-founder and 2nd, 9th, 22nd President of Indian National Congress

Dadabhai Naoroji (4 September 1825 – 30 June 1917), also known as the "Grand Old Man of India" and "Unofficial Ambassador of India", was an Indian Independence activist, political leader, merchant, scholar and writer who served as 2nd, 9th, and 22nd President of the Indian National Congress from 1886 to 1887, 1893 to 1894 and 1906 to 1907.

He was the Diwan of Baroda from 1874, before moving to England, where he was a Liberal Party Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons, representing Finsbury Central between 1892 and 1895. He was the second person of Asian descent to be a British MP,[1][2][3] the first being Indian MP David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre, who was disenfranchised for corruption after nine months in office.[4]

His book Poverty and Un-British Rule in India[3] brought attention to his theory of the Indian "wealth drain" into Britain. He was also a member of the Second International along with Kautsky and Plekhanov. In 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg inaugurated the Dadabhai Naoroji Awards for services to UK-India relations.[5] India Post depicted Naoroji on stamps in 1963, 1997 and 2017.[6][7]


Naoroji was born in Navsari into a Gujarati-speaking Parsi Zoroastrian family, and educated at the Elphinstone Institute School.[8] His patron was the Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad III, and he started his career as Dewan (Minister) to the Maharaja in 1874. Being an Athornan (ordained priest), Naoroji founded the Rahnumai Mazdayasan Sabha (Guides on the Mazdayasne Path) on 1 August 1851 to restore the Zoroastrian religion to its original purity and simplicity. In 1854, he also founded a Gujarati fortnightly publication, the Rast Goftar (The Truth Teller), to clarify Zoroastrian concepts and promote Parsi social reforms.[9]

Around this time, he also published another newspaper called The Voice of India. In December 1855, he was appointed Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Elphinstone College in Bombay,[10] becoming the first Indian to hold such an academic position. He travelled to London in 1855 to become a partner in Cama & Co, opening a Liverpool location for the first Indian company to be established in Britain. Within three years, he had resigned on ethical grounds. In 1859, he established his own cotton trading company, Dadabhai Naoroji & Co. In 1861 he also founded The Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe alongside Muncherjee Hormusji Cama.[11]

Dadabhai Naoroji statue, near Flora Fountain, Mumbai.

In 1865, Naoroji directed and launched the London Indian Society, the purpose of which was to discuss Indian political, social and literary subjects.[12] In 1867, he also helped to establish the East India Association, one of the predecessor organisations of the Indian National Congress with the aim of putting across the Indian point of view before the British public. The Association was instrumental in counter-acting the propaganda by the Ethnological Society of London which, in its session in 1866, had tried to prove the inferiority of the Asians to the Europeans. This Association soon won the support of eminent Englishmen and was able to exercise considerable influence in the British parliament. The organization soon had branches in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.[13]

In 1874, he became Prime Minister of Baroda and was a member of the Legislative Council of Bombay (1885–88). He was also a member of the Indian National Association founded by Sir Surendranath Banerjea from Calcutta a few years before the founding of the Indian National Congress in Bombay, with the same objectives and practices. The two groups later merged into the INC, and Naoroji was elected President of the Congress in 1886. Naoroji published Poverty and Un-British Rule in India in 1901.[4]

Naoroji in 1892.

Naoroji moved to Britain once again and continued his political involvement. Elected for the Liberal Party in Finsbury Central at the 1892 general election, he was the first British Indian MP.[14][15] He refused to take the oath on the Bible, as he was Zoroastrian. He was allowed to take the oath of office in the name of God on his copy of the Khordeh Avesta. During his time he put his efforts towards improving the situation in India. He had a very clear vision and was an effective communicator. He set forth his views about the situation in India over the course of the history of the governance of the country and the way in which the colonial rulers rule. In Parliament, he spoke on Irish Home Rule and the condition of the Indian people. He was a notable Freemason.[16]

In 1906, Naoroji was again elected president of the Indian National Congress. He was a staunch moderate within the Congress, during the phase when opinion in the party was split between the moderates and extremists. Such was the respect commanded by him that assertive nationalists could not oppose his candidature and the rift was avoided for the time being. Naoroji's Poverty and Un-British Rule in India influenced Mahatma Gandhi.[17][1]

Personal life and death[edit]

He was married to Gulbai at the age of 11. He died in Bombay on 30 June 1917, at the age of 91.

The Dadabhai Naoroji Road, a heritage road of Mumbai, is named after him, as are the Dadabhai Naoroji Road in Karachi, Pakistan and Naoroji Street in the Finsbury area of London. A prominent residential colony for central government servants in the south of Delhi is also named Naoroji Nagar. His granddaughters, Perin and Khurshedben, were also involved in the independence movement. In 1930, Khurshedben was arrested along with other revolutionaries for attempting to hoist the Indian flag in a Government College in Ahmedabad.[18]

Drain theory and poverty[edit]

Naoroji's work focused on the drain of wealth from India to Britain during the period of British rule in India.[1][19][20] One of the reasons that the Drain theory is attributed to Naoroji is his decision to estimate the net national profit of India, and by extension, the effect that colonial rule had on the country. Through his work with economics, Naoroji sought to prove that Britain was draining money out of India.[21]

Naoroji described six factors that resulted in the external drain.

  1. India was governed by a foreign government.
  2. India did not attract immigrants who brought labour and capital for economic growth.
  3. India paid for Britain's civil administrations in India and her Indian army.
  4. India bore the burden of empire building in and out of its borders.
  5. Opening the country to free trade allowed for foreigners to take highly paid jobs over those of equally qualified Indians.
  6. The principal income-earners would spend their money outside of India or leave with the money as they were mostly foreign personnel.[22]

His book Poverty and Un-British Rule in India estimated a 200–300 million pounds drain of India's revenue to Britain that was not recirculated into India.[23]

When referring to the drain, Naoroji stated that he believed some tribute was necessary as payment for the services that Britain brought to India such as the newly constructed railways. However the money from these services were being drained out of India; for instance the money being earned by the railways did not belong to India, which supported his assessment that India was sending too much to Britain. According to Naoroji, India was paying tribute for something that was not bringing profit to the country directly. Instead of paying off foreign investment, as other countries did, India was paying for services rendered despite the operation of the railway being already profitable for Britain. This type of drain was experienced in different ways as well, for instance, British workers earning wages that were not equal with the work that they have done in India, or trade that undervalued India's goods and overvalued outside goods.[19][22]

British workers in India were encouraged to take on high paying jobs in India, and the British government allowed them to take a portion of their income back to Britain. Furthermore, the East India Company was purchasing Indian goods with money drained from India to export to Britain, which was a way that the opening up of free trade allowed India to be exploited.[24]

When elected to Parliament by a narrow margin of five votes, his first speech was devoted to the issue of questioning Britain's role in India. Naoroji explained that Indians would either be British subjects or their slaves, depending on how willing Britain was to give India control over the institutions that Britain presently operated. By giving these institutions to India it would allow India to govern itself and as a result all revenue would stay in India.[25]

Naoroji identified himself as a fellow subject of the Empire and was able to address the economic hardships facing India to a British audience. By presenting himself as an imperial subject he was able to use rhetoric to show the benefit to Britain that an ease of financial burden on India would have. He argued that by allowing the money earned in India to stay in India, tributes would be willingly and easily paid without fear of poverty; he argued that this could be done by giving equal employment opportunities to Indian professionals who were consistently forced to take jobs that they were over-qualified for. Indian labour would be more likely to spend their income within India preventing one aspect of the drain.[23]

Naoroji also found it important to examine Anglo-Indian trade to prevent the premature dissolution of budding industries to unfair valuing of goods and services.[24] By allowing industry to grow and develop in India, tribute could be paid to Britain in the form of taxation and the increase in Indian interest for British goods. Over time, Naoroji became more inflammatory in his comments as he began to lose patience with Britain over the seemingly lack of progress regarding reforms. He rhetorically questioned whether or not the British government would be willing to award French youths all the high ranking posts in the British economy. He also pointed to historical examples of Britain being opposed to the "wealth drain" concept, including the English objection to the wealth drain to the papacy during the 1500s.[26]

Naoroji's work on the drain theory was the main reason behind the creation of the Royal Commission on Indian Expenditure in 1896 in which he was also a member. This commission reviewed financial burdens on India and in some cases came to the conclusion that those burdens were misplaced.[27]

Views and legacy[edit]

Dadabhai Naoroji is regarded as one of the most important Indians during the birth of the nascent independence movement. In his writings, he came to the conclusion that the exertion of foreign rule over India was not favourable for the nation, and that independence (or at the very least, responsible government) would be the better path for India.

Further development was checked by the frequent invasions of India by, and the subsequent continuous rule of, foreigners of entirely different character and genius, who, not having any sympathy with the indigenous literature – on the contrary, having much fanatical antipathy to the religion of the Hindus – prevented its further growth. Priest-hood, first for power and afterwards from ignorance, completed the mischief, as has happened in all other countries.[28]

Naoroji is often remembered as the "Grand Old Man of Indian Nationalism."

Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Naoroji in 1894, saying that "The Indians look up to you as children to the father. Such is really the feeling here."[29]

Bal Gangadhar Tilak admired him; he said:

If we twenty eight crore of Indians were entitled to send only one member to the British parliament, there is no doubt that we would have elected Dadabhai Naoroji unanimously to grace that post.[30]

Here are the significant extracts taken from his speech delivered before the East India Association on 2 May 1867 regarding what educated Indians expect from their British rulers.

The difficulties thrown in the way of according to the natives such reasonable share and voice in the administration of the country ad they are able to take, are creating some uneasiness and distrust. The universities are sending out hundreds and will soon begin to send out thousands of educated natives. This body naturally increases in influence...

"In this Memorandum I desire to submit for the kind and generous consideration of His Lordship the Secretary of State for India, that from the same cause of the deplorable drain [of economic wealth from India to Britain], besides the material exhaustion of India, the moral loss to her is no less sad and lamentable . . . All [the Europeans] effectually do is to eat the substance of India, material and moral, while living there, and when they go, they carry away all they have acquired . . . The thousands [of Indians] that are being sent out by the universities every year find themselves in a most anomalous position. There is no place for them in their motherland . . . What must be the inevitable consequence? . . . despotism and destruction . . . or destroying hand and power. "

A plaque referring to Dadabhai Naoroji is located outside the Finsbury Town Hall on Rosebery Avenue, London. On 10 August 2022 English Heritage unveiled a blue plaque in his honour at the site of his former home,[31] 72, Anerley Park, Bromley, London where he lived between 1897 - 1904 or 1905.[32][33][34][35]


  • Started the Rast Goftar Anglo-Gujarati Newspaper in 1854.
  • The manners and customs of the Parsees (Bombay, 1864)
  • The European and Asiatic races (London, 1866)
  • Admission of educated natives into the Indian Civil Service (London, 1868)
  • The wants and means of India (London, 1876)
  • Condition of India (Madras, 1882)
  • Poverty of India Bombay, Ranima Union Press (1876).
A Paper Read Before the Bombay Branch of the East India Association.
  • C. L. Parekh, ed., Essays, Speeches, Addresses and Writings of the Honourable Dadabhai Naoroji, Bombay, Caxton Printing Works (1887). An excerpt, "The Benefits of British Rule", in a modernised text by J. S. Arkenberg, ed., on line at Paul Halsall, ed., Internet Modern History Sourcebook Archived 22 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  • Lord Salisbury's Blackman (Lucknow, 1889)
  • Naoroji, Dadabhai (1861). The Parsee Religion. University of London.
  • Dadabhai Naoroji (1902). Poverty and Un-British Rule in India. Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.; "Poverty and Un-British Rule in India" Commonwealth Publishers, 1988. ISBN 81-900066-2-2

Commemorative postage stamps[edit]

Naoroji has been portrayed on commemorative stamps released by India Post (by year):


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Visana, Vikram (2022). Uncivil liberalism : labour, capital and commercial society in Dadabhai Naoroji's political thought. Cambridge, United Kingdom. ISBN 978-1-009-21552-7. OCLC 1343197973.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ Mukherjee, Sumita. "'Narrow-majority' and 'Bow-and-agree': Public Attitudes Towards the Elections of the First Asian MPs in Britain, Dadabhai Naoroji and Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownaggree, 1885–1906" (PDF). Journal of the Oxford University History Society (2 (Michaelmas 2004)).[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Naoroji, Dadabhai" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 167.
  4. ^ a b Nanda, B. R. (2015) [1977], Gokhale: The Indian Moderates and the British Raj, Legacy Series, Princeton University Press, p. 58, ISBN 978-1-4008-7049-3
  5. ^ "Dadabhai Naoroji Awards presented for the first time – GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. Retrieved 1 June 2017.
  6. ^ "India Post Honors Dadabhai Naoroji With Stamp – Parsi Times". Parsi Times. 6 January 2018. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  7. ^ "India Post Issued Stamp on Dadabhai Naoroji". Phila-Mirror. 29 December 2017. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  8. ^ Hiro, Dilip (2015). The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan. Nation Books. p. 9. ISBN 9781568585031. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  9. ^ Bharucha, Nilufer E. (2000). "Imagining the Parsi Diaspora: Narratives on the wings of fire". In Crane, Ralph J.; Mohanram, Radhika (eds.). Shifting Continents/Colliding Cultures: Diaspora Writing of the Indian Subcontinent. Amsterdam: Rodopi. p. 62. ISBN 978-9042012615. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  10. ^ Mistry, Sanjay (2007) "Naorojiin, Dadabhai" in Dabydeen, David et al. eds. The Oxford Companion of Black British History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 336–337; ISBN 9780199238941
  11. ^ Hinnells, John R. (28 April 2005). The Zoroastrian Diaspora: Religion and Migration. Oxford: OUP. p. 388. ISBN 978-0-19-826759-1. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  12. ^ Fourteenth Annual General Meeting of the British Indian Association, 14 February 1866, pg. 22.
  13. ^ Sequeira, Dolly Ellen (2021). Raj, S. Irudaya (ed.). Total History & Civics 10. Delhi: Morning Star.
  14. ^ Peters, K. J. (29 May 1946). "Indian Patchwork Is Made of Many Colours". Aberdeen Journal. Retrieved 2 December 2014 – via British Newspaper Archive.(subscription required)
  15. ^ "From the archive, 26 July 1892: Britain's first Asian MP elected". The Guardian. 26 July 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  16. ^ Sunavala, Nergish (3 September 2017). "The Freemasons chamber of secrets in Fort turns 120". The Times of India. ISSN 0971-8257. Retrieved 30 April 2024.
  17. ^ Sultan, Nazmul S. (2022). "Moral Empire and the Global Meaning of Gandhi's Anti-imperialism". The Review of Politics. 84 (4): 545–569. doi:10.1017/S0034670522000560. ISSN 0034-6705. S2CID 252029430.
  18. ^ "Millionaire's daughter arrested". Portsmouth Evening News. 21 August 1930. Retrieved 2 December 2014 – via British Newspaper Archive.(subscription required)
  19. ^ a b Kozicki, Richard P.; Ganguli, B. N. (1967). "Reviewed work: Dadabhai Naoroji and the Drain Theory., B. N. Ganguli". The Journal of Asian Studies. 26 (4): 728–729. doi:10.2307/2051282. JSTOR 2051282. S2CID 161370569.
  20. ^ Visana, Vikram (September 2016). "Vernacular Liberalism, Capitalism, and Anti-Imperialism in the Political Thought of Dadabhai Naoroji". The Historical Journal. 59 (3): 775–797. doi:10.1017/S0018246X15000230. ISSN 0018-246X. S2CID 155747116.
  21. ^ Raychaudhuri G.S. (1966). "On Some Estimates of National Income Indian Economy 1858–1947". Economic and Political Weekly. 1 (16): 673–679. JSTOR 4357298.
  22. ^ a b Ganguli, B.N. (1965). "Dadabhai Naoroji and the Mechanism of 'External Drain'". The Indian Economic & Social History Review. 2 (2): 85–102. doi:10.1177/001946466400200201. S2CID 145180903.
  23. ^ a b Banerjee, Sukanya (2010) Becoming Imperial Citizens : Indians in the Late Victorian Empire Durham. Duke University Press; ISBN 978-0-8223-4608-1
  24. ^ a b Doctor, Adi H. (1997) Political Thinkers of Modern India. New Delhi Mittal Publications; ISBN 978-8170996613
  25. ^ Chatterjee, Partha (1999). "Modernity, Democracy and a Political Negotiation of Death". South Asia Research. 19 (2): 103–119. doi:10.1177/026272809901900201. S2CID 144967482.
  26. ^ Chandra, Bipan (1965). "Indian Nationalists and the Drain, 1880—1905". The Indian Economic & Social History Review. 2 (2): 103–144. doi:10.1177/001946466400200202. S2CID 143869246.
  27. ^ Chishti, M. Anees ed. (2001) Committees And Commissions in Pre-Independence India 1836–1947 Volume 2: 1882–1895. New Delhi Mittal Publications; ISBN 9788170998020
  28. ^ "Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London", p. 9
  29. ^ Bakshi, Shiri Ram (1988) Gandhi and Indians in South Africa. p. 37.
  30. ^ Pasricha, Ashu (1998) Encyclopedia Eminent Thinkers. Vol. 11: The Political Thought of Dadabhai Naoroji. Concept Publishing Company. p. 30. ISBN 9788180694912
  31. ^ "Dadabhai Naoroji's London and Bombay". Dinyar Patel. 5 May 2020. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  32. ^ "Dadabhai Naoroji | Indian Nationalist and MP | Blue Plaques". English Heritage. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  33. ^ "First Indian to win a popular election to the UK Parliament receives Blue Plaque". English Heritage. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  34. ^ Mohdin, Aamna (10 August 2022). "Bromley home of UK's first Indian MP fitted with blue plaque". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  35. ^ "Dadabhai Naoroji's London home to get Blue Plaque: A look at the history of this honour". Firstpost. 4 August 2022. Retrieved 6 August 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Vikram Visana, Uncivil Liberalism: Labour, Capital, and Commercial Society in Dadabhai Naoroji's Political Thought, Cambridge University Press (2022).
  • Rustom P. Masani, Dadabhai Naoroji (1939).
  • Munni Rawal, Dadabhai Naoroji, Prophet of Indian Nationalism, 1855–1900, New Delhi: Anmol Publications (1989).
  • S. R. Bakshi, Dadabhai Naoroji: The Grand Old Man, Anmol Publications (1991). ISBN 81-7041-426-1
  • Verinder Grover, Dadabhai Naoroji: A Biography of His Vision and Ideas, New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publishers (1998). ISBN 81-7629-011-4
  • Debendra Kumar Das, ed., Great Indian Economists : Their Creative Vision for Socio-Economic Development. Vol. I: Dadabhai Naoroji (1825–1917): Life Sketch and Contribution to Indian Economy. New Delhi: Deep and Deep (2004). ISBN 81-7629-315-6
  • P. D. Hajela, Economic Thoughts of Dadabhai Naoroji, New Delhi: Deep & Deep (2001). ISBN 81-7629-337-7
  • Pash Nandhra, entry Dadabhai Naoroji in Brack et al. (eds).Dictionary of Liberal History; Politico's, 1998
  • Zerbanoo Gifford, Dadabhai Naoroji: Britain's First Asian MP; Mantra Books, 1992
  • Codell, J. "Decentering & Doubling Imperial Discourse in the British Press: D. Naoroji & M. M. Bhownaggree", Media History 15 (Fall 2009), 371–84.
  • Metcalf and Metcalf, Concise History of India
  • Vikram Visana, "Vernacular Liberalism, Capitalism, and Anti-Imperialism in the Political Thought of Dadabhai Naoroji", The Historical Journal 59, 3 (2016), 775–797.

External links[edit]

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Party political offices
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President of the Indian National Congress
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Preceded by President of the Indian National Congress
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