Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism by Dinyar Patel - review by Abhimanyu Arni

Abhimanyu Arni

From Bombay to the Green Benches

Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism


Harvard University Press 320pp £28.95

Near the centre of Regent’s Park there is an ornate water fountain erected in 1869. It bears the legend:

This fountain … was the gift of Sir Cowasjee Jehangir (Companion of the Star of India), a wealthy Parsee gentleman of Bombay, as a token of gratitude to the people of England for the protection enjoyed by him and his Parsee fellow countrymen under the British rule in India.

Twenty-three years after this fountain was built, and fewer than five miles away, another Parsi gentleman of Bombay would walk into the Palace of Westminster to become the first Indian to take his seat in the House of Commons, having been elected by a margin of only five votes. The views of this gentleman, Dadabhai Naoroji, could not have been more different from those of his Parsi fellow countryman. Naoroji, who was born in 1825, had spent his long career developing sophisticated critiques of the Raj and campaigning for a greater degree of freedom for India. He had an early career as a professor, served as diwan (head of government) of the princely state of Baroda, led the fight for Indian freedom in London and acted as paterfamilias to much of the Indian community there. As Liberal MP for Central Finsbury from 1892 to 1895, he could claim at the same time to be the MP for all India, the first elected spokesperson for the 300 million silenced voices of the subcontinent.

India’s pantheon of freedom fighters is impressive: Nehru, Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, B R Ambedkar. The name of Naoroji, however, is strangely forgotten. He did not live to see the fabled midnight hour and his brand of ‘polite’ constitutional political lobbying has been considered less effective than Gandhi’s programme of

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