Dadabhai Naroji: Grand Old Man of India
By John Day Barnett
The BBC Radio 4 Great Lives podcast is a wonderful biographical series in which guests choose someone who inspire their lives and an expert is brought on to delve deeper into that person’s life both personally and historically.
In this podcast, “Chef Cyrus Todiwala chooses Dadabhai Naroji, the ‘Grand Old Man of India’ who in 1892 became Britain’s first Asian MP for Finsbury Central. He later returned to India and petitioned for the country to be self-governing. Mahatma Ghandi, who was Dadabhai’s mentee, would later refer to him as the Father of the Nation.”
Naroji was a Parsi, a faith that produces people that according to Todiwala have traits like rebellion, creativity, and pioneering attitudes. These attributes allowed him to influence great leaders and break barriers throughout his career.
The Parsi community itself is a small part of the large population in India – Todiwala points to the amazing fact that someone from a people in such a minority was able to pioneer a way for others, which eventually led to the creation of nations and more equality among the citizens of those nations.
Here are some highlights about Naroji’s life and influence from the podcast:
In the years immediately following Indian Independence he was more well-known. In the nearly 70 years since he has faded out of popular memory.
He was the first Indian math professor in Britain, fought for women’s rights, helped found the Indian National Congress (and was President three times). While he was elected the first Asian to Parliament in 1892, he only lasted three years in Parliament. He lost the first time he ran and when he tried to run again in 1905.
He strived to be the voice of the majority of the British Empire – at the time India represented 4/5 of the population with 250 million people.
He lived until he was 92, faced many challenges and racism during his life (the Prime Minister when he was elected MP called him a black man, he was also called a “fire worshipper from Bombay.”
Dig deeper into those you admire – understand who they admired and find out if their history can influence you today and in the future.
Let’s prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Naroji’s death in 2017 – think about the issues facing society today. What can you do to make the world a better place for your community, family, children, and your children’s children? Even if you’re years before the actual results (Naroji died 30 years before Indian Independence) – you can still make a difference for future generations.