Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Dadabhai Naoroji: An Indian First

He was the first modern Indian economic thinker, the first Indian elected to the British Parliament, and the first leader to establish Swaraj as the goal of the Congress.
By IASToppers
July 27, 2020


  • Introduction
  • An Indian first
  • His brand of Nationalism
  • His contributions
  • Inclusive politics
  • Limitations
  • Naoroji in today’s India
  • Conclusion

Dadabhai Naoroji: An Indian First

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Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917) was an Indian Parsi scholar, trader and politician who punctured British notions that imperialism was a force for good, and built up an astonishing network of international contacts who supported India in the later phases of the nationalist struggle.

An Indian first:

  • Dadabhai Naoroji was an Indian first.
  • He was the first modern Indian economic thinker, the first Indian elected to the British Parliament, and the first leader to establish Swaraj as the goal of the Congress.
  • Throughout his career, he stressed an Indian national identity which overrode religious, caste, class, or ethnic differences.
  • He told the Congress in 1893, “whether I am a Hindu, a Muhammadan, a Parsi, a Christian, or of any other creed, I am above all an Indian. Our country is India; our nationality is Indian.”

His brand of Nationalism:

  • India is in critical need of remembering Naoroji’s brand of nationalism.
  • The Grand Old Man of India in all of his political activities, strove to be inclusive.
  • He laboured to secure minority participation.
  • Today’s stark majoritarianism, under banner of a very different form of nationalism, represents a striking betrayal of foundational principles that Naoroji bequeathed to India.
  • Majoritarianism is a traditional political agenda that asserts that a majority (categorized by religion, language, social class etc.) of population is entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the society.

His Contributions:

  • He listened to Maharashtrian assessments of colonial exploitation, compiled economic data with a Konkani Muslim, and ran a newspaper with a Kapol Bania.
  • His first political ventures drew in people from all across India.
  • His cosmopolitanism played a defining role in launching Indian nationalism, which would have been impossible without deep personal networks across communal divides.
  • He gave the theory of ‘drain of wealth’ in his book Poverty and Un-British Rule in India 1867.
  • He was the first Indian to be elected to British Parliament. He helped to form Indian parliamentary committee aimed to attend to Indian interests.
  • In December 1893, Naoroji returned to India in order to preside at the annual Congress session, held that year in Lahore.

Inclusive politics:

  • After Congress was established in 1885, he laboured to make it reflective of India’s diversity.
  • Naoroji expended great effort to reach out to Muslims, particularly after a wave of communal violence wracked northern India and Bombay in 1893.
  • He mentored Joseph Baptista, an East Indian Christian who later became an associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
  • He overcame an anti-Congress reaction instigated by his fellow Parsis.
  • He understood a fundamental truth that India worked best when it worked together.
  • He nurtured some of the best Indian traditions of tolerance, and those traditions, in turn, shaped popular images of early Indian nationalism.


  • The Indian nationalism of Naoroji’s generation was far more popular and pervasive than is commonly believed.
  • But it did have notable limitations as he was almost completely blind to the issue of untouchability, a glaring omission given his close study of Indian poverty.
  • He endorsed swadeshi but hesitated about tactics he saw as unconstitutional, such as mass boycotts and strikes.

Naoroji in today’s India:

  • He would be troubled by close-mindedness, chauvinism, and anti-intellectualism that animates the current leadership.
  • With horror of 19th century famine victims in mind, he would be furiously campaigning for the relief of migrant workers caught amidst lockdown restrictions.
  • He would see a parallel between contempt for the poor in his day and ours.
  • He would be stung and saddened by an atmosphere of overt majoritarianism, as well as the cynical deployment of communalism.


Naoroji wanted everyone to be an Indian first. This is only possible to achieve when people are not reduced to second- or third-class citizens. The best way to remember his political legacy is to reaffirm the liberal political tradition that he represented, and the commitment to freedom and equality which the Indian nationalist movement stood for.

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