Dadabhai Naoroji's role in the Indian freedom struggle

After the Revolt, the people had a tough time with immense pressure from the British through their laws and policies. This led to a lot of discontent among the people with many peasants, tribal and other uprisings in various parts of the country – zamindars, landlords, peasants, tribals, artisans etc. in most of the parts of India. This also led to the creation of groups political in nature which was being dominated by the educated middle class unlike in the early 19th century when only the wealthy landlords and elites were part of it. The formation of these new associations was the coming together for a broader agenda. Some of the associations like the Bangabasha Prakashika Sabha formed the associates of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the Zamindari Association and the Bengal British India Society which was merged into British Indian Association, The Indian League, The Indian Association of Calcutta etc. all to secure the welfare of the citizens by sending out petitions to the government for their demands and to instill a sense of nationalism. Here is what was Dadabhai Naoroji’s role in the Indian freedom struggle?

Not only in India, but the early nationalists decided to take this movement to other places as well. The first one to do so was Dadabhai Naorji who set up the East India Association in London in 1866 to influence the public of England to promote the Indian cause. He wanted to put the Indian point of view across to the Britishers. But, before looking at Naoroji, let us look into the political climate of the society at that time and the conception of INC.

The Foundation of the Indian National Congress – 

There was heavy discontentment among the people. The 1857 revolt had failed and this resulted in further agitation among the people.

Myth has it that at that time, the then Viceroy Lord Dufferin gave direction to A.O Hume and others to start the Indian National Congress which will provide a safe outlet for the rising voices and keep the revolutionary potential in check. This argument was made by several others – Lala Lajpat Rai,  W C Bonnerji and others who accepted this theory. Many other scholars today though do not believe in this theory.

Dadabhai Naoroji's role in the Indian freedom struggle


Source: Mintage World

Scholars like Bipan Chandra Pal have pointed out that the Indian National Congress was the result of very many struggles and was formed for the ‘political awakening’ and its formation was a turning point in the history of our struggle. We have seen how there were small uprisings across the country against the various British policies and all this resulted in the formation of a group – a large group which would connect the entire region.

Also Read – The Story Of Indian Independence Struggle

In the beginning like all other groups, INC was limited to only the dominant section of the society – the elites and the educated middle class who deliberated on the issues which were affecting Indian people at time. These people discussed the political situation of India. It was only later that the INC became more of an All-India group including all sections.

Started by AO Hume, the first President was W C Bonnerji. Dadabhai presided over the second session of the INC in 1886. Since the beginning of the 1860’s, he was actively involved in the upliftment of the Indians. Through these groups, the collective could petition the government regarding the policies which the Britishers framed. Dadabhai was one of the important figures in the history of our freedom struggle. He was instrumental in laying the foundation of a new outlook to give a right direction to the beginnings of the struggle.

We will look at Dadabhai in greater detail in comparison to other nationalists as his contribution has given a base which has given the much-needed focus for the Indian Independence Struggle. Also, he was present to give a continuous momentum as an INC Member till the late 1900’s giving mentorship to the next generation of leaders which is why the title of ‘Grand Old Man of India’ which he was given is justified.

The Journey of the DadaBhai Naoroji (Grand Old Man of India) – 

Dadabhai Naoroji, a Parsi Intellectual was a man with diverse capabilities from a cotton trader and then a Professor in London, his growing desire to change the political situation in India led him to create associations which would promote the cause. The East Indian Association he founded won a lot of support from eminent Englishmen and soon spread to other locations.

At that time in India, there was a rising discontent among the people. He then returned to India where he became a member of the Indian National Association founded by Sir Surendranath Banerjee from Calcutta a few years before the founding of the INC in Bombay with objectives such as change in the political setup and instill a sense of nationalism among the people of the country i.e. basically a platform where the people could discuss social and mainly political matters because by then the leaders had realized that they needed to unite if they ever wanted to oust the Britishers.

Contribution of DadaBhai Naoroji in Indian Freedom Struggle –

Dadabhai Naoroji's role in the Indian freedom struggle

Source : The British Library

In the late 1880’s he moved back to London to further strengthen the cause of Indians there by appealing and gaining the support of the people. He was further elected to the British House of Commons becoming the first Asian to become the Member of Parliament there. During his time, he put forward his views there on the situation in India and the way in which India was ruled over by them. He put great efforts in improving the situation in India.

After returning to India, he became involved with writing speeches and reports about the situation and passed on the baton of the struggle for freedom to the younger leaders who were emerging at that time – B G Tilak, G K Gokhale, M G Gandhi and M A Jinnah.

He was elected a President for the second time in 1906 where he gave a call for ‘Swaraj’ just like UK or its colonies. This was the first time that someone had mentioned the word and that the leaders fighting at that time agreed on the final goal of self-government. But, since the word Swaraj was not clearly defined it led to different interpretation by the two important groups which emerged then – Moderates i.e. those who believed in petitions and constitutional reforms that could change the political situation and the Extremists i.e. those who believed that violence was needed to overthrow the British rule. We will read more about them in the next series.


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What is Dadabhai Naoroji’s drain theory?

Dadabhai is widely credited for developing the Drain theory which resulted in understanding the effect which British rule had on Indian Society while attempting to estimate the net national profit of India. He realized that Britain was draining Indian wealth. This helped the later nationalists to analyse the repercussions of the British rule. It further strengthened the need to attain ‘Swarajya’. The basic questions which he raised along with other leaders of those times – M G Ranade and R C Dutt regarding the nature and purpose of British Rule.

Through these associations, the intellectuals could further learn and spread their findings on the basis of such policies. Poverty was a topic of special interest to Naoroji, seen as man-made and he wanted India to develop by encouraging Indian capital by replacing foreign capital for the overall development of the country.

Dadabhai Naoroji was part of the initial setup of political awakening which had firm roots and his ideas gave a proper direction to the movement as the focus of nationalist anger against colonialism was the drain theory. In the course of their agitation, the leaders could link the economic condition of the nation with the political status of the country and piece by piece they could draw a conclusion that British Colonialism was exploiting the wealth and that it was only when Indians controlled the political power that India could develop.   

Also at that time, many leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Surendranath Banerjee, Dadabhai and others also began working on the idea to reform the society of its ills which would help the freedom struggle. Leaders were looking in to try and integrate social, political and economic conditions for the upliftment of the society which would then enable them to overthrow the British rule. This aspect of these leaders to modernize their society along western lines but in retaining their identity as Indians further helped them to participate strongly against the British in later years.

Most of the leaders shared the same vision and tried to bring in changes in the society at the micro level by first understanding these changes in detail.  

In fact, Dadabhai as a leader raised the situation of India under British rule in the British Parliament itself gaining attention of the people there which was the first step towards Independence in the right direction, worked with people affected with poverty and also provided the fundamental economic reason for overthrowing the British rule and instead practice self-rule was revolutionary in its own way. His decision of appealing against the British in Britain was a bold decision to take at that time. The idea that if they could be persuaded about how they were ruling in India was a smart move which many have worked to some extent that he was made a Member of the Parliament there and that the issues that he raised were highlighted. That itself is a great first step. Add to that the discovery of the economic drain theory could now be shared among people and to convince them to unite against the British. Thus, this provided a framework and the direction in which the freedom movement must move to with the slow realization of that they needed to include all the sections of the society against the British without which it was difficult to overthrow them, for the need of self-government became stronger among them helping them to focus on the ultimate aim of gaining independence.

What was the impact of early nationalists in Indian Freedom Struggle?

It is difficult to revolt against a particular order and more so when one is made to feel inferior which is why our freedom struggle took so long.  After the formal take over by the East India Company, the administration processes which were taking place earlier was changed making the policies and legislations harsher on the natives. Thus, there erupted a chaos in the society at that time each section of the society fighting for their own advantage and not including the other people as most of the groups were troubled by the rules and regulations under the Company regime.

In India, unlike other countries, it was further difficult owing to the caste system which has been a part and parcel of the society. In such as case, each group in the society functions in isolation to the other.  In such a case, it is a herculean task to bring together all the groups under one roof to fight the British.

The failure of the smaller rebellions at that time too did not make the political and social leaders that time that they needed to include all the sections of the society if they wanted to remain successful. For them, by ‘all’ they only meant the educated middle class which was capable of bringing a change. They did not believe that the elites could because most of them were supporting the British although only a handful, yet they were powerful and authoritative and enjoyed the patronage of the British. On the other hand, they did not believe that the peasants could join in probably because of their lower place in the society and the failures they endured in the previous rebellions.  The early nationalists with good English education could reflect on the Indian society which was traditional in comparison with the modern ways of the English. Being the first set of intellectuals they could understand the changes which their society should make in order to progress which is why they were appreciative of the modern ways which the Britishers brought to India but they were not appreciative about the way they ruled over the country. Thus, they were in dual minds as to the British rule.

After the revolt of 1857, there was a lull in political activity for some time. The intellectuals were not part of this revolt and by observing this from a distance they decided to deliberate on this. They were a class of people who were part of the British administration and thus were not politically active. It was only after the revolt that they became so, the revolt sowed the idea amongst them of a need to bring in changes in their society. Thus, they began social reforms first in trying to uplift their society and began political associations to discuss the situation in India and about the past glory which India had enjoyed earlier. These discussions spread from city to city and very soon by the time the Congress was set up, the educated middle class which was interested in bringing changes across the country came together with the purpose of bringing gradual changes in the society.

The other reason for their failure is that these leaders lacked a clear cut idea on how to proceed. The best way they thought was to petition the British for bringing reforms through the Constitution.

But, these aims and objectives came in much later in our freedom struggle. At this stage, only ideas were discussed gradually.

Contribution of early leaders in Indian Freedom Struggle – 

We are going to celebrate our 72nd Independence Day soon and it becomes important to understand the contribution of the early leaders in helping us attain our freedom. They were the strong pillars which through their successes and failures have guided the movement.  By understanding how the left their greater imprint on the freedom struggle, we can understand how they passed on the baton of their ideas and leadership to the next generation of leaders. Their faults too are significant to understand as they were reasons for a long time it took to attain freedom but the fact that they initiated a long chain of events which went down in the history of the formation of a country is a commendable exercise.    

By generating the idea of bettering the society they lived in, they, in fact, understood the problem. Many of these leaders also worked among the people for their upliftment, petitioning the British for the improvement in laws which were backward and harmful to the progress of the country. This was a good start. Only that it could have been better if they included the people among whom they worked as well.

Stay on for the next leader we bring and how he had contributed to the freedom struggle. We’ll be back soon.

What do you think of the early part of the Indian freedom struggle? Let us know in the comment section.  

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