Great men are not born great. They become great through their hard work, perseverance, and dedication. Some of the most famous men have succeeded because of their tremendous love of their country. They have worked selflessly for the glory of their country. They have endured great hardships so that their countrymen would lead better life. One such man was Dadabhai Naoroji.
Dadabhai Naoroji was loved and respected by everybody. He was affectionately known as “The Grand Old Man of India”. Throughout his life, he tried unceasingly to win swaraj, that is political freedom and equality for India. He served his country without any thought of personal gain. He was very outspoken, yet he never made a personal enemy. He was a dedicated, forthright, and honest man with a high sense of moral duty. He was also a pioneer in many fields.
Dadabhai Naoroji was born on September 4, 1825. During his college days, he was the pride of his professors and fellow students. Later on, he became the first Indian in many fields of activity. He was the first Indian professor of mathematics at Elphinstone Institute, Bombay; the first to found many an organization for the social, political, and intellectual uplift of his countrymen. He started a journal in which he emphasized the importance of truth and humanity.
Dadabhai Naoroji was the first Indian to be a member of the British Parliament. He was the first Indian to sit on a Royal Commission, that is, the Welby Commission. He was thrice elected President of the Indian National Congress. Above all, he was the first to demand self-government or swaraj for India.
In 1854, Dadabhai Naoroji left Elphinstone Institute to become a partner in a business firm that was the first Indian firm to set up a branch office in England. He was asked to join the firm because the other two partners felt that this selfless man would be an asset to them. However. Dadabhai Naoroji was in constant conflict with his partners because he refused to conduct underhand business dealings. He felt that the credit of his firm and the confidence it inspired in the London market would lead to the development of India’s trade with other countries on the continent. He was not prepared to sacrifice his country’s name for personal gains. Eventually, he had to retire from the partnership because he refused to discard his strong principles.
In 1859, Dadabhai Naoroji started a new trading firm called Dadabhai Naoroji and Company. This firm flourished on his principles of honesty, dedication, and duty. Soon he was able to offer financial assistance to various Indians.
Dadabhai was a man of high ideals. Throughout his life, he aimed at the political and economic well-being of India. He was convinced that if the British were made aware of the conditions in India they would not resist India becoming a free country. He never missed an opportunity to influence and educated the British. He was fearless and outspoken. He openly criticized the British Government for their high-handedness towards India. In fact, he regularly wrote articles in friendly newspapers drawing the attention of the public to the deplorable conditions prevailing in India and the shabby treatment given to Indians by the British Government. He was a man of great moral courage. His own well-being and popularity were of little or no concern to him. His country always came first. He fearlessly renounced and condemned the wrongs done by the British Government. For fifty years he consistently advocated self-government for India.
Such was the vigor and enthusiasm of Dadbhai that at the age of sixty-two he decided to go back to England to fight elections to the House of Commons. He failed in his first four attempts. But failure did not deter him. He tried once again and was elected a Liberal member of the British Parliament from 1892 to 1895. It was here, in the British Parliament, that Dadabhai spoke openly and fearlessly for the cause of India.
When Dadabhai returned from England, he was asked to become the President of the Indian National Congress. Thousands of people gathered at the docks to welcome him. There was rejoicing throughout India. Wherever Dadabhai went, huge crowds assembled for a “darshan” of the Grand Old Man and to pay their respects. Whatever time his train arrived at a station, massive crowds came forward to garland Dadabhai and acclaim him as a hero.
At that time there were two parties in the Indian National Congress. The moderates were led by Pherozshah Mehta and Gopal Krishna Gokhale, while the militants or extremists were led by Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Bipin Chandra Pal. These two factions in Congress held different views on how to fight for Swaraj. Dadabhai bridged the gulf between the two parties. He called upon the members of these opposing parties not to fight amongst themselves but to preserve unitedly for self-government. Dadabhai was able to unite Congress for the good of the country.
Dadabhai Naoroji was a tireless worker. Throughout his life, he sought to convey the needs and aspirations of his countrymen to Great Britain. His message to his countrymen was, “never despair” whatever may happen. While conferring a Doctor of Law degree on Dadabhai in 1916, an Englishman who was the Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University, paid him this tribute. “…….and today we pay the tribute of our admiration top Dadabhai Naoroji’s patience under adversities and disappointments, to his unwearied perseverance in the maintenance of his convictions and to the unselfish love of his country and nation which inspired him throughout his many conflicts.”
On the death of Dadabhai in 1917, thousands paid a warm, affectionate tribute to the life and character of the ‘sage of India’. Gokhale spoke of him as, “……the foremost Indian of our times, the man without self or stain…….” Another leader said, “Dadabhai lived and worked for us with a devotion which must remain for all of us an inspiring example.” Gandhiji once said to Dadabhai, “Please chide me if I am wrong, please put me right: I am like your son in every respect.”
Dadabhai died at the age of ninety-three. He attributed his long life and good health “to life-long abstinence, to avoiding tobacco, to eschewing spices and condiments and to working hard.” He set a personal example that inspired everyone who came in contact with him. Gopal Krishna Gokhale thought that he “was one of the most perfect examples of the highest type of patriotism that any country has ever produced.”
“For sixty-one long years in England and in India, by day and by night, in circumstances favorable and adverse, in the face of discouragement which would have broken the heart of a smaller man, Dadabhai Naoroji served the Motherland with undeviating purpose, with complete selflessness and with the vitality of faith which put to shame most young men.”