Naoroji’s Contemporaries

Annie Besant with an aged Dadabhai Naoroji at his house in Versova, sometime in 1915.

Dadabhai Naoroji interacted with people from all walks of life: his fellow Parsis and Indians, British politicians, economic thinkers, and writers—but also ordinary British laborers, Indian students in Great Britain, British feminists, American and European anti-colonialists, and colonial subjects from around the world. Below are profiles of just a few individuals who played a prominent role in his life and career.

Bhownaggree, Mancherji (1851-1933): Conservative MP for Bethnal Green between 1895 and 1906 and the second-ever Indian (and Parsi) elected to the British Parliament. Bhownaggree served as the Bombay-based agent for the ruling thakur of Bhavnagar before relocating to London, where he assisted Naoroji in his Central Finsbury campaign. He subsequently found Naoroji too politically radical for his tastes and—with assistance from George Birdwood and Lord Harris, the governor of Bombay—launched his successful campaign in Bethnal Green, aiming to become a Conservative “Member for India.” As an MP, Bhownaggree was reviled by Indian nationalists as an Anglo-Indian stooge, although he did provide critical assistance to Mohandas K. Gandhi in South African affairs.

Birdwood, George (1832-1917): India Office official, scholar of Indian art and history, and a staunch Conservative. In spite of his very different political leanings, Birdwood was one of Naoroji’s oldest and most trusted friends; their friendship dated from 1858 and lasted until 1917, when they died days apart from one another. Birdwood resided in Bombay between 1854 and 1868, where he became a professor at Grant Medical College. Unlike many other Anglo-Indians, he actively sought out friendships and associations with Indians, becoming an extremely popular figure in the city. After returning to Britain and securing a position in the India Office, he continued to mentor and assist Indians who were in the United Kingdom for work or study. Birdwood played an active role in Mancherji Bhownaggree’s decision to contest a parliamentary seat as a Conservative in 1895, something that might have temporarily frayed his friendship with Naoroji.

Bonnerjee, Womesh Chunder (W.C.) (1844-1906): first president of the Congress (at its 1885 session in Bombay). Originally from Calcutta, Bonnerjee lived primarily in London after he qualified as a barrister. He was a moderate leader who helped steer the British Committee of the Indian National Congress. Bonnerjee unsuccessfully stood as a Liberal candidate for Parliament in the 1892 general elections. 

Butler, Josephine (1828-1906): prominent British women’s rights activist. In the 1860s, she began campaigning for women’s suffrage and also began a prodigious career as a writer, authoring books and tracts on various women’s rights issues. Butler took an active interest in Indian political affairs in connection with her work to repeal the Indian Contagious Diseases Act. She recruited Naoroji as a strong supporter of her repeal efforts; in return, Butler supported Naoroji’s parliamentary ambitions.

Cama, Bhikhaiji Rustomji (1861-1935): radical nationalist who spent much of her life in exile in Paris. Cama became close to Naoroji and his family while residing in London in 1905 and 1906, where she also came into contact with Henry Hyndman and Shyamji Krishnavarma. In Paris, she looked after Naoroji’s granddaughter, Perin, a student at the Sorbonne, and introduced her to other revolutionaries in the city. In 1907, Cama attended the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart and held up a flag which, she announced, stood for an independent India.

An aged Kharshedji Nasarvanji Cama, one of the most prominent and liberal members of the Cama mercantile family.

Cama, Kharshedji Nasarvanji (1815?-1885): wealthy Parsi sethia (commercial elite) who served as Naoroji’s colleague and financial benefactor in numerous Young Bombay endeavors. He provided financial support for the Dnyan Prasarak Mandli, Rahnumae Mazdayasnan Sabha, and the girls’ schools operated by the Students’ Literary and Scientific Society. He co-founded the Rast Goftar with Naoroji in 1851.

Chesney, George (1830-1895): Indian army officer and advocate of increased British military spending (he authored The Battle of Dorking in 1871, a sensational account of a German invasion of Great Britain). He retired from India in 1891 and was elected as the Conservative MP for Oxford in 1892. Chesney became one of Naoroji’s most vocal opponents in the House of Commons, challenging Naoroji’s ability to act as an Indian representative.

Crawfurd, John (1783-1868): British diplomat in Java and Siam, later appointed to fill Stamford Raffles’s post in Singapore in 1823. Towards the end of his life, Crawfurd served as president of the London Ethnological Society. Naoroji’s 1866 paper, “The European and Asiatic Races,” was a response to Crawfurd’s racist rants about the inferiority of Asians in comparison to Europeans.

Davitt, Michael (1846-1906): outspoken Irish nationalist leader, founder of the Irish Land League, and MP. Davitt and Naoroji were close friends, although many Indian nationalists in the 1880s and 1890s found Davitt far too radical and resented Naoroji’s association with him. Keenly interested in Indian affairs, Davitt suggested offering an Irish seat in Parliament to Naoroji in 1883 and 1888. Naoroji asked him for help in finding an Irish parliamentary seat in 1892 and 1896, and encouraged him to accept the presidency of the Congress in 1894.

Dickinson, John (1815-1876): vocal critic of British Indian policy. He founded the India Reform Society in 1853, which organized public meetings and published a number of tracts that were strongly critical of policies pursued by Lord Dalhousie, the governor-general. Like Evans Bell, Dickinson took a marked interest in princely state affairs. Dickinson was an early member of Naoroji’s East India Association. Along with Navrozji Fardunji, he helped draft a petition to the House of Commons in 1874 on Indian parliamentary representation.

Digby, William (1849-1904): social campaigner and journalist. Digby edited the Madras Times before returning to Great Britain in 1879. He stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate for Parliament in 1885 and 1892. Digby was one of Naoroji’s most important supporters during the Holborn and Central Finsbury campaigns, acting as an intermediary between Naoroji and Francis Schnadhorst in the latter campaign. He was secretary of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress and editor of its newspaper, India, between 1890 and 1892. In 1901, he published ‘Prosperous’ British India, a scathing account of Indian poverty and famines.

Dutt, Romesh Chunder (1848-1909): one of the earliest Indian members of the civil service, retiring as divisional commissioner of Burdwan in 1897. He was president of the 1899 Lucknow Congress. Dutt authored a two-volume Economic History of India during his residence in London, where he participated in the activities of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress. In 1900, he contemplated standing for Parliament. Dutt’s correspondence with Naoroji in July 1903 prompted Naoroji to enunciate the demand for “Self-Government under British Paramountcy.”

Fawcett, Henry (1833-1884): professor of political economy at Cambridge University and a Liberal MP.  Due to a shooting accident in 1858, he was left permanently blind, but refused to let his handicap impair his education and work. Fawcett was deeply influenced by John Stuart Mill and quickly joined the most progressive ranks of Liberal MPs. From the late 1860s until his death, Fawcett was known as the “Member for India” in Parliament for his advocacy of Indian interests.

Freeman, George (George Fitzgerald) (born c. 1836): Irish-American journalist and Indian revolutionary supporter. Very little is known about his life. He lived in London before immigrating to Canada, where he became an outspoken advocate of Canada’s separation from the British Empire. After moving to New York, he joined the Clan-na-Gael, an Irish republican organization, and contributed to the New York Sun. He corresponded with Naoroji between 1897 and 1901, establishing what was most likely the first-ever instance of cooperation between an American anti-imperialist and an Indian nationalist. Freeman thereafter drifted into radical circles, associating with the Ghadr Party and assisting in the so-called “Hindu-German Conspiracy” during the First World War.

Gandhi, Mohandas K. (1869-1948): Gandhi lived in London between 1888 and 1891, where he studied for the bar. Here, he met Naoroji for the first time in 1888. He began a lengthy correspondence with Naoroji in 1894 after he relocated to South Africa. Naoroji helped publicize and distribute Gandhi’s reports, which detailed discriminatory activity against Indians in South Africa, and lobbied British colonial officials on Gandhi’s behalf. He also assisted with Gandhi’s 1906 deputation to London.

Portrait of Lalmohan Ghosh (Lalmohun Ghose), whose oratorical skills won widespread fame in Great Britain in the 1880s.

Ghosh, Lalmohan (1849-1909): member of the Indian Association of Calcutta. In 1885, he became the first Indian to stand for election to the British Parliament, waging an unsuccessful campaign as a Liberal in Deptford. He made a second unsuccessful attempt in 1886. Ghosh was president of the 1903 Madras session of the Congress.

Gladstone, William Ewart (1809-1898): leader of the Liberal Party in the late Victorian era, serving as prime minister four times. Gladstone was known as the “Grand Old Man,” a moniker that inspired Indians to dub Naoroji as the “Grand Old Man of India” by the early 1890s. He rallied to Naoroji’s defense after Lord Salisbury’s “black man” remark in 1888. Naoroji’s election to the Commons coincided with Gladstone’s fourth and last ministry, lasting from 1892 until his resignation from office in early 1894. 

Gokhale, Gopal Krishna (1866-1915): one of the most prominent leaders of the moderate faction of the Congress in the early twentieth century. Mentored by Mahadev Govind Ranade, Gokhale joined the Congress in 1889 and served as its president at its 1905 Banaras session. He was a professor at Fergusson College in Poona. Gokhale worked closely with Naoroji during the Welby Commission, traveling to London along with Dinsha Wacha in order to deliver evidence. From 1904 onwards, Naoroji cultivated Gokhale as a supporter of Indian self-government.

Griffith, Robert Morgan Holt (R.M.H.) (1840-1906): campaign secretary for Naoroji during his first campaign in Central Finsbury and secretary during his term in Parliament. Griffith distinguished himself as one of Naoroji’s most loyal and steadfast supporters, helping him navigate local political divisions in Clerkenwell. He was also the proprietor of the Weekly News and Clerkenwell Chronicle.

Hamilton, Lord George (1845-1927): appointed as secretary of state for India in 1895 by the Conservative ministry of Lord Salisbury. He became the longest serving secretary of state for India, leaving office only in 1903. Hamilton was widely disliked by Naoroji and other Indian nationalists, who blamed him for relative indifference to the plague epidemic and famines of the late 1890s.

Hume, Allan Octavian (1829-1912): considered the “Father of the Indian National Congress.” Hume arrived in India in 1849 and joined the civil service, being first stationed in Etawah. He resigned from the civil service in 1882 and thereafter served as an advisor to Lord Ripon during his viceroyalty. Hume worked with Naoroji and other Bombay political leaders to begin preliminary organization of the Congress in January 1885. In the summer of 1885, he visited the United Kingdom in order to drum up support for the proposed Congress amongst Liberal politicians. Naoroji relied on Hume’s extensive contacts after arriving in London in 1886 with the intention of standing for Parliament.

Hyndman, Henry (1842-1921): socialist leader and founder of the first socialist political party in Great Britain (the Democratic Federation, established in 1881, which in 1884 became the Social Democratic Federation). Hyndman most likely first met Naoroji in 1878 after reading the latter’s “Poverty of India.” He subsequently adopted Naoroji’s views on the drain of wealth. In 1897, he embarked on a speaking tour with Naoroji in order to highlight the catastrophic famine in India.In 1904, he attended the International Socialist Congress in Amsterdam with Naoroji. By the late 1890s, Hyndman, brash and outspoken, had become critical of Naoroji and the Congress’ political moderation, instead speaking of the need for open rebellion against British rule.

Jambhekar, Bal Gangadhar Shastri (1812-1846): assistant professor at Elphinstone College and one of Naoroji’s college instructors. Jambhekar was responsible for selecting Naoroji for admission into Elphinstone College. Originally from the south Konkan coast, he was brought to Bombay in 1826 and educated at the Bombay Native Education Society’s central English school. Recognized as a brilliant polymath, Jambhekar taught subjects ranging from Shakespeare to integral calculus.

Kazi Shahabudin (1832-1900): served as diwan of Kutch until 1874. In the early 1870s, he resided in London, where he became involved in the East India Association. During Naoroji’s diwanship in Baroda, he served as head of the revenue department. Kazi was diwan of Baroda from 1883 until 1886. He was appointed to the Bombay legislative council in 1886 and later became a critic of the Congress.

Krishnavarma, Shyamji (1857-1930): radical nationalist influenced by Herbert Spencer and Henry Hyndman. He was the founder of the Indian Home Rule Society, India House in London, and editor of the Indian Sociologist (published in London and, later, Paris). Krishnavarma became Naoroji’s most virulent critic in the radical camp by 1905.

Malabari, Behramji (1854-1912): social reformer, poet, and journalist known as the “right hand man of Dadabhai Naoroji.” Malabari took over the Indian Spectator in 1880, which became one of the most respected Indian periodicals under his watch. In 1883, he and Naoroji founded the Voice of India, a newspaper meant to counter the Anglo-Indian dominance of Indian news coverage in Great Britain. Although he joined the Congress for only a brief period—he strongly disagreed with its refusal to take up social reform matters—Malabari took an active part in nationalist political activity. He played an indispensable role in Naoroji’s parliamentary campaigns, cobbling together financial and logistical support across India (including significant financial support from princes), coordinating support from Indian newspapers, and seeking assistance from Liberal Party functionaries. A tireless campaigner on behalf of Indian women’s rights, he championed the controversial Age of Consent Bill of 1891, which earned him the ire of Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

Malharrao Gaikwad of Baroda (1831-1882): ruler of Baroda state from 1870 until 1875. He appointed Naoroji as his diwan in 1873, a move that accentuated bad relations between the Baroda darbar and the British resident, Robert Phayre. Malharrao retained corrupt darbaris in spite of Naoroji’s attempts to appoint his own ministers and institute administrative reform. Ultimately, in December 1874, he allowed Naoroji to follow through on persistent threats of resignation. In early 1875, Malharrao was removed from the throne by British authorities and subsequently convicted of involvement in an attempted poisoning of Phayre. He died in exile in Madras.

Mehta, Pherozeshah M. (1845-1915): one of the most dominant figures in Bombay politics during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, known as the “uncrowned king of Bombay.” Mehta was president of the Congress in 1890. He strenuously opposed Naoroji’s decision to stay in the United Kingdom after the 1886 general elections. Mehta became one of the best-known leaders of the moderate faction of the Congress. He was reportedly deeply unhappy with Naoroji’s presidential address at the Congress’ 1906 Calcutta session, believing that it had aided the radical camp.

Navrozji Fardunji (also rendered Nowrozjee Furdoonjee), known as the “Tribune of the People.”

Navrozji Fardunji (1817-1885): journalist, assistant professor at Elphinstone College, co-founder of the Bombay Association, and one of the earliest and most prominent social and religious reformers in the Parsi community. He was popularly known as the “Tribune of the People.” Navrozji served as a mentor to Naoroji and other members of Young Bombay. He worked closely with Naoroji in promoting female education, establishing the Rahnumae Mazdayasnan Sabha, and running the Rast Goftar. Navrozji was an active participant in the East India Association, both in Bombay and London. He was involved in Bombay municipal affairs in the 1870s and 1880s as a member of the town council.

Pal, Bipin Chandra (1858-1932): Prominent radical leader of the Congress. He became acquainted with Naoroji while in London in the late 1890s but soon after established himself as one of his staunchest critics, finding Naoroji’s politics far too moderate. He objected to Naoroji’s formulation of “Self-Government Under British Paramountcy,”calling it too timid, and criticized Naoroji for ruling out violent methods for achieving self-government. Pal helped run the Bande Mataram in Calcutta.

Phayre, Robert (1820-1897): British resident of Baroda during Naoroji’s diwanship. Suspicious of Naoroji’s political activities in London, Phayre skillfully took advantage of divisions in the Baroda darbar in order to thwart many of Naoroji’s efforts at reform. He was removed from his post in late 1874 after he was nearly poisoned, an attempt later linked to Malharrao.  

Ranade, Mahadev Govind (1842-1901): noted economic thinker, social reformer, and leader of the Congress. He graduated from Elphinstone College and Bombay University and served as a judge on the Bombay High Court. His judicial career prevented Ranade from accepting a ministerial position during Naoroji’s diwanship in Baroda. Naoroji and Ranade both served in the Bombay legislative council in 1885-1886. He helped found the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha and remained an active member until Bal Gangadhar Tilak seized control of the organization in 1896. Thereafter, Ranade and Gopal Krishna Gokhale founded the Deccan Sabha. 

Ripon, Marquess of (George Frederick Samuel Robinson) (1827-1909): Indian viceroy from 1880 to 1884. He was popular among early Indian nationalists due to his comparatively progressive and reformist stance on Indian policy. During Frederick A. Ford’s insurgent Liberal candidacy in Central Finsbury, he attempted to lobby National Liberal Federation officials on Naoroji’s behalf. Ripon served as secretary of state for the colonies from 1892 until 1895.

Salisbury, Marquess of (Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil) (1830-1903): Conservative leader and British prime minister. Salisbury was secretary of state for India from 1866 to 1867 and from 1874 to 1878; he was prime minister from 1885 to 1886, 1886 to 1892, and from 1895 to 1902. In November 1888, he labeled Naoroji as a “black man” undeserving of election to Parliament, triggering widespread support for Naoroji and boosting his candidacy in Central Finsbury.

Smith, Samuel (1836-1906): successful cotton merchant and Liberal MP. Smith first met Naoroji in the late 1850s while both men were engaged in the Liverpool cotton trade. He made several visits to India, steadily becoming a supporter of Indian political reform and championing Indian causes in the House of Commons, where he was an MP from 1882 until 1885 and from 1886 until 1905. Smith took special interest in temperance matters, becoming president of the Anglo-Indian Temperance Union. He died in Calcutta a few days after witnessing Naoroji’s presidential address at the 1906 Congress session.

Tilak, Bal Gangadhar (1856-1920): radical Indian nationalist and editor of the English-language Mahratta and Marathi-language Kesari. Tilak pioneered a brand of Hindu nationalism through the development of public celebrations of Ganpati and the birthday of Shivaji. He captured the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha from moderate leaders in 1896. Tilak was suspected of involvement in the 1897 assassinations of Walter Charles Rand, special plague commissioner in Poona, and Charles Egerton Ayerst, his military escort, and was subsequently imprisoned for sedition. He emerged as one of the leading radical nationalists in the early 1900s, popularizing the term “swaraj.” Tilak pleaded with Naoroji to adopt tenets of the radical camp, such as the boycott of foreign goods and national education. Proposed by radicals to be president of the 1906 Calcutta Congress, he stood aside when Naoroji indicated his willingness to accept the position. At its 1907 session in Surat, Tilak led the radical faction out of the Congress. He was imprisoned between 1908 and 1914 and rejoined the Congress at the 1916 Lucknow session.

Wacha, Dinsha (1844-1936): general secretary of the Congress and a long-serving member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation. He served as president of the Congress in 1901. Along with Behramji Malabari, Wacha was one of Naoroji’s closest confidantes and one of his most regular correspondents. He served as an editor of the English columns of the Kaiser-i-Hind and was active in the Bombay Millowners’ Association. Within the Congress, Wacha was closely associated with moderate stalwarts such as Pherozeshah Mehta and Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

Wadya, Hormusjee Ardeseer (1849-1928): moderate leader of the Congress and one of Naoroji’s political protégés. Wadya most likely first met Naoroji when he was studying in University College in London during the late 1860s. During the Baroda diwanship, he was known as Naoroji’s “right-hand man” and served as chief magistrate. He remained actively involved in princely state affairs in Gujarat.

Wedderburn, William (1838-1918): one of the Congress’ earliest guiding figures, along with Naoroji and Hume. Wedderburn joined the Bombay civil service in 1860. He helped Naoroji found the Bombay branch of the East India Association in 1869. After retiring from the civil service in 1887, he plunged into the work of the Congress, serving as president at its 1889 Bombay session. Wedderburn was elected to Parliament in 1893, serving alongside Naoroji in the Commons for two years. He served as a commissioner for the Welby Commission in the late 1890s, once more alongside Naoroji. In 1900, Wedderburn retired from the Commons, but he remained actively involved in the British Committee of the Indian National Congress for the rest of his life. 

Wood, W. Martin (1828-1907): one of Naoroji’s closest friends and a longtime political ally. Wood edited the Times of India in the early 1870s. He joined Naoroji in lobbying the India Office on behalf of the interests of various princely states. Wood was a member of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress.