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The Grand Old Man’s Inclusive Nationalism

The Grand Old Man’s Inclusive Nationalism

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2-  The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country.

The Grand Old Man’s Inclusive Nationalism

Dadabhai Naoroji 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. But Naoroji was an Indian first in another important way. Throughout his career, he stressed an Indian national identity which overrode religious, caste, class, or ethnic differences“Whether I am a Hindu, a Muhammadan, a Parsi, a Christian, or of any other creed, I am above all an Indian,” he told the Congress in 1893. “Our country is India, our nationality is Indian.”

Participation in Indian Nationalism:

  • In order to contribute to matters that dealt with the Indian political, social and economic situation, Dadabhai Naoroji founded the London Indian Society in the year 1865.
  • One of the most important decisions of Dadabhai Naoroji that changed the course of the freedom struggle for India was the setting up of the East India Association which eventually was one of the predecessor associations of the Indian National Congress.
  • This organization sought to bring to the light of the British, the viewpoint of the Indians in matters that affected them and later on, proved to be a significant forum that challenged the racial supremacy of the white British and their constructed claims of the Indian population being an inferior one.
  • He became one of the members of the Legislative Council of Bombay from the year 1885 to the year 1888 and also held the post of the Prime Minister of Baroda in the year 1874.
  • Dadabhai Naoroji was also a participant of the Indian National Association that was established by Sir Surendranath Banerjee, an organization that morphed into the Indian National Congress in the later years.
  • After the birth of the Indian National Congress, he was voted the President in the year 1886. Later on, he again shouldered the responsibilities as the President of the Indian National Congress for the years 1893 and 1906.

Imparting inclusiveness in India’s Nationalism:

  • In all of his political activities, the Grand Old Man of India, as he was known, strove to be inclusive. He laboured to secure minority participation.
  • As a Parsi, a member of a small but highly influential community, Dadabhai Naoroji was specially attuned to the concerns of minorities. 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.
  • This cosmopolitanism played a defining role in launching Indian nationalism, which would have been impossible without deep personal networks across communal divides.
  • After the 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 the educationalist Sayyid Ahmad Khan repudiated the organisation in 1887, and after a wave of communal violence wracked northern India and Bombay in 1893.
  • And he overcame an anti-Congress reaction instigated by his fellow Parsis.
  • Naoroji’s outreach to minorities was not not mere tokenism, nor was it, in any sense, a form of political pandering. Rather, Naoroji understood a fundamental truth about his country: India worked best when it worked together.
  One episode from Naoroji’s career demonstrates how Indians responded positively to his inclusive, cross-communal politics. After he was elected to the British Parliament in 1892, Naoroji declared himself to be an Indian representative, someone who would fight on behalf of all of his countrymen and countrywomen. This was immediately challenged by several British Conservative MPs. How could a Parsi represent a country with a Hindu majority and a sizeable a Muslim minority? How could anyone represent India when, these Britons claimed, India was not a nation, but a collection of squabbling communities governed by mutual hatred? In December 1893, Naoroji returned to India in order to preside at the annual Congress session, held that year in Lahore. His journey from Bombay to Lahore became a popular demonstration staged by hundreds of thousands of Indians: A thoroughgoing affirmation that someone from a minority community could represent all of India, and that Indians could place their faith in a person who did not share their religion, language, caste, or background. In Bombay, Naoroji was welcomed by around 500,000 people—half of the city at the time—and honoured by Hindu priests and the city’s Muslim qazi.    
  • Naoroji nurtured some of the best Indian traditions of tolerance, and those traditions, in turn, shaped popular images of early Indian nationalism.
  • Some cartoons from the early 1900s depicted the Grand Old Man, a Zoroastrian, as a Hindu sadhu meditating under the banner of swaraj.
  • The Indian nationalism of Naoroji’s generation was far more popular and pervasive than is commonly believed.
  • But it did have notable limitations. Naoroji 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.
  • Many early nationalists, however, were open-minded, progressive, and welcomed criticism.
  • It is likely that if Naoroji lived one or two more decades, he would have seen the limitations of his earlier views and embraced some of the ideas propagated by Gandhi’s generation.

Over a century after his death, India is in critical need of remembering Naoroji’s brand of nationalism.

Source:”The Hindu”.


Highlight the participation of Dadabhai Naoroji in the initial phase of national freedom struggle as well as his inclusive brand of nationalism.