CAA’s Articulate – Dream of Dadabhai Naoroji: An inclusive India


  • Dadabhai Naoroji’s legacy of an inclusive India is worth remembering in the time of chauvinism and anti-intellectualism that animates the current leadership and running counter to the traditions of Indian nationalism.

About Dadabhai Naoroji:

  • Known for many firsts:
    • The Grand Old Man of India (as he was known), 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.
    • His first agitation, in 1859, concerned recruitment to the Indian Civil Service.
  • Stressed on Indian nationalism:
    • Throughout his career, he stressed an Indian national identity which overrode religious, caste, class, or ethnic differences.
      • For him the country is India and nationality is Indian.
    • Naoroji nurtured some of the best Indian traditions of tolerance, and those traditions, in turn, shaped popular images of early Indian nationalism.
  • Made Congress (established in 1885) a diverse party:
    • Naoroji put 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.
    • He was Congress president thrice, in 1886, 1893, and 1906.
  • Outreach to minorities:
    • Naoroji understood a fundamental truth about his country: India worked best when it worked together.
      • As a Parsi, a member of a small but highly influential community, Dadabhai Naoroji was specially attuned to the concerns of minorities.
    • Presiding Congress session in Lahore in 1892, Naraoji declared to the Congress delegates that they were Indians first—that they were “above all” Indians in spite of their differing backgrounds.
  • Early architect of anti-colonialism:
    • Dadabhai Naoroji was among the key proponents of the ‘Drain Theory’, disseminating it in his 1901 book ‘Poverty and Un-British Rule in India’.
  • Always fought for India’s interests:
    • 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 an 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.
  • Limitations of nationalism propagated by Naoroji:
    • Blind towards untouchability:
      • Naoroji was almost completely blind to the issue of untouchability, a glaring omission given his close study of Indian poverty.
    • Dislikes mass movements:
      • He endorsed swadeshi but hesitated about tactics he considered as unconstitutional, such as mass boycotts and strikes.

Challenges faced by Indian nationalism at present:

  • Stark majoritarianism:
    • An atmosphere of overt majoritarianism, as well as the cynical deployment of communalism even in the face of a calamity like the COVID-19 epidemic.
  • Close-mindedness, chauvinism, and anti-intellectualism:
    • That the current leadership is living with, running counter to the traditions of Indian nationalism.
  • Hardships faced by downtrodden:
    • Especially poor and migrant workers amidst lockdown restrictions during Covid pandemic.

Hence, remembering Dadabhai Naraoji’s brand of nationalism is the need of the hour for India as a nation.

What is Drain Theory?

Imperial Britain was draining away India’s wealth to itself through exploitative economic policies, including India’s rule by foreigners;

  • The heavy financial burden of the British civil and military apparatus in India;
  • The exploitation of the country due to free trade;
  • Non-Indians taking away the money that they earned in India; and
  • The interest that India paid on its public debt held in Britain.