Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Asian MP, was born in Bombay in 1825, into a poor
Parsi family. He began an academic career, becoming Professor of Mathematics
and Natural Sciences at Elphinstone College in Bombay , but at the same time
he campaigned for social and educational reforms and became known as “the father
of girls' schools” for his work in promoting girls' education.
In 1855 Naoroji came to England as partner in an Indian commercial firm. He
later set up his own cotton company in England , but saw this business as less
important than working to increase opportunities for Indians living under British
rule. At this time, examinations for entry into the Indian civil service were
only held in London , which meant that Indians could not even apply unless
they could afford the fare. Naoroji encouraged Indians to come to London and
take the examination, while campaigning for a change in the system.
In his writings and speeches Naoroji also argued that Britain was exploiting
India : taxes paid by Indian citizens were going straight to their British
rulers, while Indians had no say in the government of their own country.
Naoroji set up several societies and associations to promote Indian interests
in England . The London Indian Society (which in 1866 became part of the East
India Association – also part-founded by Naoroji) played an important role
in educating British public opinion about India . However, Naoroji became convinced
that if the reforms he wanted were really to take place, he would need to be
elected to parliament to make his case more powerfully.
Naoroji started canvassing for a seat in 1886, and stood for Holborn for the
Liberal party. He lost, but stood again for Finsbury Central in 1892. Against
considerable opposition from people who felt that “an alien in race, in custom,
in religion” could not possibly represent “the people of England ”, he gained
a majority of five over his Tory opponent, becoming the first black MP to sit
in the House of Commons.
Naoroji worked hard for his constituency, but he did not achieve his hopes
for India . He managed to get a resolution passed in 1895 to hold exams for
the Indian civil service in both India and London , but the government in India
refused to act on it. He was defeated in the 1895 general election, but kept
up his political and campaigning work until he retired in 1907. He died in
India in 1917.