Dadabhai Naoroji by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
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by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, published by Messrs R.M. Richardson & Co
sepia-toned carbon print cabinet card, circa 1892
5 3/4 in. x 4 in. (146 mm x 101 mm) image size
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Dadabhai Naoroji (1825–1917) was one of the first Asian MPs in Britain. He was elected to Parliament in 1892.
He was born in Navsari in India into a Gujarati-speaking Parsi A member of a religious group whose ancestors originally came from Persia and whose religion is Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrian A member of a group of followers in India of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra). family who were relatively poor. He lived at a time when India was under British Colonial Connected with or belonging to a country that controls another country. rule.
Naoroji is probably best known as one of the most important thinkers and leaders during the early days of India's independence movement A series of historic events with the ultimate aim of ending British rule in India. It lasted from 1857 to 1947. . He has been remembered as the ‘grand old man of Indian nationalism’.
Analysing the portrait
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Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a whole minute. What can you see?
- This portrait shows Dadabhai Naoroji soon after he was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) A person who has been elected to represent the people of a particular area in a parliament. . He won by just five votes.
- He is dressed to fit a role in a public office in Britain. He is wearing a dark-coloured suit with dark striped trousers, a waistcoat and a shirt and tie.
- He is not dressed in clothes relating to his cultural heritage and the area he grew up in, the state of modern-day Gujarat in India.
- It was very common for men to wear hats at this time. Naoroji had been advised to give up wearing his distinctive, tall Parsi A member of a religious group whose ancestors originally came from Persia and whose religion is Zoroastrianism. hat and to wear a European-style hat instead. It was thought this would make him more appealing to British voters. Naoroji chose not to follow all the advice to adopt European ways of dressing. He resisted, finding his own way – by choosing to leave his head uncovered altogether, for example.
- He appears to be looking directly at us. His expression and pose seem relaxed, confident and assured.
- He is sitting on a simple wooden chair in front of a wooden desk, perhaps as if he is ready to work.
- His has a white-grey beard and moustache and grey hair which show us he is an older man (he was about 67 years old when this photograph was taken).
The text reads:
Hon. Dadabhai Naoroji
M.P. for Central Finsbury
The first member for India
It tells us that:
- His title is ‘The Honourable Dadabhai Naoroji’
- He is the Member of Parliament (MP) A person who has been elected to represent the people of a particular area in a parliament. for the Constituency A district that elects its own representative to parliament. of Central Finsbury in London
- His work as an MP is concerned with matters relating to India.
Why is this portrait significant?
- This is a portrait of one of Britain’s first Asian MPs.
- It is a ‘cabinet card’ – a sort of postcard that could be bought quite cheaply. At the time, this was a popular way for politicians and other celebrities to show people who they were and help build their reputation.
- After Naoroji was defeated in his first electoral campaign, the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, remarked that an English Constituency A district that elects its own representative to parliament. was not ready to elect a 'Blackman'. This racist comment created a storm and brought much attention to Naoroji who quickly became a household name in Britain.
- This portrait was made soon after Naoroji was elected as MP for Central Finsbury in 1892.
Who was Dadabhai Naoroji?
- Dadabhai Naoroji was a strong believer in gender equality (equal rights for men and women). In the late 1840s, he opened schools for girls in India. He would later support the women’s suffrage movement in Britain.
- He believed India should be independent and needed self-rule (swaraj).
- In 1855, Naoroji made his first visit to Britain. He was shocked by the wealth he saw when his own country was so impoverished.
- Naoroji championed equality and Civil rights The rights that every person in a society has, for example to be treated equally, to be able to vote or to work, whatever their sex, race or religion. from an early age. He led and helped found organisations to provide welfare for Indians living in Britain and raise the profile of India-related matters among the British public.
- Naoroji promoted the idea of drain theory. This challenged the popular view that British Imperialism A system in which one country controls other countries, often after defeating them in a war. brought prosperity to India and Indian people. Naoroji proved that the exact opposite was true. He argued that British rule was, in fact, ‘draining wealth’ from India and ‘bleeding’ it to death. His theory challenged the widespread, almost sacred belief in imperialism in Britain.
- In 1892, Naoroji was elected as the MP for Central Finsbury. He fought to transform the Colonial Connected with or belonging to a country that controls another country. system and gain India’s independence from British rule. Naoroji lost his seat in 1895 but continued to campaign for Indian Independence.
- In 1907, Naoroji left England to retire in Bombay, India, where he died in 1917. Thirty years later, in 1947, British India was partitioned into two new independent states: India and Pakistan.
- Why do you think India’s independence from Britain was so important to Indians like Dadabhai Naoroji?
- Why do you think it took so long for India to gain independence?
- What do you think are some of the legacies in British society today of Britain’s colonial rule in India and other countries across the British Empire?