First Asian MP Elected
The career of Dadabhai Naoroji was a long and fascinating one, his life full of achievements, not least that he was the first Asian elected to the House of Commons when in 1892 he won the Finsbury Central constituency for the Liberal Party by the very slender majority of three votes, after a recount.
Considered as one of the founding fathers of the Indian National Congress, which he headed as its president on two occasions, his first calling was as a Zoroastrian priest, following in his father’s footsteps; his first career was in academia: he was a professor at just 25 in 1850; in 1855 he held a chair in mathematics and natural philosophy in Bombay (now Mumbai); later he was Professor of Gujarati at UCL . At other times he founded his own cotton trading enterprise after having worked in Liverpool for another such company, was Prime Minister of Baroda; and became a major influence on (and mentor of) Gandhi.
Naoroji stood for Gladstone ’s Liberal Party in the 1892 general election, where nationally there was a swing away from the ruling Conservatives of Lord Salisbury. In Finsbury Central Naoroji stood against the sitting MP, the patrician Frederick Penton - Harrow, Christ Church Oxford and The Guards - who had won what was plainly a marginal seat with a majority of five votes in 1886. In 1892 the incumbent polled 2956 votes, an increase of 711 from the previous election; but Naoroji received 2959, bettering the previous Liberal candidate’s support by 719 electors.
After the manner of Lionel de Rothschild in 1858 , who after several earlier attempts had with the support of the Liberal PM Lord Russell been able to swear a non-Christian oath and thus serve as an MP, Naoroji was permitted to swear on the Avesta, the main sacred texts of his religion. As an MP he spoke about British misrule in India, about which he had also written, but he was also a supporter of Irish Home Rule. In the 1895 general election he lost the seat in what was a Conservative landslide.
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