Dadabhai Naoroji was approached by Gandhi from Durban seeking his guidance and support for a movement in South Africa. In his letter to Dadabhai, in July 1894, Gandhi wrote to him regarding the first Parliament of Natal under Responsible Government which had taken up the matter to disfranchise Indians in South Africa on the pretext of they had ‘never exercised the franchise before’ and therefore they ‘were not fit’ for it. To save the right of Indians, Gandhi had taken up the leadership of the movement.
After giving detail about the issue at hand, Gandhi humbly wrote, ‘I earnestly request your undivided attention to the cause and appeal to you to use your influence that always has been and is being used on behalf of the Indians, no matter where situated. The Indians look up to you as children to the father.’ He held him in very respectful position and added, ‘kindly direct and guide me and make necessary suggestions which shall be received as from a father of his child.’
It is noteworthy to mention that Dadabhai was a Member of House of Commons during 1892 to 1895. He was the first Asian to be a British MP and had taken up Indian cause in the British Parliament. Gandhi, at that time, was a young lawyer and had taken up the cause and was very humble about his capability to lead. As he wrote in the letter, ‘I am yet inexperienced and young and, therefore, quite liable to make mistakes. The responsibility undertaken is quite out of proportion to my ability.’ His humility and selflessness were evident from the beginning of his leadership role in South Africa. He had not taken the cause for earning money but in the service of mankind. He mentions to Dadabhai that ‘I am doing this without any remuneration. So you will see that I have not taken the matter up, which is beyond my ability, in order to enrich myself at the expense of the Indians. I am the only available person who can handle the question.’
As an MP, Dadabhai was well placed in London to bring the matter to the attention of the Empire and therefore Gandhi requested his ‘undivided attention to the cause’ and appealed him to use his ‘influence that always has been and is being used on behalf of the Indians, no matter where situated.’
We can say that organised freedom struggle of India began with the establishment of Indian National Congress in 1985. Dadabhai Naoroji, also known as the Grand Old Man of India, was the founding member of Congress. Later he came to London and got elected as MP from Liberal Party in the House of Commons, with an aim to raise Indian cause in Britain.
While Dadabhai was dedicatedly working in London with his experience and influence, young and energetic Gandhi was getting trained in South Africa to later lead the freedom movement of India till successful independence in August 1947.