Dinyar Patel, currently an Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina, completed his PhD at Harvard and was previously a SAI Graduate Student Associate. His Harvard dissertation focused on the political thought of Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917), perhaps the most prominent Indian nationalist figure prior to Mohandas K. Gandhi. With S.R. Mehrotra, he recently co-edited a volume of selected correspondences from the Dadabhai Naoroji Papers, which was published by Oxford University Press over the summer. Many of the over 500 letters have never been published before.
SAI recently spoke to Patel about the project and why Naoroji is still so relevant today.
SAI: Why are these writings so important?
Dinyar Patel: This individual, Naoroji, kept in his collection as many as 50,000 documents, but only about 30,000 have survived up until today. What the collection ended up being was a lot of letters exchanged with prominent Indian and British political figures of the time. A lot of these figures are not terribly well-remembered in either country, but at the time they were leading political figures. For example, a socialist leader named Henry M. Hyndman exchanged a lot of colorful letters with Naoroji about socialism in Great Britain, Europe, and India. There were letters exchanged with people such as William Wedderburn, who was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress along with Naoroji. Both of them would talk about the need for political reform in India, and specifically, the need for Indians to contest parliamentary elections in Great Britain in order to reform India from within.