Dadabhai Naoroji not the first Indian to be elected to British parliament

Dadabhai Naoroji statue in Mumbai, India

From the Islington Gazette in England:

A PLAQUE honours him as the first Asian MP and a Finsbury street is named after him – but now it has emerged that Dadabhai Naoroji was not the first Indian to be elected to Parliament.

Naoroji, who was elected to represent Finsbury in 1892, has long been regarded by Islington as the first ever Asian MP.

In 1993, Islington Council put up a plaque at Finsbury Town Hall saying: “The first Asian elected to the commons was Dadabhai Naoroji. He represented Central Finsbury for the Liberal Party from 1892-1895.”

Dadabhai Naoroji later became Indian representative in the socialist Second International, at their 1905 congress in Amsterdam. Like his assistant, Mrs. Bhikaiji Rustom Cama, would become two years later at the congress in Stuttgart, Germany; see also here.

However, according to an article by history professor Michael Fisher in the Economic and Political Weekly, the first Indian MP was not Naoroji – but a man called David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre.

Naoroji was a professor, merchant and founder member of the Indian National Congress, Sombre was a much less illustrious figure.

Born in India in 1808 to a Scottish-Indian father and French-Indian mother, Sombre was elected with a fellow liberal as an MP for Sudbury in Suffolk in 1841 – but a year later his success was objected to on the grounds of “gross, systematic and extensive bribery”.

Sudbury’s right to vote was taken away in 1844 while the world-travelling Sombre ended up fighting allegations of lunacy until his death in 1851.

But quite remarkably in Britain, the first three Asian MPs were all Parsees – Dadabhai Naoroji (‘Mr Narrow Majority’), elected Liberal MP for Central Finsbury in 1892, Sir M.M. Bhownagree a Conservative representing (unlikely as it seems) a seat in the East End of London, and Sharpurji Saklatvala, a communist who represented Battersea in Parliament in the 1920s: here.


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