Pherozeshah Mehta

President: 1845-1915 (Calcutta, 4 1890)

Sir Pherozeshah Mehta was born on August 4, 1845 in Bombay where he spent the greater part of his life. His father, Merwanji Mehta, belonged to a family of merchants.

Mehta entered the Lincoln's Inn in 1864 and spent three years qualifying for the Bar. After being called to the Bar in 1868, he left for home in September 1868. While in England, he used to frequent the house of Dadabhai Naoroji, and these visits were to remain important influences in moulding his liberal outlook.

Several of his close friends were liberals; besides Telang and Badruddin Tyabji (who along with Pherozeshah Mehta were described as ‘the three bright boys of Bombay’), Ranade, Gokhale, Wacha, W. C. Bonnerjee and Bal Mohan Wagle were close to Mehta.

This made him a part of the Liberal School of Indian politics. His antipathy to violent methods in politics alienated him from Tilak and Pal, his innate trust in constitutionalism, his dislike of regional and communal developments, made him criticise Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

These were characteristics that distinguished the Liberal School in Indian politics. Education, both primary and higher, absorbed his interests throughout his life. He saw in education the means by which India could modernise itself rapidly; he laid great emphasis on the value of English.

He had a hand in the establishment of a Swadeshi bank i.e. the Central Bank of India. Mehta is remembered mainly as founder of the modern Bombay Municipal Corporation which he fostered and served in a distinguished manner for nearly half a century.

He was mainly responsible for the founding of an English newspaper, the Bombay Chronicle (April 1913), which became an important agency for expressing Indian public opinion towards the nationalist movement. He was engaged in the forming and running of political associations and in serving Governmental official institutions.

Pherozeshah Mehta had a notable record. In the proceedings of the Indian National Congress (in its founding he had a distinctive hand) he held an important and commanding position. His main endeavour was to keep the extremists from dominating the Congress, and in this he was largely successful.

He presided over the Congress session held in Calcutta (1890) and was twice elected the President of the Reception Committee when the Congress sessions met in Bombay (1889 and 1904). In the different Congress sessions, which he attended, he either moved or supported resolutions for reforming the administration of the country.

Along with Justice Telang, he founded the Bombay Presidency Association (1885) and served as its Secretary. Honours came to him thick and fast. He was made a C.I.E. in 1894 and 1904 saw him knighted. In 1915 the University of Bombay decided to confer upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Law. He was a much admired man.

“All movements of the kind in which we are concerned pass through several phases as they run their course. The first is one of ridicule. That is followed, as the movement progresses, by one of abuse, which is usually succeeded by partial concession and misapprehension of aim, accompanied by warnings against taking ‘big jumps into the unknown’.

The final stage of all is a substantial adoption of the object of the movement, with some expression of surprise that it was not adopted before. Well, gentlemen, we have pretty well passed the first two stages. We have survived the ridicule, the abuse, and the misrepresentation.

We have survived the charge of sedition and disloyalty. We have survived the charge of being a microscopic minority. We have also survived the charge of being guilty of the atrocious crime of being educated, and we have even managed to survive the grievous charge of being all Babus in disguise.”

From The Presidential Address – Pherozeshah Mehta I.N.C. Session, 1890, Calcutta.