Priti Patel, Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Indian Diaspora Champion’, has thrown her not-inconsiderable support behind the recently unveiled Dadabhai Naoroji Awards.
Launched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg during his visit to India in August, the awards aim to honour individuals whose achievements have strengthened relations between India and Great Britain, specifically in the fields of commerce, culture and education.
“This is an opportunity to nominate your family, friends and colleagues for the Dadabhai Naoroji Awards – an accolade presented to those who have made outstanding demonstrable contributions to the UK-India relationship”, Ms Patel said in a statement.
The awards are named after Dadabhai Naoroji, the famed Indian independence icon and Britain’s first South Asian Member of Parliament.
At the unveiling of the awards, Mr Clegg said that Naoroji, a fellow Liberal Democrat, had been one of his personal heroes.
“It is a great honour to name the awards after Dadabhai Naoroji. The Grand Old Man of India is one of my political heroes, having broken down enormous barriers by entering the British Parliament as the first Asian MP and challenging European prejudices about Indians.
“He is celebrated for his achievements in India and in the UK, and it is fitting that we should name these awards after him.”
Born and raised in Bombay, Naoroji was a man possessed of an immense breadth of talents: from Zoroastrian expert and campaigner through publisher and academic to business tycoon.
He first travelled to Britain in 1855, setting up the first Indian company to be incorporated in the UK before becoming professor of Gujarati at University College London.
In 1867 he helped found the East India Association, a precursor to the Indian national Congress.
Naoroji later joined Britain’s Liberal Party, as the Lib Dems were then known, winning North London’s Finsbury Central seat at the 1892 general election. In Parliament he campaigned tirelessly for Indian independence and later became a mentor to numerous icons of the Independence movement, including Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
The timing of the announcement of the awards is intriguing given that a recent public campaign spearheaded by author and historian Dr Kusoom Vadgama has called for greater recognition for figures such as Naoroji and Cornelia Sorabji, the pioneering Oxford University law graduate who was the first woman to practice law in both India and the UK.
Winners of the inaugural Dadabhai Naoroji Awards will be revealed at a ceremony hosted by Mr Clegg at the Foreign Office in the autumn.
Both British and Indian nationals are eligible for nominations which can be submitted at the government’s official website here.
Nominations close on 30 September.