Sir Pherozeshah Merwanjee Mehta, KCIE (4 August 1845 – 5 November 1915) was an Indian political leader, activist, and a leading lawyer of Bombay, who was knighted by the British Government in India for his service to the law. His political ideology was, as was the case with most of the Indian leaders of his time, moderate. Hence, he was not directly opposed to the British Crown's sovereignty, but only demanded more autonomy for Indians to self-rule.
He became the Municipal commissioner of Bombay Municipality in 1873 and its President four times – 1884, 1885, 1905 and 1911.
He was chosen the president of the Indian National Congress in 1890.
Mehta was born on 4 August 1845 in Bombay (now Mumbai) to a Parsi business family. Graduating from the Elphinstone College in 1864, he obtained his Master of Arts degree, with honors, six months later, becoming the first such Parsi, from the University of Mumbai. Scholar and then principal of the university, Sir Alexander Grant nominated him a Fellow of the University and tried to procure him a scholarship founded by Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy to study in Europe. However, Mehta did not avail the scholarship.
Mehta went to England to study law at Lincoln's Inn in London. He was the first Parsi barrister called to the Bar from Lincoln's Inn in 1868. Here, he met and began association with fellow Indian barristers Womesh Chunder Bonnerjee and Badruddin Tyabji. In 1868 he returned to India and was admitted to the bar, and soon established a practice for himself in a profession which was till then dominated by British lawyers.
It was during a legal defence of Arthur Crawford that he pointed out the need for reforms in the Bombay municipal government. Later, he drafted the Bombay Municipal Act of 1872, and is thus considered the 'father of Bombay Municipality'. Eventually, Mehta left his law practice to join politics.
Political and social activities
When the Bombay Presidency Association was established in 1885, Mehta became its president, and remained so for the rest of his years. He encouraged Indians to obtain western education and embrace its culture to uplift India. He contributed to many social causes for education, sanitation and health care in the city and around India.
Mehta was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress. He was the chairman of the Reception Committee in its fifth session in Bombay in 1889. He presided over the next session in Calcutta.
Mehta was nominated to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1887 and in 1893 a member of the Imperial Legislative Council. In 1894, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) and was appointed a Knight Commander (KCIE) in 1904.
In 1910, he started Bombay Chronicle, an English-language weekly newspaper, which became an important nationalist voice of its time, and an important chronicler of the political upheavals of a volatile pre-independent India. He served as a member of Bombay's Municipal Corporation for six years.
He saw through the British tactics of binding Parsi loyalty to the crown, by repeatedly making Parsis feel superior by showering them with decorations and praise, as by 1946 as many as 63 Parsis had been knighted. In his presidential address to Indian National Congress, he once said: "In speaking of myself as a native of this country, I am not unaware that, incredible as it may seem, Parsis have been both called and invited and allured to call themselves, foreigners."
Mehta died on 5 November 1915, in Bombay.
A portrait of Pherozeshah Mehta at the Indian Parliament House, shows his importance in the making of the nation. He was known as 'The Lion of Bombay' and 'Uncrowned King of Bombay'. In Mumbai, even today Mehta is much revered; there are roads, halls and law colleges named after him. He is respected as an important inspiration for young Indians of the era, his leadership of India's bar and legal profession, and for laying the foundations of Indian involvement in political activities and inspiring Indians to fight for more self-government.
In Mehta's lifetime, few Indians had discussed or embraced the idea of full political independence from Britain. As one of the few people who espoused involvement of the activity of Indians in politics, he was nicknamed Ferocious Mehta."