The "grand old man of India", was born to a Parsi priest's family in Bombay on September 4, 1825. He studied in Elphinstone College and became a professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy there at the age of 27. He was the first Indian to become a professor of the college.
At age thirty, he left for England, where he was to spend most of his life writing about the condition of people in India and trying to influence public opinion for Indian self-rule. He lost an election to the British Parliament as a member of the Liberal party in 1886, but was elected from Central Finsbury, London, in 1892 as a Liberal member. In 1895 he was appointed to the royal commission on Indian expenditure. He was instrumental in propagating the view that India was too heavily taxed, and its wealth was flowing to England. These views were summarised in his book Poverty and Un-British Rule in India, published in 1901.
He returned to India on several occasions; once in 1895, at the request of the Gaekwad of Baroda to serve as his chief minister. He resigned two years later over a difference in opinions about political reforms in the princely state.
He was present at the first meeting of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and was thrice elected to the post of the president, in 1886, 1893 and again in 1906. During his third term, he prevented a split between moderates and extremists in the party. The Congress' demand for swaraj (independence) was first expressed publicly by him in his presidential address in 1906. He died in Bombay on June 30, 1917.