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Shapurji Saklatvala

By Declan O’Callaghan



Born into one of India’s wealthiest families, being the nephew of J.N. Tata, Saklatvala was educated at St. Xavier’s School and then College in Bombay. Saklatvala subsequently joined the family business, Tata and Sons in 1901 and spent three years exploring remote parts of India, searching for natural resources. This exploration led to the foundation of the Tata iron and steel works. Afterwards, he undertook volunteer work in plague hospitals in the slums of Bombay. Saklatvala first came to England in 1905, to recuperate from malaria and to manage the Tata company office in Manchester.


He was already a member of the Social Democratic Foundation when he moved to London in 1907. In London he joined the Independent Labour Party in 1909. For many years it appears that Saklatvala was a relatively passive supporter of socialist causes. However, the impact of World War One and the Russian Revolution seem to have galvanized his efforts. Saklatvala helped to organise a group in the Independent Labour Party (ILP), which agitated for affiliation to the Third International. At the ILP conference of March 1921, the prospect of affiliation was rejected, causing Saklatvala to defect to the Communist Party.


That same year, he was adopted as the Labour candidate for North Battersea, receiving the National Labour Party’s official endorsement. He was elected as Labour member for the constituency in November 1922. In doing so he became the third Indian ever to enter the House of Commons. He subsequently lost the election in 1923 and in 1924 the Labour Party annual conference passed a resolution expelling communists from the party. However, with the backing of the Battersea Labour Party and Trades Council, Saklatvala was successful in 1924, standing as a Communist representative. He sat in the House of Commons until 1929.


Saklatvala constantly raised Indian issues in parliament and fervently advocated for Indian independence. Indeed, he was often referred to as ‘the member for India’. He was a member of the Indian Home Rule League (founded in 1916), founding member of the Workers’ Welfare League of India in 1917 and was an influential figure to Indian students in London throughout the 1920 and ‘30s. His progressive thinking and opposition to imperialism and capitalism (‘how can the living wage be produced within a capitalist society?’ (Saklatvala, 1928)) brought him into conflict with the government.


In 1925, he was refused a visa by the America Secretary of State, meaning he could not be part of the British delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Washington. The following year, he was sentenced to two months imprisonment for sedition, after a speech he made in Hyde Park. Saklatvala visited India in 1927, where he talked to Gandhi about the direction of the independence movement and advocated communism. However, his visits to India were stopped when the UK government revoked his passport.


Sources & references


The National Archives at Kew:

Biron, C. (1926) Decision of the Chief Magistrate [court transcript] HO 144/9099. London: The National Archives.

Godfrey, W. (1924) A Letter to Waldron Smithers M.P about the details of the career of Shapurji Saklatvala [Letter] HO 144/9099. London: The National Archives.

Home Office (1927) Home Office Warrant. KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.

Home Office (1923) Home Office Warrant. KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.

House of Commons (1929) Question in the House of Commons relating to Mr. Saklatvala [transcript] KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.

M.I.5 (n/d) M.I.5 Black List Volume XXI, Indian Volume: Saklatvala, Shapurji Dorabji [document] KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.

One of His Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State (1920) Authorisation to intercept Saklatvala’s correspondence [letter] KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.

Saklatvala, S. (1918) The British Worker and the Indian worker: a lecture by Shapurji Saklatvala [transcript] KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.

Saklatvala, S. (1926) Petition [legal document] HO 144/9099. London: The National Archives.

Saklatvala, S. (1926) Re Battersea Meeting [letter] MEPO 3/552. London: The National Archives.

Stanley, J. (1923) A Letter about speeches made about Saklatvala [letter] HO 144/9099. London: The National Archives.

Stephen, G. (1920) Inquiring into to possibility of intercepting Saklatvala’s correspondence [letter] KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.

The Daily Herald (1928) Labour Men in Parliament: The Man from India [newspaper] KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.

The Daily Herald (1929) Not allowed to go to India: Ban Placed on Communist Ex-MP. [newspaper] KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.

The National Archives (1918-1920) Shapurji Dorabji SAKLATVALA [files] KV 2/615. London: The National Archives.

The National Archives (1923-1926) DISTURBANCES: Political Activities and subsequent imprisonment of Shapurji Saklatvala, M.P. [files] HO 144/9099. London: The National Archives.

The National Archives (1926) Prohibition of a Battersea meeting to be addressed by S Saklatvala (a prominent Communist MP) [files] MEPO 3/552. London: The National Archives.

The Times (1929) Mr. Saklatvala’s passport: via refused for India [newspaper] KV 2/611. London: The National Archives.


Ancestry.com:

London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965 about Shapurji Saklatvala, via ancestry.com

British Phone Books, 1880-1984 about Shapurji Saklatvala, via ancestry.com


The British Library:

Saklatvala, S. (1928) Socialism & “Labourism.” A speech in the House of Commons, London: Communist Party of Great Britain.


Secondary Sources:

Making Britain:

Making Britain (n/d) ‘Shapurji Saklatvala’ [online] Available at:

< http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/content/shapurji-saklatvala> [Accessed on 27 October 2013].

United Kingdom Who’s Who:

United Kingdom Who’s Who (n/d) ‘SAKLATVALA, Shapurji’ [online] Available at:

<http://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/article/oupww/whowaswho/U216614/SAKLATVALA_Shapurji_Parsi_of_Bombay?index=1&results=QuicksearchResults&query=0> [Accessed on 27 October 2013].

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, M. Squires (n/d) ‘Saklatvala, Shapurji’ [online] Available at: <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35909?&docPos=109&backToResults=/search/refine/?docStart=1> [Accessed on 27 October 2013].


Books:

Inwood, S. (1998) A History of London, London: Macmillan.

Saklatvala, S. (1996) The Fifth Commandment: Biography of Saklatvala, Salford: Miranda Press.

Squires, M. (1990) Saklatvala: A Political Biography. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Visram, R. (2002) Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History, London: Pluto.

Wadsworht, M. (1988) Comrade Sak: Shapurji Saklatvala MP: A political Biography, Leeds: Peepal Tree Books.

Articles:

Creighton, S. (2010) ‘John Archer and the Politics of Labour in Battersea (1906-32)’, Immigrants & Minorities, 28, 2, 183-202.

Hutnyk, J. (2005) ‘The Dialectic of Here and There: Anthropology ‘at Home’ and British Asian Communism’, Social Identities: Journal of the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, 11, 4, 345-361.

Neale, M. (2013) ‘In Praise of Parsis’, Asian Affairs, 44, 2, 250-271.

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