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Shapurji Saklatvala

Shapurji Saklatvala

Shapurji Saklatvala was born in Bombay in 1874. His family were extremely wealthy and worked for his uncle's firm, Tata Industries, but suffered from poor health and in October 1905 he was sent to England for medical treatment.

Saklatvala became involved in left-wing politics and in 1907 he joined the Social Democratic Federation, a socialist party led by H. M. Hyndman. Two years later he left to join the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He was a regular public speaker for the ILP and a contributor to its newspaper, The Labour Leader.

In 1921 Saklatvala joined the Communist Party. The following year he became the party's candidate in North Battersea. His chances of victory increased significantly when John Archer, persuaded the local Labour Party not to oppose Saklatvala. With the support of the Battersea Trades Council, Saklatvala won the seat in the 1922 General Election.

In the 1923 General Election Saklatvala faced Henry Hogbin, the Liberal Party candidate. The local Conservative Party, who feared Saklatvala's radical politics, supported Hogbin and this allowed him to win the election by 186 votes. However, he gained his revenge by beating the same candidate by 540 votes in the 1924 General Election.

During the General Strike in 1926 Saklatvala was a strong supporter of the Miners' Federation. After one speech made in Hyde Park he urged the British Army not to fire on the strikers. Saklatvala was arrested and found guilty of sedition was sentenced to two months in Wormwood Scrubs Prison.

In the 1929 General Election the Labour Party refused to support Communist Party candidates. John Archer now became election agent to Stephen Sanders in North Battersea who easily defeated Saklatvala. He continued to be active in politics and was twice an unsuccessful candidate in parliamentary elections.

Shapurji Saklatvala died in 1936.


Shapurji Saklatvala - History

Shapurji Saklatvala, revolutionary socialist, Indian nationalist and Labour's first BAME MP, was elected in 1922. Representing radical local and international workers' and anti-colonial struggles, he suffered ostracism, surveillance, imprisonment and exile from India to fight against capitalism, racism and imperialism: for working-class self-liberation.

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In 1922, the South West London constituency of Battersea North sent Indian-born Shapurji Saklatvala to Parliament, making him the first Labour MP of colour. Saklatvala was a revolutionary socialist, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and a leading figure in the struggle for Indian freedom. As an MP he suffered ostracism, police surveillance, arrests, imprisonment and exile from the country of his birth in order to wage the fight against capitalism, racism and imperialism, and for working-class self-liberation.

This pamphlet tells Saklatvala’s remarkable story and draws lessons and inspiration.

Check out our anti-racist resources here!

Extracts from The Fifth Commandment (1991), by Sehri Saklatvala, containing extensive extracts from his parliamentary speeches and other speeches and documents, as well as lots on his personal life can be found here

A contemporary biographical account, How a Socialist member of the Tata family got elected to the British Parliament in the 1920s by Sant Nihal Singh & Devangshu Datta, can be found here


Shapurji Saklatvala: The British MP who was ‘the most important Indian nationalist’ outside India

Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery

In November 1905, a ship docked at London, which was the centre of an Empire that was witnessing a growing independence movement in its most valuable colony – India. On board was S Saklatvala, a member of the influential Tata family, fresh from Bombay and in Blightly ostensibly to run the family’s ventures there.

Instead, Shapurji Saklatvala would become the third-ever Indian to be elected to the British Parliament and would use his position as MP to so vehemently agitate on behalf of the nationalist movement that a 1925 issue of the Daily Graphic would refer to him as the unofficial “Member for India”. And when “Comrade Sak” died in 1936, Jawaharlal Nehru would call him the most important nationalist figure outside of the country.

Focused on service

Saklatvala was born on March 29, 1874, in Bombay. His father, Dorabji, was a wealthy cotton merchant and his mother, Jerbai, was the younger sister of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, the founder of the Tata Group, who had immense influence on his nephew’s politics.

Jamsetji Tata with cousin RD Tata (centre) and sons Ratan Tata (standing) and Dorab Tata (right). Photo credit: Tata.com

The first signs that Saklatvala would not follow the family tradition of working in the business was in 1896, when, as a 22-year-old volunteer, he worked alongside Waldemar Haffkine to help treat victims of an outbreak of bubonic plague in Bombay’s slums.

His daughter, Sehri Saklatvala, maintains this had a profound effect on his personal politics. “What he saw in those years of the bubonic plague must have remained always in his mind,” she writes in The Fifth Commandment, her biography of her father’s life. “It was to those victims of circumstance that he dedicated his life.”

Saklatvala then spent several years working for the Tatas. Though highly competent, his outspoken views on home rule soon attracted the attention of the colonial authorities and the ire of JN Tata’s son, Dorabji, whose antipathy towards his cousin had festered during their childhood.

By 1905, Saklatvala had fallen seriously ill with malaria. With the Raj increasingly concerned over his ardent nationalism, Dorabji saw the perfect opportunity to send his hated cousin far away from Bombay.

So it was that Saklatvala boarded a ship bound for Britain where, after receiving treatment for his illness, he was to assume charge of the Tata offices in Manchester.

A new start

During his convalescence, Saklatvala stayed at Smedley’s Hydro, a health spa at Matlock, a working-class Derbyshire town. It was here that he met Sally Marsh, a hotel waitress he would eventually marry in 1907. Meeting Marsh was a pivotal moment for Saklatvala, not just personally but also politically. Through her, Saklatvala was granted his first intimate view of working-class life in Britain.

He joined the Independent Labour Party in 1909, and, 12 years later, joined the Communist Party. Saklatvala moved his family to a spacious house in Highgate, a mere stone’s throw away from the cemetery where his hero, Karl Marx, is buried.

An undated newspaper cutting showing the Indian MP with his wife, Sarah Marsh, who hailed from a working class background. Together they had five children – two sons and three daughters. Photo courtesy: British Library.

Saklatvala was endorsed by Labour as the Battersea North candidate in 1921 as part of a seat-sharing deal. He won in November 1922, becoming the third-ever Indian to be elected to the House of Commons as well as one of the few Communist MPs. (According to the local paper, his working-class supporters were so buoyed by their electoral triumph that they exclaimed they would storm heaven next.) He would lose the seat the following year, before regaining it in 1924 and serving as an MP for a further five years.

The new MP opened his maiden speech in Parliament – to audible gasps – with the words, “No Britisher would for a moment tolerate a constitution for Great Britain if it were written outside of Great Britain by people who were not British.”

His duty, Saklatvala felt, was not to speak on local matters but those of the Empire, and he used his position to wage a one-man campaign in Parliament, fearlessly attacking motions and legislation designed to secure control over India in the face of the growing threat of the nationalist movement as well as to fight for workers’ rights in Britain.

Saklatvala never met the first Indian MP, Dadabhai Naoroji, but he was acquainted with the second, Sir Mancherji Bhownagree. All three men, coincidentally, belonged to the Bombay Parsi community.

An Anglicised empire loyalist and member of the Conservative Party, Bhownagree regarded Naoroji as a dangerous radical, and Saklatvala as being even worse – a radical Communist.

An advertisement for Shapurji Saklatvala’s 1931 election campaign. Image courtesy: British Library.

Back to his roots

While Bhownagree was condemned as being a British stooge – one of the nicknames contemptuously bestowed upon him by Congress leaders was “Bow-and-Agree” – Saklatvala, despite his Communist ideology, was a symbol of nationalist pride, fighting the good fight in the very heart of the Empire.

So it’s not surprising that when Saklatvala returned to Bombay on January 14, 1917, to begin a year-long tour of India, he was welcomed by a cheering crowd. His first act was to place all the garlands he had been presented at the statue of Dadabhai Naoroji near Flora Fountain.

The British, however, were not so warm. After a flurry of frantic telegrams from the Viceroy to Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State for India, a decision was made – Saklatvala would be allowed to proceed with his tour of the country, but he would not receive an official welcome by the Raj.

A 1922 campaign ad for Shapurji Saklatvala. He would win that year, being elected as MP of Battersea North, a working-class area in South London. Image courtesy: Battersea Archives.

Was Saklatvala a nationalist? The short answer is yes – he relentlessly campaigned for Independence and supported the new generation of leaders like Nehru. But he differed in how he thought India should pursue its goals, believing that a state which did not achieve Independence through Communism would never truly liberate its poor and workers.

He was especially critical of Mahatma Gandhi whose nationalism, underpinned as it was by spiritualism and a distrust of industrialisation, was exactly the opposite of what he believed in.

“Dear Comrade Gandhi,” wrote Saklatvala in 1927. “You are preparing the country not for mass civil disobedience but for servile obedience and for a belief that there are superior persons on earth and Mahatmas in this life at a time when in this country the white man’s prestige is already a dangerous obstacle in our way.”

Gandhi responded by acknowledging that, while his sincerity was “transparent”, Saklatvala’s opinions of his khadi movement and thoughts on industrialisation were “misguided”. “We do stand at opposite poles,” Gandhi concluded.

Fighting the good fight

A self-described “Tilakite extremist”, Saklatvala chose a Congress mass rally in Ahmedabad to criticise the route the party was taking. “Awake your peasantry from slumber,” he urged those present. “You will never get freedom if you do not work with the village folk.”

He left India after meeting Gandhi in Nagpur, parting with the Mahatma on cordial terms, and stating that India’s best chance for freedom lay with the Congress party.

The British were horrified. Concerned by his speeches and any potential Communist activity in their most valuable colony, he was deemed a security risk and was banned from returning to his homeland. Saklatvala would never see India again.

By 1929, perhaps as a consequence of his refusal to discuss his constituency, Saklatvala had lost his seat, though he continued to be an important figure in the fight for Independence.

He hosted the leader of the Self-Respect Movement, Periyar, when the latter came to Britain in 1932, and even had a curious run-in with VK Krishna Menon, after the latter polled more votes than him in a 1934 London borough election.

Saklatvala died on January 16, 1936, in London after suffering a heart attack. He was cremated, and his ashes were buried next to those of his parents and JN Tata in Brookwood Cemetery on a plot of land owned by the Anglo-Parsi community.

Marc Wadsworth, author of the biography Comrade Sak, writes that Saklatvala was a precursor to “the future generations of migrants. who have tried to forge for themselves a role in shaping their own destiny in Britain whilst at the same time remaining concerned with the fate of their country of origin.” In Britain, he is remembered as a titan of the Communist movement – their main hall in London, located a few streets away from Ambedkar Hall, is named after him.

Whether his legacy is remembered in India, the country which he spent all of his life fighting for and whose freedom he would never witness, is another story altogether.


Biographers also face the problem of new information becoming available after submission of final copy and publication, such as the 2020 article on the early British Communist leaders 1920-23. They only refer to Sak as MP in a footnote. He is not included in another footnote listing CPers who might form the basis of ‘An exhaustive account of the national leadership would discuss others significant in the party if marginal to its governance’. Perhaps there most important comment is ‘Dutt’s standing as an arriviste intellectual, lack of proletarian credentials and impatience with opponents, certainly militated against his integration into a collective leadership.’ (17)

Has Saklatvala’s Importance Been Under Played?

As a result of reading Marc’s book and thinking about this review a number of concerns arose. While Marc shows from a modern day political perspective why Saklatvala is important, I am left wondering to what extent he was more influential at the time than Marc is able to show, especially within the Indian communities and activities in Britain, when a book like Shompa Lahiri’s Indians in Britain has nothing to detail to say about Sak. (18)

We need much more information about organisations like the Workers’ Welfare League for India and the East-West Circle, and about the role of his friend and sometimes critic Arthur Field. As a historian of Battersea I have always found Field a shadowy figure in the background. The most known about him is in the Dictionary of Labour Biography. (19)

Daniel Edmonds’s 2017 thesis is a valuable contribution to this discussion, containing as it does chapters on Arthur Field and Saklatvala. He argues that Sak played a much more important role in the League Against Imperialism (LAI) transferred its International Secretariat to Britain in 1933 than it is usually credited.

He examines Field’s ‘attempt to create a Communist-Islamic anti-imperialist alliance in the 1920s’, and Sak’s work ‘in forging transnational anti-colonial labour organisations during the interwar period.’

‘Arthur Field attempted to draw together Irish Republicans and British-based Muslims alongside CPGB members and diplomats from majority-Muslim states in a failed attempt to launch solidarity campaigns with Islamic societies facing imperial encroachment. Saklatvala made use of contacts from the ILP, Indian trade union and nationalist movements, and the Battersea radical milieu to advocate for transnational anti-colonial labour coordination. His campaign gained resources from the Comintern and transformed the CPGB’s approach to anti-colonialism, but ultimately fractured due to both the growing disunity between international Social Democracy and Communism and the decline of his independent power base.’ (20)

Field drew ‘heavily from the political ideology of the Young Turks and Dusé Mohammed Ali, an early pan Islamic and pan-Africanist activist whose central political concern was the political independence and territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. He would shape Field’s understanding of imperialism as a political project based on the primacy of the white race and Christian faith.’ He provided ‘Field with a political praxis that centred anti-imperialism during a juncture when many of his comrades eschewed such a focus, would also lead to his political isolation within the CPGB. Despite moments of engagement with other key activists who were influential within Comintern networks, Field insisted on the viability of religious identities as a basis for anti-colonial resistance.

But he was ‘marginalised during a period of growing ideological homogenisation and international centralisation within the Communist movement.’ (21)

Edmonds examines ‘the connections that Saklatvala was able to develop beyond the remits of the CPGB, drawing on personal relationships with fellow Indian émigrés, students, and barristers to develop a political network that could coordinate action between groups of activists in Britain and India. Whilst his efforts to gain support from the CPGB at the organisational level were largely unsuccessful in the party’s first years of operation, he used his own personal financial and political resources to root this network in both British and Indian labour movements. Using a discursive strategy which, whilst overstating the size of India’s industrial working class, was able to articulate a commonality of popular interests in both countries, Saklatvala stimulated greater labour attentiveness to the question of Indian independence. This allowed him to organise financial support for Indian strike waves and establish formal connections between British and Indian labour movements.’ Edmonds argues that Saklatvala only came to meaningfully engage with the international structures of the Comintern after this connection had been established and his resources diminished, complicating existing biographies of this leading Communist figure which portray a straightforward relationship with the CPGB. This shift from subaltern cosmopolitanism to formal internationalism only occurred once his independent activities had caused some of his political rivals to systemise their connections with the colonial world, and marks Saklatvala as a key figure in transforming the British Communists’ attitudes towards anti-colonialism (22)

‘He developed a model of ‘positive Orientalism’ which would underlie his advocacy, and would become fundamentally incompatible with a growing image of Islam as the epitome of backwardness within the Soviet world. Thirdly, the political tactics and alliances that Field attempted to develop, based on his previous advocacy on behalf of the Ottoman Empire, were alien to the united front praxis of the wider party membership. Finally, Field himself was not well-placed to cohere and build an effective network despite his extensive range of contacts, his past political associations had tarnished his reputation, whilst his personality led many to not view him as a credible potential leader. Field was an unorthodox Communist who ultimately could not adapt to the shift from the looser Marxist political associations of the pre-war period to the increasingly centralised organisation and totalising political philosophy of the interwar CPGB. (23)

‘In 1924 Field and Saklatvala relaunched the East-West Circle. This organisation appears to have received greater interest within Communist circles than Field’s previous endeavours, and its foundation came just after the CPGB had been chided by the ECCI for its lack of anti-colonial work, boding well for its potential securing of party support. Kate O’Malley has noted how the group was able to provide a hub for meetings between Communists, Indian nationalists and Irish republicans, allowing for the sharing of funds, strategies, and resources. (24)

Edmonds analysis is far more nuanced than the debate between Marika Sherwood and John Callaghan. (25)

While Edmonds drew on my 2010 article about Archer (26) he was unable to draw on the more additional information about Archer, especially on the split with Saklatvala after the General Strike on my 2014 pamphlet. (8) It is to be hoped that Edmonds will seek to publish this thesis as a book.

A Fuller Biography of Saklatvala Still Needed

Unless they create a biography of several hundred pages no biographer can cover every aspect of someone’s life. Such a biography is not Marc’s intention. The books by Mike Squires and Sehri Saklatvala remain important sources along with more recently added studies. Harry Wicks autobiography also contains useful detail. He recalled that Sak ‘had long shared platforms with Charlotte Despard, as co-fighter for the right of national self-determination of all colonial people, particularly the Irish and the Indians.’ He also recalls that Sak visited the Battersea Young Communist League branch during the 1924 election to thank them for their election work, bringing his 12/13 year old son with him. (27)

Mike Squires cites Despard’s support for Sak in 1922, for whom she made a special appeal to women and the Irish. ‘I appeal to you – to Labour which I have always honoured, to women, women workers and mothers who are the greatest workers of all – I appeal to my Irish fellow countrymen and women in North Battersea – support the Party and support the man, Saklatvala.’ She continued to support him after the split in the Battersea Party. During the General Election of 1929 took place she came over from Ireland to support him at several of his meetings. (28)

Sak’s involvement with the local Party is probably greater than biographers have realised, For example he gave the key address on ‘Current Problems’ at the local Party’s Second Conference of trade unionists and members of labour organisations at the Labour Club Hall at 81-83 Falcon Rd, On Sunday 13 September 1925. The Conference discussed running a local Labour newspaper, workers’ control in industry, industrial unity, co-operation and Labour, industrial assurance, Labour and Royal functions, LCC tramway improvements, the difference between men and boys’s work at a local factory, and the organised unemployed workers movement. (29)

The relationship between those pro and anti Saklatvala in Battersea could be venomous. When William Stephen Sanders, the official Party’s prospective Parliamentary candidate, published his reminiscence Early Socialist Days in 1927 he was bitterly attacked by T.A. (Tommy) Jackson of the CP. ‘It is not the fact that he is palpably wrong that makes this book so annoying - it is the insufferably smug self-righteousness that oozes from its every pore. ….

It can be said plainly and unhesitatingly that either Mr Sanders knows nothing of Marx (in which case he has lied about his studies) or he knows Marx and lies about him deliberately to the greater glory of Ecclestone Square and the enlargement of his chances against Saklatvala…..

He emerges again to earn a few more crumbs of bourgeois gratitude by a Judas attack upon Saklatvala from behind. He is typical of the smooth-tongued pharisees who conceal a hatred and contempt for the proletariat under a desire to "represent" them in Parliament there is to ensure that the "inevitable" will be very, very "gradual" indeed.’ (30)

Sanders refused to shake Saklatvala's hand at the nomination on 20 May 1929. "I do not want to speak to you" he said, and turned his back on him. Saklatvala had not complied with "certain decencies in the public life of England". He had called Sanders a "murderer" because he had served in the War.’

As the Communist Party became more hostile to the Labour Party, left-wingers found it more and more difficult to work with Saklatvala and the Communist Party. They resigned in June 1928 and the disaffiliated party, now totally under Communist Party control, put up no candidates in the local elections in November 1928 in December, Saklatvala pronounced it dead. (32)

There are likely to be many examples of Sak’s speeches in Battersea and around the country especially in his final years such as his participation in a debate proposing “That the Labour Party is Not a help but a hindrance to the emancipation of the workers’ held at Croydon’s labour movement Ruskin House on Sunday 13 December. (33)

There is his 1933 speech at the Battersea meeting of the Relief Committee for the Victims of German Fascism.

Sak’s widow Sarah remained welcome in Battersea after his death. She supported the Aid Spain movement in Battersea opening in 1937 a Bazaar and Fun Fair and in 1938 the North Battersea Women’s Co-operative Guild concert. Battersea Communists held a meeting to welcome the leader of the Saklatvala Unit of International Brigade.

As a historian of Black Britain and of Battersea reviewing Marc’s book has highlighted the serious gaps in my knowledge and understanding, which will require me to re-examine all the material I have on the period 1916-1936 as part of the book I am trying to write on Battersea’s labour movement.

A study of the relationship between Sak and Dutt is particularly needed within the context of the CP’s anti-colonial and anti-imperialism work up to Sak’s death in January 1936. It seems to me that more analysis is needed on the Class against Class period of the CP’s hostility to the Labour Party. Mike Squires is a supporter of the political correctness of the policy, while Marc is not. Any consideration of the policy needs to take account of the views of A. L. Morton who joined the CP at the end of 1928. In his review of Noreen Branson’s The History of the Communist Party, 1927-41 he remembers ‘scratching his head over long articles in The Communist Review’ in which ‘the struggle within the party leadership was being fought out in a coded language’. He agrees with Branson’s view that the new line was ‘a disaster, but says that the members called for it and welcomed it. (34)


Shapurji Saklatvala, the First British MP to Uncompromisingly Refute Imperialism

An excerpt from Priyamvada Gopal's book 'Insurgent Empire'.

Shapurji addressing a meeting of workers in London in 1933. Photo: parsikhabar.net

This is an excerpt from Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent (2019), published with permission from Simon and Schuster India.

There are not two ways of ruling another nation. There is not a democratic and sympathetic way, and also an unsympathetic way.
Shapurji Saklatvala

On 17 June 1927, a heated debate was underway in the House of Commons on a controversial proposal to send to India a commission that would review the provisions of the India Act of 1919, with a view to possible further limited constitutional reforms. To be headed by the right-leaning Liberal Sir John Simon, a cautious proponent of gradual changes, the proposed consultative body would have no Indian representative. The Simon Commission’s blatantly racist composition – especially egregious given that it was a body set up to discuss the issue of political representation for Indians – was manifestly inflammatory, and the protests that rocked India a few months later surprised many political observers by their ‘sheer ferocity’. When the commissioners did arrive in India, they were greeted by a sea of black flags and placards reading ‘Go back, Simon’. In Britain itself, however, it would be left to the member for North Battersea to voice outright criticism of the commission, in an indignant and characteristically direct parliamentary peroration:

It is absolutely impossible for one country to hold another in subjection and pretend to offer them measures of reform giving them a partnership in the commonwealth. That is all humbug. I see that a new Commission is going to be appointed, and I would like to ask what is going to be the scope of that Commission and its terms of reference. Everybody knows, whether it is put in black and white or not, that the first thing that will be put in the terms of reference is how this country can keep a stranglehold over India.

Priyamvada Gopal
Insurgent Empire
Simon and Schuster India (2019)

A fellow MP had had quite enough. Launching into an ad hominem attack on his prolix colleague’s personal history, George Pilcher, member for Penryn and Falmouth, noted that, while the honourable member for Battersea had ‘made some very cruel and unjustifiable charges against the European population in Bombay’ in relation to poverty, low wages and slums, he himself belonged to the wealthy community ‘most responsible’ for Mumbai’s industrial development. It was ‘high time’, Pilcher sneered, for parliament to ‘know who the hon. Member for North Battersea is and what is his relationship with that great industrial community in Bombay’.

During another fractious debate on the Simon Commission that autumn, it was the turn of the Tory under-secretary of state for India to get personal about his Battersea colleague, who had once again attacked the mission. No one with ‘the remotest knowledge of India’, snarled Earl Winterton, ‘could possibly accept the hon. Gentleman as an exponent of Indian opinion. As far as I know, he has absolutely no authority of any sort. He is repudiated by every responsible organisation in India.

The focus of this sniping was Shapurji Dorabji Saklatvala, the lone Communist member of the House. Saklatvala was a Parsi from Bombay, who had first come to Britain in 1905 in his late twenties for medical treatment. After marrying an Englishwoman, Sally Marsh, he had settled down in London, where the couple would raise a large family. Saklatvala was indeed related to the great industrial dynasty inaugurated by Jamsetji Tata, and had worked for several years in the family concern. He was not quite culpable of being an ‘heir of the industrial system which he attacks’, however, having been a paid employee and a poor cousin rather than a direct descendant of the main branch of the business dynasty.

Responding to Pilcher’s broadside, Saklatvala replied simply that he had no greater stake in defending his own natal community than he had in attacking Bombay’s elite European milieu:

“The Parsee capitalist class is just as abominable and as much to be avoided as the class to which the hon. Member and his friends belong in this country.”

Responding to Winterton’s charge that he was not taken seriously by any Indian organizations, he pointed out that he, who had been officially welcomed in nine Indian cities during a recent tour, could speak of matters Indian with far greater legitimacy than the ‘unrepresentative Indian Princes on the League of Nations’ placed there by the earl in his capacity as colonial secretary.

At this point, Saklatvala had been in the House for three years, elected first in 1922 as a Labour MP, and then again in 1923 as a Communist (after the Labour Party expelled Communist members). So he noted that while he spoke in this debate as ‘one of the conquered and enslaved subject races’, he was also ‘representing the interests of the British electors who sent me’.

It is this sense of carrying a dual but intertwined representational responsibility – and his persistence in identifying common ground between the two sides – which makes Shapurji Saklatvala a figure of transnational significance in thinking about the relationship between colonial insurgencies and British anticolonialism in the interwar period.

Deemed ‘one of the most violent anti-British agitators in England’ by state espionage agencies, Saklatvala sought actively to forge a language of opposition to empire that would at once undo the pretences and prevarications of gradualist reformism and make clear that resistance to empire was in the interests of both the Indian and British working classes. Where Hardie, MacDonald and others who visited India during the Swadeshi years came back to make the case for reforms that might defuse the ‘unrest’, Saklatvala was arguably the first MP to make a sustained case in parliament against reformism and ‘liberal’ approaches to colonial governance in themselves.

His biographer, Marc Wadsworth, argues that Saklatvala was also responsible for putting empire and anti-imperialism firmly into the view of liberals and progressives at a time ‘when the British left was by no means committed to anti-imperialism’ he invited campaigners from the colonies to speak at meetings and wrote on the topic in such organs as the Labour Leader. At meetings of the Independent Labour Party, which he joined in 1909, ‘Saklatvala raised the issue of Indian independence and chided the ILP on the need to be more internationalist’.

The subject of three biographies – one by his daughter, Sehri – Saklatvala, Britain’s third Indian MP after fellow Parsis Naoroji and Mancherjee Bhownagree, is usually mentioned only in passing in studies of early twentieth-century relationships between English dissenters and Indians, which have tended to focus on more reformist figures such as Annie Besant, C.F. Andrews and Mirabehn (Madeleine Slade), who appear less Manichean in their approach to colonial questions.

Annie Beasant (Public domain image), Mirabhen (Photo: Encyclopaedia Britannica) and C.F. Andrews (Photo: Howard Coster/National Portrait Gallery, London CC BY NC ND 3.0)

Yet Saklatvala – who described the likes of Besant as ‘white men and women’ who ‘pass as India’s friends and pretend to be almost Indianised’ – himself emerges in some ways as the consummate hybrid, deeply rooted in British political and social life while equally committed to the Indian anticolonial struggle. To the later dismay of the British Communist Party, he was also committed to retaining something of his Parsi cultural and religious heritage.

Described later by George Padmore as the ‘most independent-minded Communist ever’, during his parliamentary career Saklatvala produced the first truly uncompromising refutation of imperialism in the House, one which put in place an unbridgeable antagonism between empire and democracy, refused to accept that reforms or ‘trusteeship’ were possible in the context of political subjugation, identified the centrality of capitalism to the imperial project, and stressed the revolutionary agency of the oppressed out of which common ground would emerge.

In doing so, Comrade Sak’ crafted a unique political voice for himself, at once Indian and British, speaking out candidly and passionately on many causes, but most especially against imperialism, which, for him, was inextricable from capitalism. Known for ‘a striking and original manner of speaking’, he would tell his British audiences that ‘he could not help it that his accent was a little foreign but his heart was not foreign’.

One contemporary, the journalist Herbert Bryan, described Saklatvala as possessed not of ‘the mock eloquence of the demagogic wind-bag, but the deep sincerity of the man finding expression in flaming words’, also noting: ‘His command of English is infinitely superior to that of the average Englishman.’ The over 500 interventions he made in the House of Commons during a relatively short but packed parliamentary career certainly ranged over domestic issues such as housing conditions, unemployment, wages and trade unionism, but the majority were on India and imperial matters, earning him the sobriquet of ‘Member for India’.

While it is true that he ‘was only one of many personalities operating in the West from a variety of Indian political tendencies’, few were able so deftly to negotiate – and make a polemical virtue of – colonial subjecthood as a form of dual citizenship. The fact that Saklatvala was at once influential and reviled had much to do with his ability to navigate artfully – though never without integrity – between the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘we’ when addressing British politicians and lawmakers the ‘you’ was a source of irritation to his political opponents.

British House of Commons. Photo: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Unsurprisingly, not a little racism came his way, with some on the ‘pink’ left allegedly wanting to get ‘this bloody nigger off our backs’. Saklatvala’s synchronic identification with both fellow Indian colonial subjects and ordinary British citizens appears to have been completely sincere certainly there is nothing in either his private communications or his public pronouncements to suggest otherwise. Indeed, the insight that subjects of the British Empire and ordinary Britons had more in common with each other than with their respective ruling classes was one that he attempted to elaborate from his earliest years in British politics, and which he later parlayed into the language of communist internationalism.

Intervening in Commons debates and playing an active role in organizations ranging from the British Socialist Party and the Independent Labour Party to the Workers’ Welfare League of India and the League against Imperialism, Saklatvala made significant public contributions that tell us something about how British criticism of empire was shaped and reformulated, particularly after the October Revolution, by the growing presence and pedagogical impact of Asian and African campaigners and intellectuals in the imperial metropolis.

Certainly, he was responsible for adamantly bringing resistance to the imperial project – particularly, though not only, in India – firmly into both parliamentary view and public hearing, which was no mean feat. Close readings of his speeches and writings indicate the extraordinary extent to which Saklatvala was preoccupied with the project of channelling a democratic ‘voice’, both for the subjects of colonialism and for ordinary Britons he also wanted each of these constituencies to hear the other. Later in his political career, Saklatvala, with what fellow MP Philip Snowden described as ‘volcanic eloquence’, would also become a prominent spokesman in Britain for another juridical crisis of empire that became a cause célèbre in Britain – the infamous ‘Meerut Conspiracy Case’.

Priyamvada Gopal is University Reader in Anglophone and Related Literatures in the Faculty of English and Fellow, Churchill College, University of Cambridge.


What is it that connects Battersea in South London, the Indian corporate giant Tata Steel, and the Communist Party of Great Britain?

Actually it’s not a what, but a who: Shapurji Saklatvala, the first British MP of Indian heritage to become an MP for the UK Labour Party , born on this day in 1874.

Saklatvala addressing workers at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park (image: parsikhabar.net)

Saklatvala was born under the British Raj to a wealthy family in Mumbai. His mother, Jerbai, was the sister of Jamsetji Tata, the famed industrial magnate and founder of Tata Steel.

After leaving school, Saklatvala briefly worked as an iron and coal prospector for the Tata Group before moving to England in 1905 to recover from a bout of malaria.

He never moved back.

It was in Manchester that Saklatvala became a communist - no doubt inspired by the legacy of Friedrich Engels, who chronicled the conditions of the working class in Manchester's factories.
Click to view our Friedrich Engels tea towel

Posted to Tata’s Manchester office, the young Saklatvala was soon radicalised by the working-class politics of Northern England.

In 1909, he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

For Saklatvala on the Left of the labour movement, the 1910s were a formative period, as for millions of others in Europe and around the world.

The October Revolution of 1917 and anti-colonial disquiet of the era were a huge inspiration.

With a group of fellow enthusiasts, he tried to get the ILP to partner up with the Communist International when it was created in Moscow in 1919.

After this campaign failed, Saklatvala and his comrades founded the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Shapurji Saklatvala (left) with his fellow Communist Party MP Walton Newbold (right).

Then, remarkably, he was elected as a Communist Party MP for North Battersea, also backed by a Labour Party endorsement – this was before the first Red Scare really kicked into gear, frightening Labour away from the Communists.

Saklatvala won with 11,311 votes, making him the first person of Indian heritage to ever be elected to the British Parliament.

This was a period when the House of Commons was beginning, bit by bit, to look very different.

After centuries of being occupied exclusively by extremely rich white men, change was in the air.

Working men fighting for the working class arrived at the end of the 19th century – not least the Scottish miner, Keir Hardie.

And the 1918 General Election was the first in which any women could stand for Parliament, with Sinn Fein’s Constance Markievicz becoming the first woman elected.

But the election of an Indian Communist in 1922 might have been the most disruptive new arrival yet.

Keir Hardie, founder of the Labour Party, began working down the mines at the age of ten.
Click to view our Keir Hardie tea towel

Once in Parliament, Saklatvala worked with fellow communists and socialists to fight for cheaper housing and better jobs, giving a voice to the growing number of unemployed in post-war Britain.

Briefly voted out in 1923, Saklatvala was re-elected by the people of Battersea in the 1924 General Election, this time without Labour’s endorsement – distance between the two parties was growing.

For the rest of the 1920s, Saklatvala continued to agitate for the oppressed in Britain and across the empire.

In 1926, he was arrested for sedition over a speech he gave to coalminers during the General Strike and from 1927 he was active in the Brussels-based League Against Imperialism.

Saklatvala lost his seat for good in the 1929 General Election.

He spent the rest of his days, until his death in 1936, fighting for the working class and the revolutionary transformation of an unjust world.

Saklatvala is evidence of how much remarkable history is missed when we accept the myth of British history as almost entirely male, white, and conservative.

From black agitators against the slave trade in the 18th century to the Grunwick Strike of 1976, the history of these islands is far less grey – and far more radical – than we might think!


Shapurji Saklatvala: Britain’s First Communist MP

Shapurji Saklatvala (Image: The Illustrated London News/ Public Domain)

Who knows how history might have played out if Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had replied ‘yes’ to a letter from a revolutionary Parsi communist. In 1927, new leaders were emerging within the ambit of the Indian freedom struggle – Subhas Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru and Shapurji Saklatvala.

All three had differing views with Gandhi, who was then acknowledged as the Mahatma or ‘Great Soul’. He held the pulse of the masses – a particularly important demographic for the communists. In a fervent series of letters to Gandhi, Saklatvala tried to sway Gandhi to the communist cause. The two had more in common than one would think, as Saklatvala wryly recognized in his opening line:

We are both erratic enough to permit each other to be rude in order to freely express oneself correctly, instead of getting lost in artificiality of phraseology.

Published in 1927, “Is India Different? The Class Struggle in India – Correspondence on the Indian Labour Movement and Modern Conditions,” shows the to and fro that existed between Gandhi and the firebrand Parsi communist a clash of both words and minds. It is curious that both at different points enjoyed the same patron – the industrialist Tata family.

When Gandhi was fighting for the Indian cause in South Africa, he received a cheque from Ratanji Tata for Rs. 25,000. Saklatvala, on the other hand, was the nephew of J.N. Tata, considered the Father of Indian industry.


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What is it that connects Battersea in South London, the Indian corporate giant Tata Steel, and the Communist Party of Great Britain?

Actually it’s not a what, but a who: Shapurji Saklatvala, the first British MP of Indian heritage to become an MP for the UK Labour Party , born on this day in 1874.

Saklatvala addressing workers at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park (image: parsikhabar.net)

Saklatvala was born under the British Raj to a wealthy family in Mumbai. His mother, Jerbai, was the sister of Jamsetji Tata, the famed industrial magnate and founder of Tata Steel.

After leaving school, Saklatvala briefly worked as an iron and coal prospector for the Tata Group before moving to England in 1905 to recover from a bout of malaria.

He never moved back.

It was in Manchester that Saklatvala became a communist - no doubt inspired by the legacy of Friedrich Engels, who chronicled the conditions of the working class in Manchester's factories.
Click to view our Friedrich Engels tea towel

Posted to Tata’s Manchester office, the young Saklatvala was soon radicalised by the working-class politics of Northern England.

In 1909, he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

For Saklatvala on the Left of the labour movement, the 1910s were a formative period, as for millions of others in Europe and around the world.

The October Revolution of 1917 and anti-colonial disquiet of the era were a huge inspiration.

With a group of fellow enthusiasts, he tried to get the ILP to partner up with the Communist International when it was created in Moscow in 1919.

After this campaign failed, Saklatvala and his comrades founded the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Shapurji Saklatvala (left) with his fellow Communist Party MP Walton Newbold (right).

Then, remarkably, he was elected as a Communist Party MP for North Battersea, also backed by a Labour Party endorsement – this was before the first Red Scare really kicked into gear, frightening Labour away from the Communists.

Saklatvala won with 11,311 votes, making him the first person of Indian heritage to ever be elected to the British Parliament.

This was a period when the House of Commons was beginning, bit by bit, to look very different.

After centuries of being occupied exclusively by extremely rich white men, change was in the air.

Working men fighting for the working class arrived at the end of the 19th century – not least the Scottish miner, Keir Hardie.

And the 1918 General Election was the first in which any women could stand for Parliament, with Sinn Fein’s Constance Markievicz becoming the first woman elected.

But the election of an Indian Communist in 1922 might have been the most disruptive new arrival yet.

Keir Hardie, founder of the Labour Party, began working down the mines at the age of ten.
Click to view our Keir Hardie tea towel

Once in Parliament, Saklatvala worked with fellow communists and socialists to fight for cheaper housing and better jobs, giving a voice to the growing number of unemployed in post-war Britain.

Briefly voted out in 1923, Saklatvala was re-elected by the people of Battersea in the 1924 General Election, this time without Labour’s endorsement – distance between the two parties was growing.

For the rest of the 1920s, Saklatvala continued to agitate for the oppressed in Britain and across the empire.

In 1926, he was arrested for sedition over a speech he gave to coalminers during the General Strike and from 1927 he was active in the Brussels-based League Against Imperialism.

Saklatvala lost his seat for good in the 1929 General Election.

He spent the rest of his days, until his death in 1936, fighting for the working class and the revolutionary transformation of an unjust world.

Saklatvala is evidence of how much remarkable history is missed when we accept the myth of British history as almost entirely male, white, and conservative.

From black agitators against the slave trade in the 18th century to the Grunwick Strike of 1976, the history of these islands is far less grey – and far more radical – than we might think!


Shapurji Saklatvala Net Worth

Shapurji Saklatvala estimated Net Worth, Salary, Income, Cars, Lifestyles & many more details have been updated below. Let’s check, How Rich is Shapurji Saklatvala in 2019-2020?

According to Wikipedia, Forbes, IMDb & Various Online resources, famous Celebrity Shapurji Saklatvala’s net worth is $1-5 Million before died. Shapurji Saklatvala earned the money being a professional Celebrity. Shapurji Saklatvala is from British.

Shapurji Saklatvala’s Net Worth:
$1-5 Million

Estimated Net Worth in 2020Under Review
Previous Year’s Net Worth (2019)Under Review
Annual Salary Under Review.
Income SourcePrimary Income source Celebrity (profession).
Net Worth Verification StatusNot Verified


At one of the speeches
Photo Source

His fiery speeches and fearless demonstrations caused him to be hounded by the police and the politicians. After a widely successful speaking tour of India in 1927, he was banned by the then Conservative government in England to travel to India – a ban that the Labor party, which was elected two years later, also upheld. He lost the general elections in 1929, after which he never returned to the Parliament.

To put his achievement in perspective, the next time a “non-White” person was elected to the British parliament was in 1987.

In Britain, he is remembered as a titan of the Communist movement. The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist)’s main hall in London, located a few streets away from Ambedkar Hall, is named after him.

In The Fifth Commandment, a biography of Shapurji Saklatvala written by Sehri Saklatvala, Shapurji’s youngest daughter, writes, “The charitable and benevolent community of Parsis, to which he belonged, always sought to alleviate the distress of the poor. This was not enough for Shapurji. He sought not to alleviate but to eliminate poverty entirely and not only in India but all over the world.”

He died on January 16, 1936, in London after suffering a heart attack. It was rather unfortunate that he did not live to see India achieve Independence.

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