Shapurji Saklatvala: A Journey from Bombay to the British Parliament

Shapurji Saklatvala: The Revolutionary Trailblazer in UK Politics

Shapurji Saklatvala, born on 28 March 1874, was a formidable figure whose legacy extends far beyond the political realm. As the first person of Indian heritage to become a British Member of Parliament (MP) for the UK Labour Party, and one of the few members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) to serve as an MP, Saklatvala’s life was a testament to his relentless pursuit of social justice and equality.

Early Life and Education of Shapurji Saklatvala

Shapurji Saklatvala was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, into a family with deep commercial roots. His father, Dorabji Saklatvala, was a merchant, and his mother, Jerbai, was the sister of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of India’s largest industrial empire.

This connection to the Tata family provided Shapurji Saklatvala with a unique perspective on both commerce and industry. He was educated at St. Xavier’s School and later at St. Xavier’s College in Bombay, where he developed a foundation that would support his future endeavors.

Professional Beginnings and Move to England

After his education, Shapurji Saklatvala worked briefly as an iron and coal prospector for the Tata family, successfully discovering significant deposits in Jharkhand and Odisha. However, his health suffered from malaria, prompting his move to England in 1905 to convalesce and manage Tata’s Manchester office. This move marked the beginning of his lifelong commitment to social justice and political activism.

Entry into Politics

In Manchester, Shapurji Saklatvala’s political career began with his involvement in the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1909. His passion for socialism was further ignited by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. Inspired by the revolution, Saklatvala sought to align the ILP with the Communist International. When this effort failed, he joined the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1921.

Parliamentary Career

Shapurji Saklatvala’s parliamentary journey began in the October 1922 general election when he ran as a candidate for the Battersea North district of London.

Despite being one of only two Communist candidates endorsed by the Labour Party, Saklatvala won the election, making history as the first Indian heritage MP for the UK Labour Party. His tenure in Parliament was marked by his unwavering advocacy for the unemployed, affordable housing, and lower rents.

In the subsequent 1923 general election, Saklatvala faced defeat, only to regain his seat in 1924, albeit without formal Labour Party endorsement. His victory was a testament to his personal popularity and the support of local Labour activists.

Arrest and Continued Activism

Saklatvala’s activism was not without consequences. During the 1926 General Strike, he was arrested and jailed for two months on charges of sedition after supporting striking coal miners. Despite these challenges, he remained a vocal critic of British imperialism and continued to champion the rights of the oppressed.

Later Years and Legacy

After losing his parliamentary seat in the 1929 general election, Saklatvala continued his political activities, including unsuccessful campaigns in Glasgow Shettleston and Battersea.

In 1934, he visited the Soviet Union, where he praised the governance of the Far Eastern republics in comparison to British India. Despite suffering a heart attack during his visit, he remained active in political campaigns until his death on 16 January 1936.

Also Read:Sheth Ghoolam Hyder: The First Indian Professor at Haileybury College

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