Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru

Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru (1875-1949) was an Indian lawyer and statesman. His career aptly illustrates the significance of the legal profession in the political and constitutional development of India.

Tej Bahadur Sapru was born in Aligarh into an aristocratic Kashmiri Brahmin family living in Delhi. He attended high school in Aligarh and matriculated at Agra College, where he took his law degree. After an apprenticeship at Moradabad he joined the Allahabad High Court in 1898. He was knighted in 1923 for outstanding legal contributions. He set impeccable standards in his personal and professional life and possessed a scholarly knowledge of Persian and Urdu as well as English.

Sapru was appointed a member of the governor general's executive council and served on the Round Table Conferences in London and on the Joint Parliamentary Committee. As a liberal favoring moderate change within the constitutional and legal framework, Sapru worked untiringly in the role of mediator between the British authority and Indian nationalists and between Hindu and Moslem leaders. He sought, for example, to mediate between the Congress and the British in the Round Table Conferences but was unable to exact concessions from either side. In other instances he was successful, as with the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in 1931. He objected equally to Congress tactics of civil disobedience as prejudicial to compromise and to government imprisonment of Congress leaders.

Most notably he was chairman of the Sapru Committee, appointed in November 1944 by the Standing Committee of the Non-party Conference. The committee was charged with examining the whole communal question in a judicial framework following the breakdown of the Gandhi-Jinnah talks on communal problems. Sir Tej selected 29 committee members representative of all communal groups. The committee submitted proposals to the viceroy, Lord Wavell, in an attempt to break the political deadlock ensuing on the collapse of the Gandhi-Jinnah talks.

The committee's report contained a detailed historical analysis of proposals and claims of each community and a rationale for its constitutional recommendations. On the critical question of partition, the Sapru Committee made a final but fruitless plea to avert the creation of Pakistan. Sapru was also a member of the defense committee in the 1945 trials of Indian National Army officers for treason. The defenses argued that as the INA was an independent army representing an independent government-in-exile, its officers could not be prosecuted for treason.

Throughout the constitutional debates Sapru played a key moderating role, appealing at each stage to Hindu and Moslem and to Englishman and Hindu to conciliate their differences. He sought in the process to safeguard the rights of each communal group. He died on Jan. 20, 1949.

Further Reading on Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru

An excellent source of information on Sapru's career is an article about him by Donald Anthony Low in Soundings in Modern South Asian History, edited by Low (1968). Aspects of his career are also discussed in Cyril Henry Philips and Mary Doreen Wainwright, eds., The Partition of India: Policies and Perspectives, 1935-1947 (1970). For general historical background see Romesh Chandra Majumdar and others, An Advanced History of India (1946; 3d ed. 1967).

Additional Biography Sources

Bose, Sunil Kumar, Tej Bahadur Sapru, New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1978.

Mohan Kumar, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru: a political biography, Gwalior: Vipul Prakashan, 1981.

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