Hailing from a distinguished family, Tej Bahadur Sapru was educated in Mathura, at the age of fifteen joining Agra College where he graduated with BA (1894) and MA (1895) in English. He then took Master’s and Doctorate of Law degrees at Allahabad University, was called to the Bar there in 1896, and was admitted as an advocate in 1906. He was elected as a Member of the United Provinces Legislative Council (1913-16) and Imperial Legislative Council (1916-1919). From 1920-23 he was Law Member of the Viceroy's Executive Council, departing with a KCSI. Sapru represented India at the 1923 Imperial Conference in London, served as President of the National Liberal Federation in 1923 and 1927, and was closely involved in all debates around Indian constitutional reform.
Sapru was a leading British Indian delegate throughout the conference.
For additional biographical information, see the official delegate Who's Whos. See also Emery Kelen's caricature, from his portfolio of delegates at the Round Table Conference.
- As India's leading constitutional expert, Sapru played a key role in drafting the Motilal Nehru Report (1928) in response to the all-white Simon Commission (1927-30).
- At the Calcutta Congress session of December 1928, the Nehru Report recommendations, including dominions status, were accepted as goals. If Britain did not accede to them within a year, civil disobedience would be called.
- January 1929 Sapru mediated with Viceroy Irwin, trying to find a breakthrough. The RTC was proposed as a solution. (Hooja, 1999:50-51)
- April 1929 Sapru met Irwin and Simon and emphasised importance of an RTC. After Irwin trip to London, RTC announced in October 1929.
- November 1929 Delhi Manifesto insisted that RTC should work to plan when and how dominion status would be realised.
- 23rd December 1929: a meeting between Irwin, Gandhi, Sapru, Patel, Jinnah and M Nehru. failed to reach consensus, so on 31st December Congress announced a new policy replacing dominion status with purna swaraj (complete independence) as the goal, with civil disobedience to follow.
- July-August 1930 Sapru and Jayakar attempted to forge a truce between Congress and the Government of India but failed.
- Sapru attended constant pre-conference talks with Indian delegates in London. Liberals were willing to concede Muslim claims for majorities in Punjab and Bengal, separation of Sind, weightage in Hindu majority provinces, and one third of seats in federal legislations but with reservation of seats instead of separate electorates. (Moore, 1974:126)
- 10th November 1930: Benn called an agenda committee, including Sapru, Hydari, Ismail, Haksar, and Alwar. Reading and Sapru suggested first topic should be Indian federation, (Moore, 1974:142)
- Sapru's opening tactic was to secure Hindu Muslim agreement and present a unite demand for Dominion Status with safeguards. More committed to this, and sceptical about the Princes, he was not an early advocate of federation proposals. But when Hindu-Muslim concord was not forthcoming, but the Princes came over, by October 23rd 1930 he had joined Haksar, Pannikar and Mehta in winning over Sastri to federation. (Moore, 1974:145)
- 17th November 1930: in his speech at the opening plenary Sapru set the tone for the entire conferences, proposing the uniting of British and Princely India within an All India Federation. He opened by reflecting what while Britain was used to such international conferences:
- “This is absolutely the first time in the history of the connection of India with England that such a big gesture has been made by England towards India. It is a gesture which means that Indians and Englishmen should sit round the table, not to enter merely into a clash of ideas, but, if possible, to evolve a constitution for the country, which may settle our difficulties for all time to come, and which may enable us to settle down to constructive work.” (Indian Round Table Conference, Proceedings)
- Having raised the question of the Princely States, in a pre-agreed move with the Maharaja of Bikaner, Sapru asked the Princes to:
- “…say whether they are prepared to join an All-India Federation. I express no definite opinion; I will not commit this Conference to any particular issue on this point. These issues have to be examined carefully and minutely. I do suggest, however, that, so far as we are concerned, we have a vision of a united India, and not merely of an India divided into so many compartments. I have no doubt that when H. H. The Maharaja of Bikaner addresses this Conference he will advert to these questions and that he will take us now into his confidence.” (Indian Round Table Conference, Proceedings)
- Sapru was a key member of the Federal Structure Committee, where he argued for a directly elected Lower Chamber. The FSC plan came to resemble the Hydari scheme, not Haksar-Pannikar, but powers would go to a federal authority not to the Princes, a result of Sapru's work (Moore, 1974:151)
- 15th December 1930: after a Chequer’s meeting to try to break the communal deadlock, Malcolm Hailey wrote to Viceroy Irwin that “Sapru, who had been for the most part silent, at length broke into a fierce attack on Moonje, saying that it was clear that there was in India no spirit of nationalism and to talk of it was a farce. There was no foundation on which a British Government would grant responsibility in India and it was nonsense to ask Great Britain to resign its control.” (British Library E220/34)
- 12th January 1931: Sapru wrote to MacDonald regarding the content of his closing speech for the conference, due in a week’s time: “The technical view of the matter may be that there is no such thing as Dominion Status with reservations and safeguards, but I shall beg of you to remember that satisfaction of Indian feeling on this question is far more important that any technical proprieties.”
- The conference work enabled to Sapru to return home claiming they had secured dominion status with safeguards (Moore, 1974:151)
- February 1931: Sapru mediated between Irwin and Gandhi before their pact of March.
- Sapru encouraged Gandhi to attend the conference but was dismayed by communal discord, eventually resigning from the Liberal Party due to their involvement.
- November 1931. As the second session developed Sapru fought against British proposal that full federation could not be launched during economic crisis or without consent of unformed provinces. (Moore, 1974:234)
- 13th November 1931: Sapru wrote to MacDonald insisting upon provincial autonomy and federation in one bill, protesting that the provinces could not decide whether to enter federation. Samuel Hoare, how had been pushing this scheme, backed down.
- September 1932: after Gandhi’s fast to the death over the Communal Award, Sapru helped organise the Poona Pact regarding Gandhi's position on untouchables in India, which had resulted from PM Ramsay MacDonald's Communal Settlement, issued as a result of the conference impasse on communal representation.
- Summer 1932: Sapru’s attacks on the British for attempts to reduce the powers of the third session (replacing the conference with a Joint Select Committee of Parliament), was fundamental in rescuing the RTC, even though in much reduced form. (Hooja, 1999:60)
- 9th December 1932: Sapru was sickened by Princes politicking at conference and proposed a British Indian federation if enough Princes didn't sign up in one year, although the British government refused to back any deadline. (Moore, 1974:286)
- 27th December 1932 the Sapru-Jayakar joint memorandum was submitted for inclusion in the conference proceedings, outlining a dominion constitution with a federal centre responsible to legislature
- 1933 Sapru-Jayakar joint statement issued, summarising the conference proceedings and explaining their joint memorandum (Hooja, 1999:62)
- Joint Select Committee, London (1933): Sapru was consulted by the British Government on the Government of India Bill (which became law in 1935). Highly critical of emphasis on safeguards and reservations.
- 1934: In reward for his service Sapru was made a sworn member of the Privy Council, but found himself marginalised in Indian politics.
- In 1941 Gandhi used Sapru to mediate between Congress, the Muslim League and the Viceroy. Helped precipitate Sir Stafford Cripp's mission to India, and the promise of Indian independence after the war.
- National Library of India, Calcutta: Tej Bahadur Sapru Papers. Selections of these papers are available via:
- National Library of Australia: Papers of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru
- Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi: Dr BS Moonje papers.
- National Archives, Kew: PRO/30/69/578.
- Indian Round Table Conference: 12th November, 1930 - 19th January, 1931, Proceedings (London: H.M. Stationery Office; 1931)
- R.J. Moore, The Crisis of Indian Unity, 1917-1940 (Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1974)
- Carl Bridge, Holding India to the Empire: the British Conservative Party and the 1935 constitution (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers; 1986)
- Rima Hooja, Crusader for self-rule: Tej Bahadur Sapru and the Indian national movement: life and selected letters (Jaipur & New Delhi: Rawat Publications; 1999)
- T.B. Sapru, P.S.S. Aiyer, M.A. Jinnah & R.P. Paranjpye, Reforms Inquiry Committee: the Minority Report (Allahabad: Leader Press; 1925)
- Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, The Indian Constitution (Madras: The National Secretary's Office; 1926): https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.54080
- Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, A Collection of Notes and Minutes by the Honourable Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, K.C.S.I. (Law Member of the Council of the Governor General), 1920-1922 (Simla: Government of India Press; 1926): https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.206208
- Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru & M.R. Jayakar Correspondence relating to peace efforts carried on by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr M.R. Jayakar, from 25th June 1930 to 5th September 1930 (Poona: M.R. Jayakar; 1930)
- Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru & M.R. Jayakar, Statement Issued on 5th September by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr. M.R. Jayakar, of the Course of their Conversations with the Congress Leaders, July-September 1930 (London: HM Stationary Office; 1930): https://dspace.gipe.ac.in/xmlui/handle/10973/29653
- Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru & Zafrulla Khan, “Indian Public Opinion on the White Paper”, International Affairs, 12:5 (Sep 1933), pp. 611-628: https://doi.org/10.2307/2601781
- Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, M.R. Jayakar, Sir N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar & Kunwar Sir Jagdish Prasad, Constitutional Proposals Of The Sapru Committee (Bombay: Padma Publications; 1945): https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.276348
- Who Was Who: https://doi.org/10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U231463
- D.A. Low, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/47758
- Times of India, “Great Services To India: Sir T. B. Sapru’s Career” (21 Jan 1949), p. 7
- The Times, “Obituary: Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru”, Issue Number 51285 (21 Jan 1949), p. 7
- D.A. Low, “Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and the first Round Table Conference”, in D. A. Low (Ed.), Soundings in modern South Asian history (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1968), pp. 294–329
- D.A. Low, “The government of India and the first non-co-operation movement, 1920–1922”, in R. Kumar (Ed.), Essays on Gandhian politics (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1971)
- B. Shiva Rao, “Sapru, Tej Bahadur (Sir)”, in Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. IV (S-Z), Ed. S.P. Sen (Calcutta: Institute of Historical Studies; 1974), pp. 48-51: https://archive.org/details/dictionaryofnationalbiographyvol.4szsens.p._196_A/page/n119
- Commemoration volume compiled and published by the bar council of Delhi on the birth centenary of Dr. Tej Bahadur Sapru (New Delhi: Bar Council of Delhi & Indian Council of World Affairs; 1976)
- Mohan Kumar, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru: a political biography (Gwalior: Vipul Prakashan; 1981)
- D.A. Low, “The mediator's moment: Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and the antecedents to the Cripps mission to India, 1940–1942”, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 12:2, special issue: Perspectives on imperialism and decolonisation: essays in honour of A.F. Madden (1984), pp. 145–64: https://doi.org/10.1080/03086538408582664
- Vineet Thakur, "Liberal, Liminal and Lost: India’s first diplomats and the narrative of foreign policy", The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History2 (2017), pp. 232-258: https://doi.org/10.1080/03086534.2017.1294283
- Vineet Thakur & Alexander E. Davis, "A Communal Affair over International Affairs: The Arrival of IR in Late Colonial India", South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies4 (2017), pp. 689-705: https://doi.org/10.1080/00856401.2017.1350903