From Scottsboro to Munich: Race and Political Culture in 1930s Britain

By Susan D. Pennybacker | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
SAKLATVALA AND THE MEERUT TRIAL

The Meerut Trial… is a grim incident in the history of British India. Men were
torn from civil life for long years whose only crime was to carry out the ordinary
work of trade union and political agitation after the fashion of everyday life in this
country. Not merely socialist opinion in Great Britain recognized that it was a
prosecution scandalous in its inception and disgraceful in its continuance.… A
government which acts in this fashion indicts itself. It acts in fear; it operates by
terror; it is incapable of that magnanimity which is the condition for the exercise
of justifiable power. The Meerut trial belongs to the class of case of which the
Mooney trial and the Sacco-Vanzetti trial in America, the Dreyfus trial in France,
the Reichstag Fire Trial in Germany are the supreme instances. Because they are
foreign, we regard them with pious horror.
Harold Laski, 1935

SHAPURJI SAKLATVALA met Ada Wright in the summer of 1932 long after leaving his native Bombay. Years before, those who controlled his family's business enterprises in India had chosen a commercial future for him, well away from political controversy at home and, in so doing, launched the career of a legendary London radical.1 By the 1930s Saklatvala had established himself among the London electorate and in the political community. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru also became recognizable to the English eye and ear in the thirties, as the growing strength of the Indian Congress party (hereafter, Indian Congress) and the emergence of the 1930–34 Civil Disobedience movement in India troubled and preoccupied English policymakers, including John Simon.2 A fluttering sympathy for Indian independence grew in the English popular imagination. It was enhanced by the causes of Spain and Abyssinia even as the situation in India increasingly daunted Britain's ruling circles and financial elites. The few Indian activists of personal celebrity in London inhabited a political landscape dominated by the Labour party governments of the 1920s, and the 1931 National Government and its successor regimes, whose members desired to curb nationalist and communist agitation, to divide movements against each other, to visit fierce repression upon known opposition leaders, and to conspire to preserve exploitative, fragile economic relationships. In this context and during the very first years of the decade, a small group of committed British left and liberal activists who were cognizant of

-146-

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From Scottsboro to Munich: Race and Political Culture in 1930s Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Ada Wright and Scottsboro 16
  • Chapter 2 - George Padmore and London 66
  • Chapter 3 - Lady Kathleen Simon and Antislavery 103
  • Chapter 4 - Saklatvala and the Meerut Trial 146
  • Chapter 5 - Diasporas: Refugees and Exiles 200
  • Chapter 6 - A Thieves' Kitchen, 1938–39 240
  • Conclusion 265
  • Chronology 275
  • Notes on Sources 279
  • Notes 283
  • Glossary 341
  • Bibliography 353
  • Index 371
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