Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, KCSI, PC (Kashmiri: तेज बहादुर सप्रू (Devanagari), تیج بہادر سپرو (Nastaleeq)) (8 December 1875 – 20 January 1949) was an Indian lawyer and politician. He was a prominent leader of the pro-British Raj Liberal party in British-ruled India.
Tej Bahadur Sapru was born in Aligarh in the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). He was born in a Kashmiri Hindu family of the Sapru sub-caste. He was educated at the Agra College. Sapru worked in the Allahabad High Court as a lawyer where Purushottam Das Tandon, a future nationalist leader, worked as his junior. He later served as a Dean of the Banaras Hindu University.
Although initially a member of the Indian National Congress, India’s largest political party, Sapru left it to join the Liberal party of India after the Congress began advocating Swaraj (Self Rule) and supporting popular agitation and civil disobedience against British colonial rule. A constitutionalist, Sapru advocated for greater political rights and freedoms for Indians to be achieved through dialogue with British authorities and did not support Indian independence from the British Empire.
Sapru and Indian Liberals broke openly with the Congress after the ascent of Mahatma Gandhi, who advocated non-violent civil disobedience against British rule. Sapru opposed the Non-cooperation movement (1920–22), the Salt Satyagraha (1930–31) and the Quit India Movement (1942–46). Sapru and other Liberal politicians participated in the central and provincial legislatures set up by the British, even though they were opposed by most Indian political parties and ignored by the people, who considered the legislatures to be unrepresentative “rubber stamps” for the Viceroy of India. Sapru served in the Legislative Council of the United Provinces (1913–16) and the Imperial Legislative Council (1916–20) and as a member for law affairs in the Viceroy’s Council (1920–23). He was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (KCSI) in the 1923 King’s Birthday Honours list, and was appointed a member of the Privy Council on 26 February 1934.
Due to their pro-British politics, Sapru and the Liberals were widely distrusted and ignored by Indians. However, many Congress politicians continued to respect Sapru as an eminent jurist, and his ties with the British made him valuable as a mediator. Sapru mediated between Gandhi and the Viceroy Lord Irwin, helping to forge the Gandhi–Irwin Pact that ended the Salt Satyagraha. Sapru also mediated between Gandhi, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and the British over the issue of separate electorates for India’s “Untouchables”, which was settled by the Poona Pact. Sapru was chosen as the representative of Indian Liberals at the Round Table Conferences (1931–33), which sought to deliberate plans over granting more autonomy to Indians. His efforts along with those of his contemporary M. R. Jayakar at the Round Table Conferences for bridging the differences between the British administration and Congress are well known.
Sapru supported the Viceroy’s decision to bring India into the Second World War in 1939, even as the Congress criticised the decision as unilateral and made without consulting the representatives of India’s people. However, Sapru and Indian Liberals lost their political influence as the British began paving the road for Indian independence in the mid-1940s. His last prominent role was as one of the main lawyers engaged to defend captured soldiers of the rebel Indian National Army, raised by nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose with the aid of Imperial Japan during the war.
Sapru was the only son of Ambika Prasad Sapru, and Gaura Hukku. He was the eighth cousin of Allama Iqbal, whose grandfather was Sahaj Ram Sapru. He and his wife had 3 sons (Prakash Narain Sapru, Trijugi Narain, and Anand Narain) and 2 daughters (Jagdembashwari and Bhuvaneshwari.) He was the grandfather of Jagdish Narain Sapru. He died shortly after India’s independence, on January 20, 1949 in Allahabad.