Nathalal Jagivan Upadhyaya

Locations

Bostall Lane
London, SE2 0SY
United Kingdom
51° 29' 10.3956" N, 0° 6' 50.1264" E
Brixton Road
London, SW9 0AA
United Kingdom
51° 28' 29.478" N, 0° 6' 45.4284" W
Kennington Oval
London, SE11 5RP
United Kingdom
51° 28' 58.98" N, 0° 6' 57.0888" W
Other names: 

Paddy

1
Date of birth: 
01 Aug 1895
City of birth: 
Atkot, Nawanagar State
Country of birth: 
India
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
22 Oct 1922
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1922-1936 (at least)

2
About: 

N. J. Upadhyaya, a Brahmin from a poor family, was born in the Indian State of Nawanagar. A British ‘protected person’ rather than a British citizen by virtue of his birthplace, he arrived in England in 1922, having worked as a schoolteacher, on a Gujarati newspaper, then on the Bombay Stock Exchange, where he accumulated the means to come to England. Unlike many of his more privileged fellow migrants, Upadhyaya arrived without knowledge of the English language but quickly tried to master it. On his arrival in England, he stayed with a fellow Communist, Adela Knight, in Abbey Wood, London, and became involved in political activities.

Considering his lack of proficiency in English on arrival, Upadhyaya’s prominence in the Communist Party and in other workers’ organizations was quite remarkable. For the Communist Party he recruited Indians, organized meetings in London, distributed literature and wrote articles. He was also instrumental in founding the Indian Seamen’s Union in 1925, assuming the role of Secretary, with Shapurji Saklatvala as President. In this role, he encouraged Indian seamen to strike against their pay and conditions and to join unions, and helped deserters to secure jobs in hotels and restaurants in London. Upadhyaya also protested against the application of the Coloured Seamen’s Order to Indians and against police stopping Indians in the street and asking to see their Certificates of Registration. In 1928, he founded the Liverpool Indian Association. According to Indian Political Intelligence surveillance reports, Upadhyaya, known among Communist Party members as ‘Paddy’, would disseminate Communist literature among sailors in the docks by posing as a missionary carrying a Bible with leaflets hidden inside.

Upadhyaya was subjected to police interrogation and generally considered to be a suspicious and potentially threatening figure. His name was on the list of Indians to whom passport facilities should not be granted without previous reference to the India Office, and in 1927, questions were raised in parliament about the possibility of deporting him under the 1920 Aliens Order; as a British protected person, he was technically an ‘alien’ rather than a ‘British subject’ so could legally be deported. The government decided against it ultimately, on the grounds that it would be politically insensitive.

Highly conscious of the wealth and class divisions among Indians in Britain, Upadhyaya encouraged poor Indians to beg money from rich Indians. Despite his working relationship with eminent Communist figures such as Clemens Palme Dutt and Saklatvala, it would seem that Upadhyaya himself remained constrained by his class background, failing to gain admission to circles of more privileged Indians in London. He is reported to have remarked on his suspicious treatment by frequenters of the Gower Street India Club and Indian Students’ Hostel. Little is known of Upadhyaya’s personal life. Surveillance reports describe him as frequenting ‘Soho cafes’ and also suggest that he was an alcoholic. By 1933, reports claim he was no longer involved in Communist politics and even that he was a Government agent! By 1936, he was employed as a paper salesman.

Connections: 

S. A. Dange, G. S. Dara, M. G. Desai, Clemens Palme Dutt, George Hardy, Mohamed Ally Khan (member of Communist Party), Mrs Adela Knight (Communist who supported him on his arrival in Britain and asked Saklatvala to help him further, active in Workers’ International Relief), S. N. Mitra (worked for Communist Party), Harry Pollitt, M. N. Roy, Shapurji Saklatvala, Pulin Behari Seal, Mohamed Ali Sepassi, C. B. Vakil.

Central Association of Indian Students Abroad, Communist Party of Great Britain (Colonial Section), Communist Party of India, India Club, Indian Study Circle, National Minority Movement, Seamen's Minority Movement.

3
Contributions to periodicals: 

Various Communist publications.

Secondary works: 

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

4
Example: 

L/PJ/12/234, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 14

Content: 

This Indian Political Intelligence file comprises documentation and correspondence relating to N. J. Upadhyaya. The documentation in the file relates in particular to a debate among officials about whether or not Upadhyaya should face deportation.

Extract: 

As the Secretary of the Indian Section of the Workers’ Welfare League of India, and as an authoritative representative of a section of British workers, I beg to submit to you that the work undertaken by Mr Upadhyaya’s committee is as much in the interest of the British seafarers as in that of the Indians themselves.

We now have not the least doubt that the main purpose of British Imperialism outside Great Britain, Australia and Canada, is to exploit underpaid and illiterate oriental labour and by force of the economic comparisons so created, to undermine and shatter the standard of life and the Trade Union rates of the British workers themselves.

I therefore appeal to you all, in the name of the British working class, to do the utmost both in the House and outside, to prevent the authorities from acting under pressure of selfish imperialists and capitalists and to protect further, Mr Upadhyaya’s great and benevolent work.

Relevance: 

This is an extract from a letter to ‘Members of Parliament’ from Shapurji Saklatvala, dated 2 June 1927. The letter was sent as a document of support to a letter from Upadhyaya himself – which is addressed to Lt. Commander Sir Frederick Hall, MP, and is a defence of his activities in response to the parliamentary questions raised by Hall in the House of Commons. That Upadhyaya became the subject of parliamentary questions, and that Saklatvala took it upon himself to support his fellow Communist, suggest the prominence to which Upadhyaya, from a very modest background and having arrived in Britain with no knowledge of the English language, had risen in political circles, thereby implying his skills and energy in mobilizing for minority workers’ rights in Britain. The extract is also interesting for its alignment of the political interests of the Indian and British working classes, suggesting the existence and importance of an international socialist struggle against the dual but related structures of imperialism and capitalism.

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/233, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/234, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras