Motilal Nehru

Motilal Nehru
Pandit Motilal Nehru
मोतीलाल नेहरू
Congress President
In office
Preceded by Syed Hasan Imam
Succeeded by Lala Lajpat Rai
Congress President
In office
Preceded by Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari
Succeeded by Jawaharlal Nehru
Personal details
Born 6 May 1861(1861-05-06)
Agra [1]
Died 6 February 1931(1931-02-06) (aged 69)
Nationality Indian
Political party Indian National Congress
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Occupation Freedom fighter
Religion Hindu

Motilal Nehru (Kashmiri/Hindi: मोतीलाल नेहरू) (6 May 1861 – 6 February 1931) was an early Indian independence activist and leader of the Indian National Congress, who remained Congress President twice, (1919-1920) and (1928 -1929). He was the founder patriarch of India's most powerful political family, the Nehru-Gandhi family.


Early life and education

The family of Motilal Nehru, with him seated in the centre.

The Nehrus originally Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, settled in Delhi in the beginning of 18th century, where Motilal Nehru's grandfather, Lakshmi Narayan, became the first lawyer (Vakil) of the East India Company at the Mughal Imperial Court of Delhi. His father Gangadhar, was a police officer in Delhi in 1857, and during the Mutiny, when the British troops began shelling their way into the city, he fled to Agra along with his wife Jeorani and four children. He died here four years later, and three months after his death, his youngest son Motilal was born.

He spent the early part of childhood in Khetri, second largest thikana estate within the princely Jaipur State, now in Rajasthan, where his elder brother, Nandlal was Diwan (Chief Minister). Thereafter in 1870, when Nandlal left his job, qualified as a lawyer and started practicing law at Agra, the family moved with him. Subsequently the High Court shifted base to Allahabad, and the family settled there. [2][1][3][4][5]

He became one of the first generation of young Indians to receive a Western-style college education. He passed the matriculation examination from Kanpur, and went on to attend Muir Central College at Allahabad[1], but failed to appear for the final year B.A. examinations. Later he qualified "Bar at law" from University of Cambridge and then enlisted as a lawyer in the English courts.


Motilal passed lawyer examination in 1883, started practicing as a lawyer at Kanpur, three years he moved to Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh., as his elder brother Nandlal already had a lucrative practice at the High Court. Here he became a barrister and settled in the city. The following year, in April 1887 his brother Nandlal died at the age of forty-two, leaving behind five sons and two daughters, thus Motilal at the age of 25 became sole bread-winner of the family.[1] Many of Motilal's suits involved civil cases and soon he made a mark for himself in the legal profession of Allahabad. With the success of his practice, in 1900 he bought a large family home in the Civil Lines of the city, rebuilt it and named as Anand Bhavan (lit. Abode of happiness) [1]. In 1909 he reached the pinnacle of his legal career by gaining the approval to appear in the Privy Council of Great Britain. His frequent visits to Europe, angered the Kashmiri Brahmin community as he refused to perform the traditional "prayashchit" or reformation ceremony after crossing the ocean (according to Orthodox Hinduism, one lost his caste after crossing the ocean, and was required to perform certain rites to regain caste). He was the first Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Leader, and a highly influential paper published from Allahabad.[6]

On February 5, 1919 he launched a new daily paper, the Independent, as a counterblast to the well-established local daily paper, the Leader, which was much too moderate for Motilal's taste in 1919.[1]

Nehru was a man of many elitist habits and had a westernized lifestyle. He was one of the moderate, wealthy leaders of the Indian National Congress. Under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi in 1918, Nehru became one of the first to transform his life to exclude western clothes and material goods, adopting a more native Indian lifestyle. To meet the expenses of his large family and large family homes (he built Swaraj Bhavan later), Nehru had to occasionally return to his practice of law.

Political career

Motilal Nehru twice served as President of the Congress Party, once in Amritsar (1919) and the second time in Calcutta (1928).[1] Elected to preside over the Amritsar Congress (December 1919), Motilal was in the centre of the gathering storm which pulled down many familiar landmarks during the following year. He was the only front rank leader to lend his support to non-cooperation at the special Congress at Calcutta in September 1920.The Calcutta Congress (December 1928) over which Motilal presided was the scene of a head-on clash between those who were prepared to accept Dominion Status and those who would have nothing short of complete independence. A split was averted by a via media proposed by Gandhiji, according to which if Britain did not concede Dominion Status within a year, the Congress was to demand complete independence and to fight for it, if necessary, by launching civil disobedience.[1] He was arrested during the Non-Cooperation Movement. Although initially close to Gandhi, he openly criticized Gandhi's suspension of civil resistance in 1922 due to the murder of policemen by a riotous mob in Chauri Chaura in Uttar Pradesh. Motilal joined the Swaraj Party, which sought to enter the British-sponsored councils.

In 1923, Nehru was elected to the new Central Legislative Assembly of British India in New Delhi and became leader of the Opposition. In that role, he was able to secure the defeat, or at least the delay, of Finance bills and other legislation. He agreed to join a Committee with the object of promoting the recruitment of Indian officers into the Indian Army, but this decision contributed to others going further and joining the Government itself.[7]

In March 1926, Nehru demanded a representative conference to draft a constitution conferring full Dominion status on India, to be and enacted by the parliament. This demand was rejected by the Assembly, and as a result Nehru and his colleagues left the Assembly and returned to the Congress.[7]

The entry of Motilal's glamorous, highly-educated son Jawaharlal Nehru into politics in 1916, started the most powerful and influential Indian political dynasty. When in 1929, Motilal Nehru handed over the Congress presidency to Jawaharlal (Jawaharlal was elected, with Gandhi's backing), it greatly pleased Motilal and Nehru family admirers to see the son take over from his father. Jawaharlal had opposed his father's preference for dominion status, and had not left the Congress Party when Motilal helped found the Swaraj Party.

Nehru report

Motilal Nehru chaired the famous Nehru Commission in 1928, that was a counter to the all-British Simon Commission. Nehru's Report, the first constitution written by Indians only, conceived a dominion status for India within the Empire, akin to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It was endorsed by the Congress Party, but rejected by more radical Indians who sought complete independence, and by many Muslims who didn't feel their interests, concerns and rights were properly represented.

Personal life

Motilal Nehru married Swaroop Rani, a Kashmiri Brahmin. His eldest son Jawaharlal was born in 1889, followed by two daughters, Sarup (later Vijayalakshmi Pandit) and Krishna (later Krishna Hutheesing) born in 1900 and 1907 respectively.

Death and legacy

Motilal Nehru's age and declining health kept him out of the historic events of 1929-1931, when the Congress adopted complete independence as its goal and when Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha. He was arrested and imprisoned with his son; but his health gave way and he was released. In the last week of January 1931 Gandhiji and the Congress Working Committee were released by the Government as a gesture in that chain of events which was to lead to the Gandhi-lrwin Pact. Motilal had the satisfaction of having his son and Gandhiji beside him in his last days. On February 6, 1931 he died.[1]

Motilal Nehru is largely remembered for being the patriarch of India's most powerful political dynasty which has since produced three Prime Ministers. Son of his great-grandson is a Member of Parliament and General Secretary of Congress Party.[8] Also the widow of another great-grandson Sanjay Gandhi, Mrs Maneka Gandhi as well as her son Varun Gandhi are member's of India's Parliament representing the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Today there are a number of educational institution named after him, like Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad, Motilal Nehru College, Delhi, and Motilal Nehru Medical College, Allahabad. A prominent road in Central Delhi is named after him.

Family and descendants

Nehru has the following descendants, most of whom played an active role in the Politics of India:


  • The Voice of Freedom: selected speeches of Pandit Motilal Nehru. ed. Kavalam Madhava Panikkar, A. Pershad. Asia Pub. House, 1961
  • Motilal Nehru: essays and reflections on his life and times, by Preet Chablani. S. Chand, 1961.
  • Selected Works of Motilal Nehru (Volume 1-6), ed. Ravinder Kumar, D. N. Panigrahi. Vikas Pub., 1995. ISBN 0706918851.


  • Pandit Motilal Nehru: His life and work, by Upendra Chandra Bhattacharyya, Shovendu Sunder Chakravarty. Modern Book Agency, 1934
  • Motilal Nehru: a short political biography, by A. Pershad, Promilla Suri. S. Chand, 1961.
  • Motilal Nehru (Builders of modern India), by Bal Ram Nanda. Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1964.
  • Pandit Motilal Nehru, a great patriot, with D. C. Goswami, R. K. Nayak, Shankar Dayal Singh. National Forum of Lawyers and Legal Aid, 1976

See also


Further reading

  • Katherine Frank, Indira: the life of Indira Nehru Gandhi
  • Jawaharlal Nehru, My Autobiography

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