Motilal Nehru

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Motilal Nehru
Motilal nehru.jpg
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 (1861-05-06)6 May 1861
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

Motilal Nehru (6 May 1861 – 6 February 1931) was an Indian lawyer, an activist of the Indian National Movement and an important leader of the Indian National Congress, who also served as the 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[edit]

Motilal Nehru was born on 6 May 1861 to Jeevarani and father Ghiyasuddin Ghazi (Gangadhar Nehru) who was a kotwal in Delhi.[2] 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 English law at Agra, the family moved with him. Subsequently the High Court shifted base to Allahabad, and the family settled there.[1][3][4][5][6]

He became one of the first generation of young Hindus 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. Honored with “Proud Past Alumni" in the list of 42 members, from "Allahabad University Alumni Association", NCR.[7][8][9]


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. Happy house).[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 leading daily published from Allahabad.[10]

On February 5, 1919 he launched a new daily paper, the Independent, as a counterblast to the Leader, which was much too liberal for Motilal's standard and articulate thought in 1919.[1]

He started on the path to become wealthy among the few 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[edit]

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.

Nehru had been elected to the United Provinces Legislative Council where he staged the first walk-out in protest of the rejection of a resolution he had moved.[11] 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.[12]

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.[12]

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 not elected but had 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[edit]

Motilal Nehru chaired the famous Nehru Commission in 1928, that was a counter to the all-British Simon Commission. Nehru 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 nationalist Indians who sought complete independence, and by many Muslims who didn't feel their interests, concerns and rights were properly represented.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

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[edit]

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. One of his great-great-grandsons, Rahul Gandhi, is a Member of Parliament and the General Secretary of Congress Party.


  • 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 0-7069-1885-1.


  • 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[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Past Presidents- Pandit Motilal Nehru 
  2. ^ Rau, M. Chalapathi (1967). Nehru for Children. Children's Book Trust. p. 7. ISBN 978-81-7011-035-4. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Pandit Motilal Nehru Profile Congress Sandesh.
  4. ^ Motilala Nehru I Love
  5. ^ Motilal Nehru
  6. ^
  7. ^ "He is Proud Past Alumni Allahabad University". Allahabad university Alumni Association web page say
  8. ^ " Internet Archive of Proud Past Alumni"
  9. ^ "" Internet Archive of Proud Past Alumni"
  10. ^ "Role of Press in India's Struggle for Freedom". 
  11. ^ Iyengar, A. S. (2001). Role of Press and Indian Freedom Struggle: All Through the Gandhian Era. APH Publishing. ISBN 9788176482561. 
  12. ^ a b Jawharlal Nehru, Jawharlal Nehru: an autobiography, with musings on recent events in India (1936)

Further reading[edit]

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