Motilal Nehru

[ney-roo, ne-roo]
Motilal Nehru (May 6, 1861February 6, 1931) was an early Indian independence activist and leader of the Indian National Congress. He was the founder patriarch of India's most powerful political family.

Early life

Motilal Nehru was born in Agra, to Ganga Dhar in a Kashmiri Pandit family. He became one of the first generation of young Indians to receive a 'Western-style' college education. He attended Muir College at Agra, but failed to appear for the final year B.A examinations. He then enlisted as a lawyer in the English courts.

Nehru became a barrister and settled in the city of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. 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, he bought a large family home in the Civil lanes of the city and aptly christened the house Anand Bhavan (lit. Abode of happiness). 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.

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.

Motilal Nehru married Swaroop Rani a Kashmiri Brahmin.

Political career

Motilal Nehru twice served as President of the Congress Party. 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. The party failed however, and Motilal returned to the Congress.

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, 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 favor for dominion status, and had himself 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.

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 in 1930, however, after his son was arrested, but was soon released due to his failing health. He died on February 6, 1931.

Nehru is largely remembered for being the patriarch of India's most powerful political dynasty which has since produced three Prime Ministers. The widow of Nehru's great-grandson Rajiv Gandhi, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi leads the current Congress coalition government in India. Her son Rahul Gandhi is a freshman Member of Parliament.

Family and descendants

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


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

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