Motilal Nehru
Nehru in the 1910s
President of the Indian National Congress
In office
Preceded bySyed Hasan Imam
Succeeded byLala Lajpat Rai
In office
Preceded byMukhtar Ahmed Ansari
Succeeded byJawaharlal Nehru
Personal details
Born6 May 1861 (1861-05-06)
Agra, North-Western Provinces, British India[1] (present-day Uttar Pradesh, India)
Died6 February 1931 (1931-02-07) (aged 69)
Lucknow, United Provinces, British India (present-day Uttar Pradesh, India)
SpouseSwarup Rani Thussu
Alma materMuir Central College

Motilal Nehru (6 May 1861 – 6 February 1931) was an Indian lawyer, activist, and politician affiliated with the Indian National Congress. He served as the Congress President twice, from 1919 to 1920 and from 1928 to 1929. He was a patriarch of the Nehru-Gandhi family and the father of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister.

Early life and education

Motilal Nehru was born on 6 May 1861, the posthumous son of Gangadhar Nehru and his wife Indrani. During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, Gangadhar Nehru was the kotwal or police officer of Delhi.[2][3]

Thus, Motilal came to spend his childhood in Khetri, second largest thikana (feudal estate) within the princely state of Jaipur, now in Rajasthan. His elder brother, Nandlal gained the favour of Raja Fateh Singh of Khetri, who was the same age as him, and rose to the position of Diwan (Chief Minister; effectively the manager) of the vast feudal estate. In 1870, Fateh Singh died childless and was succeeded by a distant cousin, who had little use for his predecessor's confidants. Nandlal left Khetri for Agra and found that his prior career at Khetri equipped him to advise litigants regarding their legal suits. Once he realised this, he exhibited his industry and resilience again by studying for and passing the necessary examinations so that he could practice law in the British colonial courts. He then began practising law at the provincial High Court at Agra. Subsequently, the High Court shifted base to Allahabad, and the family moved to that city.[1][4][5][6][7]

According to Nanda, by their teenage years Motilal and other sons of Gangadhar had learnt to speak English.[8] According to historian Sarvepalli Gopal, Motilal was more fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu more than any other Indian language.[9]


Motilal passed the bar examination in 1883 and began practicing law at Kanpur. Three years later, he moved to Allahabad to join the lucrative practice already established by his brother Nandlal. The following year, in April 1887, his brother died at the age of forty-two, leaving behind five sons and two daughters. Thus Motilal at the age of 25 became sole bread-earner of the extended Nehru family.[1]

Motilal Nehru with his wife Swaruprani and young son, Jawaharlal

Many of Motilal's suits were civil cases concerning large land-owning families. He soon made a name for himself in the civil society of Allahabad. With the success of his practice, in 1900, he bought a large family home in the Civil Lines area of the city, rebuilt it and named it Anand Bhavan (lit. Joy 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.[10][11] 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 Strict Hinduism, one lost one's caste after crossing the ocean, and was required to perform certain penance rites to regain caste). In 1899, he was expelled from the caste for refusing to perform the penancy ceremony.[12][13][14] He was the first chairman of the board of directors of The Leader, a leading daily published from Allahabad.[15]

On 5 February 1919 he launched a new daily paper, The Independent, as a counterpoint 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[citation needed].

To meet the expenses of his large family and large family homes, Nehru had to occasionally return to his practice of law[citation needed]. Swaraj Bhawan originally belonged to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the 19th century Muslim leader and educationist. At the house-warming party, Sir William Moor hoped that this large palatial home in Civil Lines of Allahabad would become the cement holding together the British Empire in India[citation needed]. Paradoxically, the house was bought by Motilal Nehru in 1900, and went on to become a cradle to the Indian Freedom Struggle which was to destroy British rule in India.[16]

Political career

Motilal Nehru twice served as President of the Congress Party, once in Amritsar (1919) and the second time in Calcutta (1928).[1] The Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 left a deep impression on him where it has been reported that he wrote in its aftermath: "My blood is boiling".[17] In December that year, he was elected to preside over the Amritsar Congress. 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-co-operation 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 proposal by Mahatma Gandhi, 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 criticised 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 later joined the Swaraj Party, which sought to enter the British-sponsored councils. Motilal 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.[18] 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.[19]

In March 1926, Nehru demanded a representative conference to draft a constitution conferring full Dominion status on India, to be enacted by the British parliament. This demand was rejected by the Assembly, and as a result Nehru and his colleagues resigned their Assembly seats and returned to the Congress party.[19]

The entry of Motilal's son Jawaharlal Nehru into politics in 1916, started the most powerful and influential Indian political dynasty. When, in 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru was elected as Congress president it greatly pleased Motilal and Nehru family admirers to see the son take over from his father[citation needed]. Jawaharlal had opposed his father's preference for dominion status, and had not left the Congress Party when Motilal helped found the Swaraj Party.[citation needed]

Motilal Nehru in later years

Nehru report

Motilal Nehru chaired the famous Nehru Commission in 1928, a counter to the all-British Simon Commission. The Nehru Report, the first constitution written only by Indians, envisioned a dominion status for India within the Empire, akin to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It was endorsed by the Indian National Congress, but rejected by more nationalist Indians who sought complete independence. The report was rejected by the Muslim leadership of India, especially Muhammad Ali Jinnah over concerns that the lack of constitutional safeguards against majoritarianism created unacceptable risks for Indian Muslims.

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 Gandhi 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 Gandhi beside him in his last days. On 6 February 1931 he died.[1]

Motilal Nehru is remembered for being the patriarch of India's most powerful political dynasty which has since produced three Prime Ministers. Two of his great-great-grandsons, Rahul Gandhi, and Varun Gandhi are members of the lower house of Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha and belong to the Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party respectively.


Commemorative Postal Stamp, 1961

Paying tribute to Motilal Nehru, the British Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, Sir Grimwood Mears,[20] stated:

He had a profusion of gifts, and as an advocate he had the art of presenting his case in its most attractive form...He had an exquisite public speaking voice and a charm of manner which made it a pleasure to listen to him...With his wide range of reading and the pleasure that he had taken in travel he was a very delightful private companion and wherever he sat at a table there was the head of the table and there was the centre of interest. He has left behind a very great reputation in this court and his name will always be associated with this Court and be one of the traditions of this Court.[21][22]




  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Past Presidents- Motilal Nehru, archived from the original on 6 September 2010
  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. ^ Nanda 1963, p. 2.
  4. ^ Pandit Motilal Nehru Profile Archived 27 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine Congress Sandesh.
  5. ^ Motilala Nehru I Love
  6. ^ Motilal Nehru
  7. ^ "Motilal Nehru". Archived from the original on 2 January 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
  8. ^ Nanda 1963, p. 19.
  9. ^ Gopal, Sarvepalli (1976). Jawaharlal Nehru: 1889-1947. Harvard University Press. p. 17.
  10. ^ Brown, J.M. (2014). Nehru. Profiles In Power (in German). Taylor & Francis. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-317-87476-8. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  11. ^ Goswami, D.C.; Nayak, R.K.; Singh, S.D. (1976). Pandit Motilal Nehru, a Great Patriot. National Forum of Lawyers and Legal Aid. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  12. ^ Nehru, M.; Kumar, R.; Panigrahi, D.N. (1982). Selected Works of Motilal Nehru: 1899-1918. Selected Works of Motilal Nehru. Vikas. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-7069-1885-4. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  13. ^ मिश्र, बंशीधर (2013). मोतीलाल नेहरू. राष्ट्रीय जीवन-चरित (in Hindi). Neśanala Buka Ṭrasṭa, Iṇḍiyā. p. 8. ISBN 9788123767994. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  14. ^ Nanda, B.R. (1963). The Nehrus: Motilal and Jawaharlal. Oxford University Press. pp. 38–40.
  15. ^ "Role of Press in India's Struggle for Freedom". Archived from the original on 23 July 2010.
  16. ^ "The Little Magazine – Ghosts – David Lelyveld – The mystery mansion". Retrieved 8 April 2016.
  17. ^ Tunzelmann, Alex von (2007). Indian Summer. India: Simon & Schuster. p. 48. ISBN 9781471166440.
  18. ^ Iyengar, A. S. (2001). Role of Press and Indian Freedom Struggle: All Through the Gandhian Era. APH Publishing. ISBN 9788176482561.
  19. ^ a b Nehru, Jawaharlal (1936) Jawaharlal Nehru: an autobiography, with musings on recent events in India. Bodley Head. ISBN 9780370313139
  20. ^ "Sir Edward Grimwood-Mears Captain 1939 to 1942". Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  21. ^ "Pandit Moti Lal Nehru" (PDF). Official website of Allahabad High Court. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  22. ^ Ghose, Sankar (1993). Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography. p. 5. ISBN 9788170233695.

Further reading