| Pandit Motilal Nehru,
an eminent lawyer and politician, was born on
6 May 1861. The Nehrus hailed from Kashmir, but
had settled in Delhi since the beginning of the
eighteenth century. Motilal's grandfather, Lakshmi
Narayan, became the first Vakil of the East India
Company at the Mughal Court of Delhi. Motilal's
father, Gangadhar, was a police officer in Delhi
in 1857, when it was engulfed by the Mutiny.
When the British troops shelled their way into
the town, Gangadhar fled with his wife Jeorani
and four children to Agra where he died four years
later. Three months after his death, Jeorani gave
birth to a boy who was named Motilal. Motilal
spent his childhood at Khetri in Rajasthan, where
his elder brother Nandlal became the Diwan. In
1870 Nandlal quit Khetri, qualified as a lawyer
and began to practise law at Agra. When the High
Court was transferred to Allahabad, he moved with
Meanwhile Motilal was growing up into a vivacious
lad. He passed the Matriculation examination from
Kanpur and joined the Muir Central College at
Allahabad. Athletic, fond of outdoor sports, specially
wrestling, brimming over with an insatiable curiosity
and zest for life, he took to the playground and
the places of amusement. His career in school
and college was thus not very notable, and his
quick wits and high spirits landed him in many
an escapade from which he was extricated by Principal
Harrision and his British colleagues in the Muir
Central College, who had taken a strong liking
to this intelligent, lively and restless Kashmiri
The contact with his British Professors turned
out to be a strong formative influence in Motilal's
life. It implanted in him an intelligent, rational,
sceptical attitude to life, as also a strong admiration
for English culture and English institutions.
Thus equipped, Motilal found no difficulty in
challenging the conservative, caste-ridden and
hidebound society into which he had been born.
Motilal sat for his degree examination, but did
not complete it. He decided to become a lawyer,
topped the list of successful candidates in the
Vakil's examination in 1883, set up as a lawyer
at Kanpur, but three years later shifted to Allahabad
where his brother Nandlal had a lucrative practice
at the High Court. Unfortunately, Nandlal died
in April 1887 at the age of forty-two, leaving
behind him five sons and two daughters. Young
Motilal found himself, at the age of twenty-five,
as the head of a large family, its sole bread-winner.
The death of his brother increased Motilal's burdens,
but it also gave a keener edge to his ambition.
He was scarcely forty when his income reached
a five-figure income. He was one of the four brilliant
Vakils-the others being Pandit (later Sir) Sunderlal,
Munshi Ram Prasad, and Jogendranath Chaudhuri-who
were admitted to the roll of Advocates of the
Allahabad High Court in 1896.
In 1889 Motilal's wife Swarup Rani gave birth
to a son, who was named Jawaharlal. Two daughters,
Sarup (later Vijayalakshmi Pandit) and Krishna
(later Krishna Hutheesing) were born in 1900 and
1907 respectively. In 1900 Motilal purchased a
house (No. 1, Church Road) at Allahabad, rebuilt
it, and named it Anand Bhawan (the abode of happiness).
His legal practice was meanwhile growing. A rise
in his standard of living was paralleled by a
progressive westernization, a process which was
accelerated by his visits to Europe in 1899 and
1900. Thorough-going changes, from knives and
forks at the dining table to European governesses
and tutors for the children, ensued.
In May 1905 Motilal again sailed for Europe, this
time with his whole family. He returned in November
of the same year after putting Jawaharlal to school
at Harrow. From Harrow Jawaharlal went to Cambridge
where he took a Tripos in Natural Science before
being called to the Bar in 1912.
Motilal's early incursions into politics were
reluctant, brief and sporadic. The list of 1,400
delegates of the Allahabad Congress (1888) includes:
"Pandit Motilal, Hindu, Brahmin, Vakil, High
Court, N.W.P. (North-Western Provinces)."
He attended some of the subsequent sessions of
the Congress, but unlike his Allahabad contemporary
Madan Mohan Malaviya, he was no more than a passive
It was the tug-of-war between the Moderates and
the Extermists in the aftermath of the Partition
of Bengal which drew Motilal into the arena and,
strangely enough, on the side of the Moderates.
In 1907 he presided over a Provincial Conference
of the Moderate politicians at Allahabad.
In 1909 he was elected a member of the U.P. Council.
He attended the Delhi Durbar in 1911 in honour
of the visit of King George V and Queen Mary,
became a member of the Allahabad Municipal Board
and of the All- India Congress Committee. He was
elected President of the U.P. Congress.
Nevertheless, it was not politics but domestic
and professional preoccupations which were the
dominant interest of his life during this period.
But from 1912 onwards when Jawaharlal returned
from England, there were forces at work, both
at home and in the country, which were to lead
Motilal into the maelstrom of national politics.
The First World War generated deep discontent
in several sectors of Indian society which found
a focus in the Home rule Movement. Motilal had
been reluctant to join the Home Rule League, but
the internment of Mrs. Besant in June 1917 brought
him into the fray. He became the President of
the Allahabad branch of the Home Rule League.
Now began a perceptible shift in Motilal's politics.
In August 1918 he parted company with his Moderate
friends on the constitutional issue, and attended
the Bombay Congress which demanded radical changes
in the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms. On 5 February
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.
The emergence of Mahatma Gandhi on the Indian
political stage changed the course of Indian history;
it also profoundly influenced the life of Motilal
Nehru and his family. The Rowlatt Bills and the
publication of the Satyagraha pledge in February
1919 deeply stirred Jawaharlal; he felt an irresistible
call to follow the Mahatma. Motilal was not the
man to be easily swept off his feet; his legal
background predisposed him against any extra-constitutional
agitation. It was clear to both father and son
that they were at the crossroads. Neither was
|give in, but at Motilal's
instance Gandhiji intervened and counselled young
Nehru to be patient.
Shortly afterwards events marched to a tragic
climax in the Punjab : the holocaust of Jallianwala
Bagh was followed by Martial Law. Motilal did
what he could to bring succour and solace to that
unhappy province. He gave his time freely, at
the cost of his own legal practice, to the defence
of scores of hapless victims of the Martial Law,
who had been condemned to the gallows or sentenced
to long terms of imprisonment. He also served
with Gandhiji on the unofficial committee set
up by the Indian National Congress to inquire
into the Punjab disturbances.
Elected to preside over the Amritsar Congress
(December 1919), Motilal was in the center 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. Motilal's fateful
decision to cast in his lot with Gandhiji was
no doubt influenced by the tragic chain of events
Apart from the compulsion of events, there
was another vital factor without which he may
not have made, in his sixtieth year, a clean
break with his past and plunged into the unknown.
This was the unshakable resolve of his son to
go the way of Satyagraha.
Immediately after the Calcutta Congress Motilal
resigned from the U. P. Council, abandoned his
practice at the Bar, curtailed the vast retinue
of servants in Anand Bhawan, changed his style
of living, consigned cartloads of foreign finery
to public bonfires and put on the homespun khadi.
In December 1921 both father and son were arrested
and sentenced to six months' imprisonment. In
February 1922 came the anit-climax, when Gandhiji
first announced and then suddenly cancelled
mass civil disobedience. In March the Mahatma
himself was arrested, tried for sedition and
sentenced to six years' imprisonment.
When Motilal came out of jail in the summer
of 1922, he found that the movement had declined,
the Congress organisation was distracted by
internal squabbles, and the constructive programme
could not evoke the enthusiasm of the intelligentsia.
Motilal felt that the time had come to revise
the programme of non-cooperation so as to permit
entry into Legislative Councils. This revision
was resisted by those who regarded themselves
as the faithful followers of the Mahatma.
A long and bitter controversy, which nearly
split the Congress, ensued. However, Motilal
and C. R. Das founded the Swarajya Party in
January 1923, had their way, and contested the
elections at the end of 1923. The Swarajya Party
was the largest Party in the Central Legislative
Assembly as well as in some of the Provincial
Legislatures. From 1925 onwards it was recognised
by the Congress as its political wing.
The spotlight shifts for the next six years
to the Legislative Assembly where Motilal was
the Leader of the Opposition. With his commanding
personality, incisive intellect, great knowledge
of law, brilliant advocacy, ready wit and combative
spirit, he seemed to be cut out for a Parliamentary
role. The Legislative Assembly, however, was
no Parliament. It was a hybrid legislature elected
on a narrow and communal franchise; it had a
solid bias of official, nominated, European
and some Indian members who took their cue from
the irremovable executive.
At first Motilal was able to secure sufficient
support from the Moderate and the Muslim legislators
to outvote the Government. He ruled his own
party with an iron hand, but found his task
increasingly difficult from 1926 onwards when
communal and personal squabbles divided and
weakened the Swarajya Party.
Towards the end of 1927, with the appointment
of the Simon Commission, there came a political
revival. The exclusion of Indians from the Commission
united Indian parties in opposition to the Government.
An All Parties Conference was convened by Dr.
Ansari, the Congress President, and a Committee,
including Tej Bahadur Sapru and headed by Motilal,
was appointed to determine the principles of
the constitution for free India. The report
of the Committee-the Nehru Report as it came
to be called-attempted a solution of the communal
problem which unfortunately failed to receive
the support of a vocal section of Muslim opinion
led by the Aga Khan and Jinnah .
The Nehru Report, representing as it did the
highest common denominator among a number of
heterogeneous Parties, was based on the assumption
that the new Indian Constitution would be based
on Dominion Status. This was regarded as a climb-down
by a radical wing in the Congress led by Subhas
Bose and Motilal's own son who founded the `Independence
for India League'.
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.
The way was thus opened for Gandhiji's return
to active politics and for the revival of Satyagraha.
Motilal was at first more amused than impressed
by Gandhiji's plans for the breach of the salt
laws, but as the movement caught on, it found
him against the advice of his doctors in the
center of the political arena. He was arrested
and imprisoned; but his health gave way and
he was released. But there could be no peace
for him when most of his family was in jail
and the whole of India was passing through a
baptism of fire.
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-Irwin
Pact. Motilal had the satisfaction of having
his son and Gandhiji beside him in his last
days. On 6 February 1931 he passed away.
Motilal had a rational, robust, secular and
fearless outlook on life. A brilliant lawyer,
an eloquent speaker, a great parliamentarian,
and a greater organizer, Motilal was one of
the most notable and attractive figures of Indian
nationalism in the Gandhian era.