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Motilal Nehru (Hindi: मोतीलाल नेहरू) (May 6, 1861 – February 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, the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Motilal Nehru was born in Garden Grove, 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 Central College at Allahabad, but failed to appear for the final year B.A examinations. Later he qualified “Bar at law” from Cambridge and 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 Lines 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 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).
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.
The family of Motilal Nehru, seated in the centre
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Motilal Nehru married Swaroop Rani, a Kashmiri Brahmin.
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.
Motilal 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:
- Lakshmi Narayan Nehru
- Ganga Dhar Nehru (son of Lakshmi Narayan Nehru, Kotwal of Delhi)
- Motilal Nehru (son of Ganga Dhar Nehru) president of congress party
- Nand lal Nehru (son of Ganga Dhar Nehru, Diwan of Khetri State)
- Bansi Dhar Nehru (son of Ganga Dhar Nehru)
- Pt Braj Lal Nehru (son of Nand Lal Nehru, Finance Minister of Jammu and Kashmir)
- Rameshwari Nehru (wife of Braj lal Nehru)
- Pt Braj Kumar Nehru (son of Braj Lal Nehru, Economic Minister in the Embassy of India in Washington, Indian Director of the World Bank, Ambassador to the USA, High Commissioner to U.K, Governor of Jammu & Kashmir and Gujarat)
- Swaraj Mati Nehru (Relative of Jawaharlal Nehru Member of Parliament
- Jawaharlal Nehru (Son of Motilal – late Prime Minister of India)
- Kamala Nehru (wife of Jawaharlal Nehru)
- shyam lal Nehru (son of Nand lal Nehru) Member of Legislative Assembly
- Uma Nehru (wife of Shyam lal Nehru) Member of Parliament
- Shyam kumari (Daughter of Shyam lal Nehru) Member of Rajya Sabha
- Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (Daughter of Motilal Nehru, Cabinet minister, Governor, and ambassador to the USSR, USA, Mexico, High Commissioner to UK and President of the UN General Assembly)
- Krishna Hutheesing (Daughter of Motilal Nehru)
- Ajit Hutheesing (Son of Krishna Nehru Hutheesing)
- Nayantara Sahgal (daughter of Vijaya Lakshmi – eminent writer on women’s issues and politics)
- Prof. Kailas Nath Kaul (brother-in-law of Jawaharlal Nehru), renowned botanist and world authority on palms
- Sheila Kaul (Aunt of Indira Gandhi) was a Minister and Governor
- Vikram Kaul (Son of Sheila Kaul)
- Deepa Kaul (Daughter of Sheila Kaul, former minister, Uttar Pradesh)
- Indira Gandhi (Daughter of Jawaharlal – late Prime Minister of India)
- Feroze Gandhi (Husband of Indira Gandhi, Member of Parliament
- Arun Nehru (son of Shyam Kumari) Member of Parliament
- Rajiv Gandhi (Son of Indira – late Prime Minister of India)
- Sanjay Gandhi (Son of Indira) Member of Parliament
- Sonia Gandhi (Wife of Rajiv – Italy-born – MP current Parliament of India): President of the Indian National Congress, Leader of the Majority
- Maneka Gandhi (wife of Sanjay – MP current Parliament of India)
- Rahul Gandhi (Son of Rajiv Gandhi – MP current Parliament of India)
- Varun Gandhi (Son of Sanjay Gandhi)
- Priyanka Gandhi (Daughter of Rajiv Gandhi)
- Raihan Rajeev Vadra Gandhi (son of Priyanka Gandhi)
- Miraya Vadra Gandhi (daughter of Priyanka Gandhi)
- Nikhil Ajit Hutheesing (Son of Ajit Hutheesing)
- Vivek Ajit Hutheesing (Son of Ajit Hutheesing)
- Ravi Ajit Hutheesing (Son of Ajit Hutheesing)
- Kirin N.K. Hutheesing (Son of Nikhil Hutheesing and wife Anita Khosla)
- Remy N.K.Hutheesing (Son of Nikhil Hutheesing and wife Anita Khosla)
- Mirai Jean Hutheesing (Daughter of Vivek Hutheesing and wife Anjali Kalgutkar)