Source: L. F. Rushbrook Williams, Great Men of India (Bombay: 1939)

Motilal Nehru

Pundit Motilal Nehru was born a Kashmiri Brahman on May 6, 1861 and became a leading politician during the Indian civil resistance against British colonial rule.

Born without a father, Motilal Nehru was bore much of the responsibility for caring for his family from a young age, especially after the passing of his older brother. As a boy, however, Motilal was keenly interested in the subject of law and came out first as “Gold Medallist” in the High Court Vakil’s examinations. Motilal found the strenuous work of the legal field enjoyable and became successful quickly as a distinguished lawyer in the Allahabad High Court. He became one of the leaders of the Bar and eventually had one of the largest incomes earned by any lawyer in India.

He deeply admired the character of Englishmen he met and sent his only son, Jawaharlal Nehru, to Harrow for an English education. He met some of his closest friends in Europe, and also befriended the ruling British in India. Indeed, when he began dappling into politics, at over forty years of age, he did so as a Moderate. Sitting for the first time in the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress in 1906, Motilal Nehru did not stand for full freedom for India – he did not see it as an rational, attainable goal. However, he remained rooted to his own country and traditions, never forgetting his birth-right.

Eventually, influenced by both the atrocities of the 1919 Amritsar Massacre and the activities of his increasingly nationalistic son, Motilal found his faith in British rule quickly collapsing. He launched The Independent newspaper in 1919 to speak out against British colonialism and joined the Non-Cooperation Movement, headed by Mahatma Gandhi. Later, when he realised entering the Central Legislative Assembly would give him more power, he formed a parallel organisation, called the Swaraj Party, with C.R. Das.

As leader of the opposition in the Central Assembly, Motilal took up the arduous task of drawing up a constitution for India. In the later years of his life, he suffered imprisonment for being an active part of the civil movement, along with his son Jawaharlal. In jail his asthma grew worse, he had several severe bouts of fever and suffered recurrent spells of coughing up blood, but he refused to be released for his condition. When he was finally released from jail, he was an extremely weak man.

On 6th February 1931, the end came for Motilal. For many Indians, it was the loss of a personal friend. His legacy of chivalry, courtesy and great leadership were borne by his son, Jawaharlal Nehru, who wrote his biography and later went on to become the first Prime Minister of Free India.

SourceL. F. Rushbrook Williams, Great Men of India (Bombay: 1939); Nagendranath Gupta, Seven Noble Lives (Bombay: Hind Kitabs Limited), 132-140

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