What was Motilal Nehru's greatest achievement? The answer is that he created a new Political Party- the Swaraj Party- which put forward a revolutionary ideology- viz. that the best form of non-cooperation with the Government was to cooperate with it so as to ensure that non-cooperation was truly effective. Thus Motilal led the Swaraj Party to continually defeat Govt. bills in the Legislative Assembly so as to show that the Bills would be passed anyway on the Viceroy's say so. Since everybody already knew that this was the case, the question arises as to why it was necessary for the Swaraj Party to try so hard to frustrate the wishes of the Govt. when it already knew in advance that the Govt. would always succeed and so its own only reward would be its own frustration? There are three possible answers to this question-
1) to show that something already obvious to everyone is in fact the case might have some real world consequence over and above the epistemic value of the demonstration. Let me take an example. It is obvious that if I take my pants down then a highly unseemly spectacle will be afforded anyone in the vicinity. However, by showing that this is in fact the case a nuisance is created which would not otherwise exist. Thus Motilal Nehru, great lawyer that he was, was responsible for a nuisance as stupid as anything dreamed up by the Mahatma and this, by itself, endows him with a stature at least equal if not greater than that of the other founding fathers.
2) on the assumption that resources are scarce- including cognitive or information processing resources- to demonstrate the truth of something already known to be the case diverts resources in a manner which could have non-linear dynamic effects. The rationality of highly irrational beliefs- i.e. the survival value of believing things which are totally bonkers- is, on plausible assumptions, greatest precisely for very very smart people or programs or parties who depend on being on the right side of a cognitive gradient to assert power or corner resources. One way of seeing how this work is to think about the oligopolist's 'spare capacity' or the Nuclear Super power's 'over kill' inventory of ICBMs. A little thought would show that such spare capacity or over kill simply isn't Muth rational- i.e. either it is a Zahavi handicap, or it points to an intelligent type of stupidity which, nevertheless, it may be in everybody's interests to maintain because, if it were replaced by genuine intelligence, then something destabilizing occurs.
In other words, Motilal's parliamentarism to prove parliamentarism futile, though itself futile, wasn't futile at all because it demonstrated India's infinite capacity for cooperation in the great cause of non-cooperation provided, of course, that non-cooperation failed completely and simultaneously undid the pretense that Indians were capable of cooperating with each other, even against the Govt.
Gandhi allowed the Swaraj party to seemingly swallow his own 'No Change' Congress and C.R. Das worked himself to death to ensure no work was done in Bengal. But the price paid by the Motilal and Das for their politics of futility was stupid concessions to communal parties- not needful things like Anti Untouchability Legislation- which paved the way for the beggar my neighbor politics which ultimately resulted in the partition of India. In other words, the clever lawyers, Motilal and C.R. Das deserve as much credit as the Mahatma and the Qaid-e-Azam for their contribution to the glorious history of Democracy in the Sub-continent- which, needless to say, is based on Hindu-Muslim unity.
3) the demonstration of an obvious truth may create new information of a very specific and metaphysically bizarre kind.
Consider 'the Father, the Son, & the Holy Goat milk drinker's commitment to Swaraj. Clearly Swaraj meant the same thing as Dominion Status which in turn meant the same thing as Independence. Now, one may argue that this is not the case. Perhaps, Gandhi wanted the British to stay on and rule India in exactly the same manner that they were already doing. It may be, Gandhi was using the word Swaraj to get the Indians to accept British rule and concentrate instead on working for Hindu-Muslim unity, abolition of Untouchability, Basic Education, Handloom weaving etc, etc. But, is this a reasonable belief to hold with respect to Gandhi? How can we square it with his actions without also convicting him of arrant hypocrisy?
What about the difference between Dominion Status and Independence which divided Motilal and Jawaharlal? On the face of it, the one appears weaker than the other. Yet, British lawyers and lawyer-politicians- and the Nehrus were British trained lawyer-politicians- had spelled out the substantive interchangeability of the two terms with the former having practical legal consequences making it the natural transition point for the latter. The only other manner to effect the change would be by a Declaration of Independence followed by a Treaty with the former Colonial Power, as happened with the U.S.A. There were solid legal and diplomatic reasons to prefer an intermediate situation of Dominion status so as to allow an orderly divorce. In any case, neither Independence nor Dominion status were on offer because the Indians had not demonstrated that they could take over the administration of British India (Congress kept out of the Princely States) let alone fight their way to freedom. In this context, whether the term Swaraj or Independence or Dominion Status was used made absolutely no difference. What would have made a difference would have been things like Anti Untouchability Legislation, Anti Usury legislation, the proper study and framing of policy recommendations with a view to reform Fiscal and Monetary policy, similar study and recommendations with respect to Defense, Transport, Food Security, Education and so on. Gandhi's own views are well known- we don't need laws or money or schools or defense- and once the English see that they will simply leave or quietly retire to their Clubs to get drunk and cease the pretense of running a country which did not want to be run, preferring instead to be run over by the Juggernaut of Spiritualized imbecility.
But what were Motilal and Jawaharlal's own views? Both, in their different ways, showed that representative Government could and should be futile, both thought Independence might only come long after they were both dead and buried. So why was the issue of Dominion Status vs. Independence a source of anguish and discord between them?
One possible answer has to do with the different manners in which both very sedulously and repetitiously demonstrated the futility of something it was prima facie futile to demonstrate- viz. that never being constructive is not very constructive. For Motilal, dedication to demonstrating this too obvious truth arose out of a lawyerly duty to try an impossible case simply so as to have the verdict read into the body of the Law. Put another way, we might say that Motilal was a rigid constructivist who had to actually physically run the algorithm to establish the result which intuition had already divined. Jawaharlal, on the other hand, who had been bred up to the profession of I.N.C politics, far from being a constructivist, was a wholly ontologically dysphoric windbag for whom the Stallnaker-Lewis closest possible sphere of worlds were radically unconnected and impossible to weakly order or metricize.
If such indeed is the case, then what light does it throw upon the split between the Nehrus on the obviously meaningless issue of Independence vs. Dominion Status? Conventional wisdom would have it that by demonstrating the futility of this debate father and son were engaged in strategic signalling which served some arcane political function. But what was that political function? One might say- Jawaharlal was a closet Leftist, Motilal a closet Rightist. But this begs the question- why didn't they ever come out of their respective closets to some good purpose? The truth, I suppose, is that the real subject of their debate was not Dominion status or Independence but the death of the father- a meaningless debate for, in the event, only their mutual love triumphed and that love is commemorated to this day by the vacuity and political incompetence of succeeding generations of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
Therein, it may be, lies the true greatness of Motilal Nehru- a man who loved his son, so Gandhi said, more than he loved his country, for his love of his country sprang from his love for his son.
Shame his son loved talking shite.