Govind Ballabh Pant was born on 10 September 1887 in Khoont village on the slopes of Shyahi Devi hill near Almora, in a Brahmin family having their roots in Maharashtra. His mother's name was Govindi Bai. His father Manorath Pant was a government official who was constantly on the move, and hence Govind was brought up by his maternal grandfather, Badri Dutt Joshi, an important government official locally, who played a significant part in moulding his personality and political views.
Pant studied at Allahabad University and subsequently worked as a Lawyer in Kashipur. Here, he began active work against the British Raj in 1914, when he helped a local parishad, or village council, in their successful challenge of coolie begar, a law requiring locals to provide free transportation of the luggage of travelling British officials. In 1921, he entered politics and was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.
Known as an extremely capable Lawyer, Pant was appointed by the Congress party to initially represent Ramprasad Bismill, Ashfaqulla Khan and other Revolutionaries involved in the Kakori case in the mid 1920s. In 1930, he was arrested and imprisoned for several weeks for organising a Salt March inspired by Gandhi's earlier actions. In 1933, he was arrested along with Harsh Dev Bahuguna (Gandhi of Choukot) and imprisoned for seven months for attending a session of the then-banned provincial Congress. In 1935, the ban was rescinded, and Pant joined the new Legislative Council. During the Second World War, Pant acted as the tiebreaker between Gandhi's faction, which advocated supporting the British Crown in their war effort, and Subhas Chandra Bose's faction, which advocated taking advantage of the situation to expel the British Raj by all means necessary. In 1934, the Congress ended its boycott of the legislatures and put up candidates, and Pant was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly. His political skills won the admiration of the Leaders of the Congress, and he became deputy leader of the Congress party in the Assembly.
Mourning him, Dr Rajendra Prasad, the then President of India was quoted as saying,“I had known Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant since 1922 and in this long period of association it had been my privilege to receive from him not only consideration but also affection. This is no time to assess his labour and his achievements. The grief is too intense for words. I can only pray for peace to his soul and strength to those who loved and admired him”.
Pant took over as the Chief Minister of the United Provinces from 1937 to 1939.
In 1940, Pant was arrested and imprisoned for helping organise the Satyagraha movement. In 1942 he was arrested again, this time for signing the Quit India resolution, and spent three years in Ahmednagar Fort along with other members of the Congress working committee until March 1945, at which point Jawaharlal Nehru pleaded successfully for Pant's release, on grounds of failing health.
In 1945, the British Labour government ordered new elections to the Provincial legislatures. The Congress won a majority in the 1946 elections in the United Provinces and Pant was again the Premier, continuing even after India's independence in 1947.
Pant served as Union Home Minister from 1955–1961. Pant was appointed Minister of Home Affairs in the Union Cabinet on 10 January 1955 in New Delhi by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. As Home Minister, his chief achievement was the re-organisation of States along linguistic lines. He was also responsible for the establishment of Hindi as an official language of the central government and a few states.
In 1960, he suffered a heart attack. He was treated by top doctors in India, including his friend Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal. His health started deteriorating and he died on 7 March 1961 at the age of 74, from a cerebral stroke. At that time he was still in office as the Home Minister of India.