Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Gopal Krishna Gokhale



gopal krishna gokhale
Gopal Krishna Gokhale
        Gopal Krishna Gokhale, son of Krishna Rao Shridhar and Satyabhama, was born in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra on 6 May 1866. They were poor but respectable Chitpawan Brahmins. Gopal had no difficulty in getting a formal education though his father had died when he was only thirteen. After finishing primary education in a village school, he studied at Rajaram College, Kolhapur, Deccan College, Poona and Elphinston College, Bombay, from where he graduated in 1884. He also joined a law course there but left the college without completing it.

Gokhale was married at the age of fourteen to Savitribai, who soon developed some chronic disease. Consequently he was married a second time in 1887. Unfortunately, his second wife died in 1900, while giving birth to her second daughter. Soon after, the first wife also died. Gokhale remained a widower for the rest of his life.
Soon after his graduation, Gokhale joined the Deccan Education Society founded in 1884 by Tilak, Agarkar and others. When Fergusson College was opened by the society in 1885, Gokhale was invited teach English literature and mathematics. He taught in the College for eighteen years, retiring in 1904. At different times he taught History, Economics, Political Science, besides English literature and Mathematics and was nicknamed professor-to-order, demonstrating his wide knowledge of subjects. However, gradually Economics became his favourite subject. He studied the economic conditions of the country in depth, enabling him to use this knowledge later in his political career, especially during Assembly debates on the budget.
In 1886, Gokhale was introduced to Mahadev Govind Ranade, an influential political leader and social reformer, and started his political apprenticeship under him. Though a high government official (he was a judge of the high court), Ranade devoted much of his time in political and social activities. Gokhale’s later political life was largely shaped by his mentors liberalism and moderate philosophy. Ranade also introduced Gokhale to journalism. To begin with, Gokhale started writing articles for Mahratta, English weekly started by Chiplunkar, Tilak, Agarkar and other young men. When Agarkar left Kesri due to differences with Tilak, he had started Sudharak, an Anglo-Marathi weekly. Gokhale joined this venture and edited its English section for four years, while Agarkar looked after the Marathi section. From 1887 to 1896, under the inspiration of Ranade, Gokhale edited the Quarterly, a journal of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha. In 1895, Gokhale started the Rashtra Sabha Samachar which, however, did not last long. As a journalist, Gokhale did not have the kind of impact which Tilak had with his earthy similies and bold editorials.
Gokhale joined the Indian National Congress in 1889. The following year he was made secretary of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, the leading political and social organisation of Maharashtra. In 1893, he was elected secretary of the Bombay Provincial Conference and two years later (1895), he became joint secretary of the Indian National Congress along with Tilak. In 1896, he collaborated with Ranade to form the Deccan Sabha to counter the Sarvajanik Sabha which Tilak and his orthodox followers had captured earlier.
In 1897, Gokhale was among the four Indians invited to London to give evidence before the Royal Commission on Indian Expenditure, popularly known as Welby Commission (after the name of its chairman Lord Welby). Gokhale’s written and oral evidence before the commission was universally appreciated, reflecting his deep knowledge of Indian economic problems. This first visit to England gave Gokhale a chance to meet the liberal minded British statesmen and thinkers, including John Morley who later became secretary of state for India and developed a lasting friendship with Gokhale. Gokhale, thereafter, became a familiar figure in London circles, visiting that country seven times from 1897 to 1914.
Gokhale was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1900, from the constituency earlier represented by Tilak. But only after two years he was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council on the seat vacated by Pherozeshah Mehta. He was a member of this august body till 1911, being elected successively for three terms. In these councils, he was virtually the leader of the opposition. In the Imperial Council he was particularly noted for his ‘impressive participation’ in the annual debate on the budget. In 1904, he was awarded a C.I.E. (Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire).
The most important year in Gokhale’s life was perhaps 1905. In June 1905, he founded the Servants of India Society in Poona “with the object of training men to devote themselves to the service of India as national missionaries and to promote by all constitutional means the national interests of the Indian people”. Gandhi, in one of his letters to his nephew in 1910, criticised the working of the society saying that “it was simply an indifferent imitation of the West. Is it proper for the ‘servants’ to have servants? I do feel that the aim of Phoenix (his settlement in South Africa) as well as the way of life there surpasses those of the Society”. Ironically, when Gandhi returned from South Africa early in 1915, he wanted to join the society but his application was rejected with the remarks that “his (Gandhi's) ideals and methods of work and those of the Society were different and it would not be proper for him to join”. Gokhale considered the founding of the society as his greatest achievement and the future of the society was on his mind even at the time of his death. The Society attracted important persons who devoted their lives for its work: Srinivasa Shastri, Thakhar Bapa, N.M.Joshi, H.N. Kunzru and others.
In 1905, Gokhale went to England a second time as a delegate of the Congress, along with Lajpat Rai, to enlighten the British public opinion about conditions in India on the eve of the general elections there.
It was also in 1905 that Gokhale was elected president of the Indian National Congress for the Banaras session and emerged as one of the leaders of the moderate group along with Pherozeshah Mehta and Dinshaw Wacha. This was the year when militant nationalism took root in Bengal, and later in India, as a result of the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon. The movement for the annulment of partition was led by a section of Congressmen, Tilak, Lajpat Rai, B.C. Pal (BAL, Lal and Pal) and others, who came to be known as extremist. Thousands of youths joined the movement and terrorist activities were resorted to. The government used repressive measures but the movement could not be crushed. In the Calcutta session of the Congress (1906), resolutions were passed advocating self-rule, swadeshi, boycott and national education. While Gokhale and other moderates were opposed to the partition of Bengal and favoured swadeshi as an economic measure to ameliorate the condition of the masses, they were against self-rule, boycott and national education. Gokhale considered the British rule as an irrevocable necessity' which had done immense good to India. He wanted to depend on the generosity and democratic traditions of the British people to get installments of reforms. Extremists called it the policy of mendicancy' and thus humiliating. Gokhale also believed that Western learning was a liberating force for India and should not be replaced by national education. Gokhale was also opposed to boycott and believed that boycott has a sinister meaning and it implies a vindictive desire to injure another. In short, Gokhale and other moderates did not want to offend the British in any way. Consequently, moderates criticised both the ultimate goal set up by the extremists as well as their methods to achieve it.
The conflict between the two factions of the Congress came in the open in the Surat Session of the Congress in 1907. The session was controlled by the moderates, Surat being the stronghold of Pherozeshah Mehta. They maneuvered not to get the resolutions passed in Calcutta confirmed, going against the usual practice after each session. When Tilak went up the rostrum to move an amendment about the Calcutta resolutions, hell was let lose. Chairs were thrown at the rival group and a shoe was hurled at Tilak who ducked and the shoe landed on the face of Pherozeshah Mehta. This was a most disgraceful incident in the history of the Congress. Tilak and other extremists were expelled from the Congress. The Surat split not only weakened the Congress, it virtually destroyed its effectiveness till the Lucknow reunion in 1916. The extremists (nationalists) were persecuted by the government; the moderates were abandoned by its own people.
Soon followed Tilak’s conviction in a sedition ease in 1908 and he was sentenced to six years internment in Mandalay jail. This had a grave consequence for Gokhale and his party. Gokhale was accused of being an instigator for Tilak’s conviction through Secretary of State Morley while in London. He was subjected to continuous sniping in the local Marathi press. He was lampooned by cartoonists and vilified in malicious verses sung in the Ganpati festival processions in Poona. To add to the dilemma of moderates, `Congress sessions had become increasingly dull and insipid. Gokhale wanted the extremists to come back and revitalise the Congress but in the absence of Tilak it could not be possible.
Gokhale visited England thrice during 1905 to 1908. In 1905, he went in a delegation of the Congress along with Lajpat Rai to enlighten British public opinion about the conditions in India on the eve of general elections in that country, as stated earlier. In 1906, he went again to plead for reforms with British liberal leaders and parliamentarians. The visit in 1908 was essentially to meet Lord Morley, secretary of state for India. He had several meetings with Morley about the proposed reforms, later known as Morley-Minto Reforms under the Act of 1909. Gokhale was kept in the dark by Morley about the true nature of reforms. Gokhale evidently failed to distinguish between Morley the writer and philosopher and Morley the bureaucrat. The reforms were much below the expectations of the Indian people. The worst part was the ominous clause which gave Muslims separate electorate and other concessions. Gokhale agreeing to separate electorates for the Muslims showed his meekness and lack of farsightedness. The Reforms gave “statutory recognition at the highest legislative level to the communal separateness which had plagued Indian society with its divisive influence since the mass Muslim invasions of the Hindu subcontinent at the start of the eleventh century. Perhaps it would have been asking too much of him to have been able to anticipate how the mushrooming of this communal representational demand was to result within four decades in the tragic partition of the sub-continent. Just as the nationalist party reviled Gokhale for cooperating with the government so now many of his own Congress supporters accused him of showing excessive favoritism towards Muslims”.
Gokhale’s speeches and letters are replete with criticism of the British economic policies which had resulted in India’s poverty and distress of the masses. He criticised heavy taxation including salt-tax and unreasonably high land revenue which had ruined the farmers. He was an advocate of' swadeshi along with industrialisation. But his criticism of the government had hardly any effect on their policies. They just ignored what he said or wrote because they knew that it was not backed by mass agitation. His was benign criticism, they believed. Gokhale was even ready to support the government when they resorted to high handedness. When the Indian Press Act was passed in 1910 to throttle the Indian press and was rightly condemned by public opinion throughout the country, Gokhale supported the Act in the Imperial Legislative Council saying, “My Lord, in ordinary times I should have deemed it my duty to resist such proposals to the utmost of my power. The risks involved in them are grave and obvious. But in view of the situation that exists in several parts of the country today, I have reluctantly come, after a careful and obvious consideration, to the conclusion, that I should not be justified in opposing the principle of the Bill”. It seems Gokhale was unconscious of his unpopularity.
As a social reformer he was against caste system, untouchability, child marriage and other ills of the society which invited the ire of the orthodoxy as was experienced by Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand and other reformers including his ‘guru’ Ranade, before him.
In 1912, Gokhale was nominated as a member of the Islington Commission on Public Service. He visited England in 1912, 1913 and 1914 in connection with the interrogation work of the commission which sapped his energy. He became quite weak and a tired man and during the later stages he had lost interest in the c0mmission’s Work. By the time the commission’s work was completed and its report submitted, Gokhale was dead.
In 1912, Gokhale went to South Africa from England at the invitation of Gandhi who needed his support for his Satyagraha work. He was well-received there and drew appreciative crowds. Gandhi was with him all the time during his visits to various places in South Africa. He was in South Africa for twenty-six days, almost the whole of October.
Gokhale started having indifferent health even before his old age. His frequent visits to England certainly affected his health. He died when he was hardly forty-nine years old in Poona, in February, 1915. When he saw that his end was near he called the members of the Servants of India Society to his bedside and said, “Do not occupy yourself with writing my biography or spend your time in putting up my statues. If you are true servants of India, dedicate your lives to the fulfillment of our aims, to the service of India”.
Tilak, who had gone to Sinhgad, a health resort for rest, rushed to Poona hearing the news of Gokhale’s death. At the cremation ground Tilak made a brief speech, “This is time for shedding tears. This diamond of India, this jewel of Maharashtra, the prince of workers is laid to eternal rest on the funeral ground. Look at him and try to emulate him”.

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