Can you name the Indian nationalist leader whom Mahatma Gandhi considered as his Guru? Would you be surprised to know that the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah also considered him as his mentor and wanted to be like him? Did you know who was the architect of Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909?
The answer to these is Gopal Krishna Gokhale; who was one of the top social reformers and political leaders during the Indian Independence Movement against the British.
Gokhale was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and founder of the Servants of India Society. He worked for establishment of Indian self-rule and reforms in Indian society. He became the leader of the moderate faction of the Congress party, which advocated reforms by working within the existing government institutions and framework.
Early Life and Education
Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born on 9th May 1866 in a Chitpavan Brahmin family residing in Kotluk village of Guhagar taluka in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, India.
His family did their best to give him an English education so that he could get a good job as a clerk or official in the British Government.
He studied in Rajaram High School in Kolhapur, and then went on to graduate in Arts from Elphinstone College in 1884, and is regarded as the first Indian to graduate. Due to his English education, he was exposed to western political thought and influenced by John Stuart Mill and Edmund Burke.
Gokhale moved to Poona and then joined Fergusson College as a Professor of history and political economy, and later became the Principal and served up to 1902.
While in Poona, he also met his mentor and Guru, Mahadev Govind Ranade who was a renowned scholar and jurist. He started working with Ranade in the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, and became the Secretary. Later, Ranade helped Gokhale in establishing the Servants of India Society in 1905. He also worked with Ranade in a quarterly Journal called Sarvajanik which dealt with public issues. Gokhale had also edited English Weekly Newspaper, Mahratta and a daily newspaper, Jnanaprakash.
The Beginning of his Political Career
In 1889, Gokhale joined the Indian National Congress. He was mentored by the social reformer Mahadev Govind Ranade.
Gokhale joined the league of stalwarts like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dadabhai Naoroji, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai and Annie Besant; who had been seeking more power and representation for the Indians in public policy and affairs.
Gokhale was a moderate and believed in a process of petitions, dialogue and discussions. He visited Ireland and arranged for an Irish Alfred Webb, to become the President of the Indian National Congress in 1894.
In 1895, Gokhale and Tilak became the joint secretaries of the INC. Gokhale and Tilak had many similarities, such as; both were Chitpavan Brahmin, both attended Elphinstone College, both became mathematics professors, and both were associated with the Deccan Education Society.
Differences with Bal Gangadhar Tilak
However, both developed differences on their views on the approach to achieve Independence. Their first confrontation was on the Age of Consent Bill which was introduced by the British Imperial Government, in 1891–92. It was aimed at raising the age of consent from ten to twelve.
Gokhale supported the bill as it would discourage child marriages. Tilak opposed it as he viewed the bill as an interference with Hindu traditions, although he did support the elimination of child marriages. The bill later became law in the Bombay Presidency.
Gokhale and Tilak also competed to take control of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha. Tilak came out on top and Gokhale founded the Deccan Sabha in 1896 as an alternative.
Involvement with British Imperial Government
Gokhale became the leader of the Indian nationalist movement, but he believed more in social reforms and that it would be achieved by working within existing British Government. Such peaceful attitude angered those like Tilak who were very aggressive for demanding Independence of India.
In 1899, Gokhale was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council. In 1901, he was elected to the Imperial Council of the Governor-General of India. In 1903, he was elected as the non-officiating member representing Bombay Province.
In 1905, Gokhale was elected as the President of the Indian National Congress.
Servants of India Society
In 1905, Gokhale founded the Servants of India Society to further the cause of education to Indians. He believed that a generation of educated Indians will change India for the better. The Society undertook projects organizing mobile libraries, established schools, and arranged for night classes for factory workers. The Society still exists to this day albeit with a small membership.
Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909
In 1905, the INC sent Gokhale to England to plead for the Indians’ constitutional demands to the Britishers. He had several meetings with Lord Morley, the secretary of state for India. In 1908, he was again deputed to visit England in connection with the upcoming Morley-Minto constitutional reforms.
Gokhale helped formation of the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909, which later became a law. Although it did not lead to a democratic system, it did give people access to the highest authority within the government and to make a difference in matters of public interest.
Mentor to both Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah
Gokhale was a mentor to Mahatma Gandhi, and Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged him as his ‘political guru’. In 1912, Gokhale visited South Africa at Gandhi’s invitation in connection with the condition of Indians. He also helped in securing a satisfactory agreement, before he returned to India. By 1920, Gandhi emerged as the leader of the Indian Independence Movement.
Gokhale was also an influence on Muhammad Ali Jinnah to the extent that he aspired to become the Muslim Gokhale. Jinnah was the Muslim League leader and was considered the ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity against the British Raj. Jinnah later became the founder of Pakistan.
Gokhale married Savitribai in 1880 when he was in his teens. Savitribai suffered from an incurable ailment; so during her lifetime Gokhale married a second time in 1887. In 1899, his second wife died after giving birth to two daughters, who were cared for by his relatives as he did not marry again.
Gokhale’s involvement in a wide range of public and legislative bodies and his commitment to the advancement of education, strained him physically. Excessive exertion and the resulting exhaustion aggravated his diabetes and cardiac asthma. The end came peacefully, and the great humanitarian leader passed away on February 19, 1915 in Poona.
Gokhale’s views were deeply influenced by his mentor Govind Ranade. He was concerned by issues like social, economic and political reforms. He admired the values of the British and was willing to work with the government on several social issues. He was an advocate of liberal thoughts, and the importance of education in enriching minds. Gokhale’s idea of free and compulsory education evolved into the Right to Education Act after almost a century. He was an inspiration to many, including Mahatma Gandhi.