G. K. Gokhale

Gopal Krishna Gokhale
Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the founder of the Servants of India Society, was one of the outstanding leaders of the Indian freedom movement in its earlier phase. He was born in Kotluk in the Ratnagiri district of the Bombay Presidency on May 9, 1866, to Chitpavan Brahmin, Krishnarao and Satyabhama. His father, who had risen from a clerk to police personnel, sent him to an English school in Kolhapur.

He had a prodigious memory and received a bachelor of arts degree from Elphinston College in Bombay (now Mumbai) at the young age of 18. He taught first at the New English School at Pune and then at Ferguson College of the Deccan Educational Society from 1866 to 1904.

At the same time, Gokhale came under the influence of a social reformer and judge, Mahadev Govind Ranade, who encouraged him to write articles in the English weekly, the Mahratta, and later to publish a daily newspaper titled Jnanaprakash, where he put forth his moderate views on politics. He was the Secretary of Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, founded by Ranade from 1890 to 1895, and edited its journal.

There was a disagreement with Bal Gangadhar (B. G.) Tilak, another notable leader, over the question of lifetime membership in the Deccan Educational Society. After Tilak’s resignation, Gokhale and Ranade established the Deccan Sabha in 1896, which aimed at promoting liberalism and moderation in Indian politics.

Gokhale joined the Indian National Congress (INC) and was its joint secretary in 1895. He met Mohandas Gandhi in 1896 and the two developed a lifelong friendship. Gandhi later wrote a book titled Gokhale, My Political Guru.

Gokhale went to London in 1898 to give evidence before the Welby Commission, which had been convened by the British parliament to look into the complicated question of Indian expenditure. He protested the draining of wealth from India and the exploitation of the country and severely criticized the use of Indian revenue to finance military operations outside India.

In 1899 he was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council and worked on famine relief, land alienation, and municipal government. He was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council in 1902, where he argued for granting responsible government to India and fundamental rights to its citizens.

In June 1905 Gokhale founded the Servants of India Society to promote Indian national interests by peaceful means. Gokhale, as a moderate politician, had professed loyalty to the British Empire, but at the same time advocated for India the type of self-government enjoyed in Canada and Australia.

In 1905 there was a tremendous upsurge against British rule as a result of the partition of Bengal by Viceroy Lord Curzon. It was a time of frenetic activities for Gokhale, who was elected president of the INC.

He traveled to England in October to meet British parliamentarians and liberals and championed the cause of India with eloquence and clarity. His presidential address to the congress in December 1905 was a scathing attack on the British government and its repressive policy toward antipartition Indians.

Gokhale next worked to avert a split in the INC between congress old guards and extremists led by Tilak. Moderates like Gokhale favored constitutional reforms, which were helped when the British government announced the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909, which introduced the system of limited elections that pleased the Indian moderates.

Gokhale was also concerned with the problems of Indians living in South Africa. On Gandhi’s invitation, he went there in October 1912. He also served as a member of the Royal Commission on the Public Services in 1912, where he advocated greater Indian representation in the upper ranks of government services, but his proposals were not carried out because of opposition by British members.

The years of hard work weakened Gokhale’s health, and he died on February 19, 1915. Gokhale had started his life in a humble way and became one of the greatest leaders in the country’s history, thanks to his spirit of dedication, capability, public spirit, and selfless service. Leading an austere life, he was popular with his countrymen. It was not without reason that Gandhi regarded him as his preceptor.