Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born on May 9, 1866 in Kothluk village of Guhagar taluka in Ratnagiri district, in present-day Maharashtra (then part of the Bombay Presidency) in a Chitpavan Brahmin Family.
Gokhale received English education and obtained employment as a clerk or minor official in the British Raj. Gokhale graduated from Elphinstone College in 1884. Gokhale’s education tremendously influenced the course of his future career – in addition to learning English, he was exposed to western political thought and became a great admirer of theorists such as John Stuart Mill and Edmund Burke. The respect for English political theory and institutions that Gokhale acquired in his college years would remain with him for the rest of his life. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, was one of the founding social and political leaders during the Indian Independence Movement against the British Empire in India. Gokhale was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and founder of the Servants of India Society. Through the Society as well as the Congress and other legislative bodies he served in, Gokhale promoted not only primarily independence from the British Empire but also social reform.
Gokhale became a member of the Indian National Congress in 1889, as a protégé of social reformer Mahadev Govind Ranade. Along with other contemporary leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dadabhai Naoroji, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai and Annie Besant, Gokhale fought for decades to obtain greater political representation and power over public affairs for common Indians. He was moderate in his views and attitudes, and sought to petition the British authorities by cultivating a process of dialogue and discussion which would yield greater British respect for Indian rights. Gokhale had visited Ireland and had arranged for an Irish nationalist, Alfred Webb, to serve as President of the Indian National Congress in 1894. The following year, Gokhale became the Congress’s joint secretary along with Bal Gangadhara Tilak. In many ways, Tilak and Gokhale’s early careers paralleled – both were Chitpavan Brahmins, both attended Elphinstone College, both became mathematics professors, and both were important members of the Deccan Education Society.
Gokhale’s difference with Tilak centered the Age of Consent Bill introduced by the British Imperial Government, in 1891-92. Gokhale and his fellow liberal reformers, wishing to purge what they saw as superstitions and abuses in their native Hinduism, supported the Consent Bill to curb child marriage abuses. The Bill sought to raise the age of consent from ten to twelve, Tilak took issue with it; he did not object per se to the idea of moving towards the elimination of child marriage, but rather to the idea of British interference with Hindu tradition. For Tilak, such reform movements were not to be sought under imperial rule when they would be enforced by the British, but rather after independence was achieved ,when Indians would enforce it on themselves. The bill however became law in the Bombay Presidency.
In 1905, Gokhale became president of the Indian National Congress. Gokhale refused to support Tilak as candidate for president of the Congress in 1906. By now, Congress was split: Gokhale and Tilak were the respective leaders of the moderates and the "extremists" (the latter now known by the term, "aggressive nationalists") in the Congress. Tilak was an advocate of civil agitation and direct revolution to overthrow the British Empire, whereas Gokhale was a moderate reformist. As a result, the Congress Party split into two wings and was largely robbed of its effectiveness for a decade. The two sides would later patch up in 1916 after Gokhale died.
In 1905, Gokhale founded the Servants of India Society to specifically further the expansion of Indian education. For Gokhale, true political change in India would only be possible when a new generation of Indians became educated as to their civil and patriotic duty to their country and to each other. In his preamble to the SIS’s constitution, Gokhale wrote that “The Servants of India Society will train men prepared to devote their lives to the cause of country in a religious spirit, and will seek to promote, by all constitutional means, the national interests of the Indian people.” The Society took up the cause of promoting Indian education in earnest, and among its many projects organized mobile libraries, founded schools, and provided night classes for factory workers. The society still exists to this day and is managing number of educational institutions and facilities like hostels.
In 1899, Gokhale was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council. He was elected to the Council of India of Governor-General of India on 22 May 1903 as non-officiating member representing Bombay Province. He later served to Imperial Legislative Council after its expansion in 1909. He there obtained a reputation as extremely knowledgeable and contributed significantly to the annual budget debates. Gokhale developed so great a reputation among the British that he was invited to London to meet with secretary of state Lord John Morley, with whom he established a rapport. Gokhale would help during his visit to shape the Morley-Minto Reforms introduced in 1909. Gokhale was appointed a CIE (Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire) in the 1904 New Year's Honours List, a formal recognition by the Empire of his service.
Gokhale was a mentor to Mahatma Gandhi in his formative years. In 1912, Gokhale visited South Africa at Gandhi's invitation. As a young barrister, Gandhi returned from his struggles against the Empire in South Africa and received personal guidance from Gokhale, including a knowledge and understanding of India and the issues confronting common Indians. By 1920, Gandhi emerged as the leader of the Indian Independence Movement. In his autobiography, Gandhi calls Gokhale his mentor and guide. Gandhi also recognised Gokhale as an admirable leader and master politician, describing him as pure as crystal, gentle as a lamb, brave as a lion and chivalrous to a fault and the most perfect man in the political field. Gokhale was also the role model and mentor of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who in 1912, aspired to become the "Muslim Gokhale". Even the Aga Khan ( the Spiritual Head of the Islamic sect of Ismaili Khojas & grandfather of the present Aga Khan) has stated in his autobiography that Gokhale's influence on his thinking was probably considerable.
Gokhale went to England in 1908. He also visited South Africa in 1912, where Gandhi was working to improve conditions for the Indian minority living there. Gokhale died on Feb 19, 1915 at an early age of forty-nine. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, his lifelong political opponent, said at his funeral: "This diamond of India, this jewel of Maharashtra, this prince of workers is taking eternal rest on funeral ground. Look at him and try to emulate him".
Gokhale's impact on the course of the Indian nationalist movement was very considerable. Through his close relationship with the highest levels of British imperial government, Gokhale forced India's colonial masters to recognize the capabilities of a new generation of educated Indians and to include them more than ever before in the governing process. Gokhale’s firm belief in the need for universal education deeply inspired the next great man on the Indian political stage, Mohandas K. Gandh. Gokhale's faith in western political institutions was rejected by Gandhi but those institutions were adopted by an independent India in 1950.
His name is commemorated in the names of the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune, the Gokhale Memorial Girls' College in Kolkata, the Gokhale Hall in Chennai, the Gokhale Centenary College in Ankola, the Gopal Krishna Gokhale College in Kolhapur, Gokhale Road in Mumbai, Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs in Bangalore,and Gokhale Hostel (of Motilal Vigyan Mahavidyalaya) in Bhopal .
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