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Gopal Krishna Gokhale: A Modern Thinker and Reformer

Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a social reformer and political leader during the Indian Independence Movement. He was one of the forerunners of the Indian National Movement. Gokhale established the Servants of India Society with the help of the common people. He was a high-ranking leader of the Indian National Congress. He observed two major principles, Non-violence and improvement in the existing Government system.

Gokhale was born in Kothluk village of Guhagar taluka in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra in the poor Chitpavan Brahmin family. His family confirmed that he received an English education to get a job as a clerk in the British government. He was one of the first generations of Indians who got a university education. In 1884, he received his graduation degree from Elphinstone College. His education influenced him greatly in Western political thought, and he admired philosophers John Stuart Mill and Edmund Burke. He criticized many issues and steps of English colonial rules.

In 1889, he entered the Indian National Congress as a member. He struggled with Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Dadabhai Naoroji, Lala Lajpat Raj and Annie Besant to establish greater political demonstration and control over public affairs. He was a modern thinker, and his views differed from other contemporary leaders. He visited Ireland and arranged for an Irish nationalist, Alfred Webb, to be the President of the Indian National Congress. Later Gokhale chose for the post of Congress Joint Secretary along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak. They both were interested in improving the lives of Indians with their different views.

The first major conflict between Gokhale and Tilak occurred when the British introduced the Age of Consent Bill. Gokhale and his associate liberal reformers wanted to remove the superstitions and abuses from Hinduism. Their wish was to remove child marriage from society. Bill was not the final, but Tilak didn’t object to eliminating child marriage. Rather he was concerned that the British rulers were interfering in the Hindu matters. Tilak thought that these reforms couldn’t be established in the British rules. His idea was to solve these issues after independence when Indians would establish it by themselves. During Bombay’s presidency, the bill was established as law. In 1905 the President of the Indian National Congress became Gokhale. In 1906 Gokhale refused to support Tilak as the President of the Indian National Congress. Congress was divided into two parts: moderates with the leader Gokhale and Extremists with the leader Tilak. Gokhale was the modern reformist of the society. These two wings were again patched up in 1916 after Gokhale’s death.

In 1905, Gokhale was a powerful political leader as President of the Indian National Congress. He established the Servants of India Society. He wanted to spread education in the Indian society. He thought that only education could bring political changes in India. He believed that existing educational institution and Indian Civil Service was not enough to offer openings to progress the political education. He established this group to fulfill this need. For the Group, Gokhale wrote, “The Servants of India Society will train men prepared to devote their lives to the cause of country in a religious spirit, and seek to promote, by all constitutional means, the national interests of the Indian people”. The society took on many projects like starting mobile libraries, establishing schools, provided night classes for workers. Their only mission was to establish and spread education in Indian society. But after Gokhale’s death, it lost its path. Still, now this group exists with few members.

Gokhale was the pioneer leader of the Indian independence movement. But he was much more concerned about social reform with the British government’s help rather than about independence. He worked directly with the British for social reforms.

Gokhale was selected to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1899. On 22 May 1903, he was chosen to the Council of India of the Governor-General of India. He represented Bombay province. In 1909 he joined Imperial Legislative Council. He gained the reputation of a very knowledgeable person. His contribution to the annual budget debate was very much appreciated. He was invited to London to meet the secretary of state, Lord John Morley, and Gokhale established a connection.

Gokhale became famous when he guided Mahatma Gandhi in his initial stages. In 1912 when Gokhale visited South Africa, he met with Gandhi and guided him. They talked about the knowledge of understanding the country and issues connecting with the common people of India. Later Gandhi became the leader of Indian Independence, and in his biography, he remembered Gokhale as his teacher and guide. Gandhi considered him a commendable political leader.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah was also considered as his guide and role model. Gokhale named Jinnah as the greatest ambassador of the “Hindu-Muslim unity”.

Gokhale has a prominent inspiration in the Indian Nationalist Movement. He always kept a good relationship with the British government to recognize the power of the young educated Indians. He wanted to include these educated young Indians in the government processes. Gandhi rejected Gokhale’s belief in Western political institutions. But after independence, India accepted his belief in 1950.

Gokhale continued his work till the last year of his death. He went to many places abroad. He was engaged in Servants of India Society, in Congress and the Legislative Council, and was working to spread education in India. But he died on 19 February 1915 at the age of forty-nine. At his funeral, his political rival Bal Gangadhar Tilak said, “This diamond of India, this jewel of Maharashtra, this prince of workers is taking eternal rest on the funeral ground. Look at him and try to emulate him”.

His name was honored in the name of a few institutions, such as Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune, Gokhale Memorial Girls’ College in Kolkata, Gokhale Centenary College in Ankola and Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs in Bangalore. 2015-2016 was observed as the 150 years of his birth anniversary.

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