Gopal Krishna Gokhale: A moderate reformer and mentor to M.K. Gandhi

Author: Himanshu Ranjan

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Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born on 9 May 1866 in Maharashtra. He went on to graduate from Elphinstone College in 1884. During this time, he got influenced by the thoughts of English philosopher John Stuart Mill and the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a protege of Mahadev Govind Ranade who was also a graduate of Elphinstone College and was born near Nashik, Maharashtra. M. G. Ranade was a judge of the Bombay High Court, and one of the founders of the Indian National Congress. Ranade was also an editor of Induprakash, an active member of the Prarthana Samaj founded by Pandurang brothers and was the founder of Poona Sarvajanik Sabha. It is, therefore, expected that Gopal Krishna Gokhale had the influence of M.G. Ranade in his thoughts and activities. In fact, he assisted M.G. Ranade to start the Sarvajanik Sabha Journal.

Fergusson College was established in 1885 by the Deccan Education Society. Gopal Krishna Gokhale served as its Secretary. He became a professor at the Fergusson college where he taught history and political economy. In the year 1889, he became a member of the Indian National Congress. By the year 1895, he had taken the role of joint secretary in the INC. In the year 1897, Gokhale cross-examined the British colonial expenditure at the Welby Commission of 1897 that won him many praises.

In 1899, Gopal Krishna Gokhale got elected to the Bombay Legislative Council. In 1901, he also got elected to the Imperial Council of the Governor-General of India, the same year M.G. Ranade had already passed away. Gokhale had a major ideological difference with Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was his contemporary and was an extremist leader. Gokhale, a moderate leader wanted to apply constitutional reforms and pushed for reforms that eventually came in 1909 as ‘Morley-Minto Reforms’. The number of elected Indians to the legislatures was increased in these reforms. In fact, it led to the Indian domination in provincial bodies. The elected Indians could debate about the budget and table resolutions.

In 1905, Gopal Krishna Gokhale presided the Congress session held at Benares. Having acquired such stature within the congress he backed Rash Behari Ghosh as the presidential candidate in 1907. Extremist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak wanted Lala Lajpat Rai to preside the session. This led to the 1907 Surat Split of the Congress. Despite ideological differences both Tilak and Gokhale admired and respected each other.

In 1905, Gopal Krishna Gokhale founded the Servants of India Society to further the cause of education in India. In the year 1912, he visited South Africa and met Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gokhale became his political guru and mentor. The role that Mahatma Gandhi played in India’s mass awakening and the independence movement later would have made Gokhale proud. He passed away in 1915, the same year M. K. Gandhi returned to India at the request of Gokhale. In the 1915 Bombay session of the Indian National Congress, its constitution was altered to allow the delegates from the Extremist section to join it, a reunification Gokhale had wished for.

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