A great scholar, a great social worker and a great fighter for national freedom, Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born on May 9, 1866 at Kotluck, Ratnagari in the Maharashtra State, nine years after the spark of Indian Nationalism was kindled by the first war of independence of 1857. Possessing remarkable qualities of heard and hear, Gopal Krishna rose rapidly in life. His vast varied and exposition, brought to him many laurels in his short span of 49 years.
After graduating at the age of 18, he turned his back on a life of comfort to start his mission in the field of education.
The destiny of modern India was shaped in a large measure, by many lovers of freedom who lived and laboured for the country.
It was in this era of political and intellectual ferment that young Gokhable came under the influence of another great patriot, Ranade. Gokhale became his follower. He imbibed the spirit of the master and never wavered from the path of moderation and sweet-reasonableness as laid down by Ranade.
He became the Secretary of the Deccan Education Society and the leading luminary of the Ferguson College, Poona, drawing a normal salary of Rs. 70 per month for long years.
The Quarterly Journal of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha then began to be edited by Gokhale in 1887.
At the age of 22, he became a member of the Bombay Legisla tive Council, and later on of the Imperial Legislative Council. All these years, he had been a trusted spokesman of Indian opinion. As consummate parliamentraian, his views were heard with respect by the Britishers.
At 29, he became the Secretary of the Indian National Congress. Having a mind of his own which glowed at once with gentleness, forbearance, determination and the spirit of independence, Gokhale rose to be the President of the Indian National Congress in 1950.
The year 1897 found Gokhale giving evidence before the Welby Commission in England on the “Indian Expenditure.”
He attacked Salt Tax which was levied on the Indians causing them to suffer. He also criticised the Britishers for keeping the emi nent Indian away from the higher jobs in the country.
In 1905, the large province of Bengal was divided into two parts. The inhabitants of Bengal received it as challenge to their National Spirit and a strong agitation soon flared up. Condemning this partition, Gokhale observed-“Then, all I can say is good-day to all hope of co-operating in any way with bureaucracy in the interests of the people.”
He visited South Africa to help M. K. Gandhi in his work there. In 1905, Gokhale once again went to England for the sake of ‘propaganda’ on behalf of India.
Servants of India Society
Gopal Krishna Gokale had a soft in his heart for the “Starving, Shrunken, shrivelled, up roo corner ted, toiling and mauling from down to dark to earn his scanty meal, patient, resigned, forbearing beyond measure, entirely voiceless in the Parliament of his Rulers and meekly prepared to bear whatever burdens God and men might be plased to impose upon his back.” So in 1905, he founded the Servants of India Scoiety to train and raise a band of National Missionaries for the service of the country.
The Preamble of the Society laid by Gokhale reads, ‘A suffi cient number of our countrymen must now come forward to devote themselves of the cause in the spirit in which religious work is undertaken. Public life must be spiritualised. Love for the country must fill the heart so that all else shall appear as little moment by its side.”
Place in History
Historians have varied opinions with regard to Gokhale’s place in the history of the National Movement in India. The Extremists regard him as a “faint hearted moderate” and Reactionaries as a “Seditionist in disguise.” He was on the whole a constructive statesman. He had faith in the British because he had, like Gandhiji, faith in human nature. Gokhale always insisted on the maintenance of law and order, and emphasised the need of healthy co-operation. The Indian Press Act of 1910 was a deastic measure on the part of the Government and was condemned by the various sections of the country, but Gokhale supported the Bill in the Imperial Legislature it these words-“My Lord, in ordinary time I should have deemed it my duty to resist such proposals to the utmost of my power. The risks involved in them are grave and obvious. But in view of the situation that exists in several parts of the country today. I have reluctantly come after a careful and anxious consideration, to the conclusion that I should not be justified in opposing the principle of this Bill.”
In a similar statement in 1911, he stated-“My Lord, even if I would defeat the Government today, I would not do it for this reason. The prestige of the Government is an important asset at the present stage of the country and I would not lightly disturb it.” He asked the people of India to move slowly, and on the other hand, impressed upon the Government the necessity of following the progressive policy towards India.
The Lokmanya called Gokhale ‘the diamond of India, the jewel of Maharashtra and the prince of workers’. The Punjab-Kesari Lala Lajpat Rai tipped him as “the noblest and the best Congress workers”.
The Mahatma wrote, “Sir Pherozeshah seemed to me like the Hemalayas unscalable, the Lokmanya like the ocean one could not easily launch forth on the sea, but Gokhale was as the Ganga it invited one to its bosom. In the sphere of politics, the place that Gokhale occupied in my heart during his life-time and occupies even now has been an unique.”
Gopal Krishan Gokhale’s efforts brought a measure of success to the long drawn struggle of freedom and his constant efforts caused him to be confined to bed and on February 19, 1915 the Servant of India passed away.