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  • GOPAL KRISHNA GOKHALE

  • Biographical Note

  • Gopal Krishna Gokhale was as illustrious son of Mother India, about whom nation can feel proud. He was a great Maharashtrian who had the privilege of guiding his times and taking forward the millions of India on the path of self-government. Being a liberal he had full faith in British sense of justice. He wished that the Indians should give maximum coopera­tion to the Britishers in their efforts to take India on the path of constitutional development. He believed that most of the British incharge of administra­tion were ignorant of India's problems. Efforts were needed to make them appreciate and realise our difficulties. He had faith in the capacity of Indians to improve their conditions and come out of the growing poverty. He was a politician, a social reformer and an economist. He was one of the most brilliant parliamentarians which India has produced. In the words of Dr. Radhakrishnan, "When the comforts of the world were in Gokhale's reach and could be his, he left them and gave his great talents to his service of the country. Renunciation is the principle of good life. Men are great not by what they acquire but what they renounce. Those engaged in public work should not look upon it as a career with glittering prices." Gokhale was an educationist and the political guru of Mahatma Gandhi. He founded the Servants of India Society to train the young people of India for the noble cause of devoting themselves to the service of their Motherland.

  • His Early Life

  • Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born on May 1,1866 in Chitpavan com­munity in Ratnagiri L>istrict. He was hardly 13, when his father died. By the force of circumstances his mother was obliged to leave the village and shift to Kolhapur where her elder son was employed on a monthly salary of meagre fifteen rupees. It was a very critical time for this small family which could not afford the education of the young boy who sub­sequently became the world famous parliamentarian, social reformer and politician. The extent of poverty can be well imagined from the fact that Gokhale had to sit beneath the street lights to study at night. After com­pleting his early education, he joined Deccan College, Poona and El­phinstone College, Bombay from wheVe he graduated at the age of 18.

  • After his graduation he decided to join Deccan Education Society



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    1. where he, on his own, accepted a meagre salary of seventy-five rupees per month for a period of 20 years. This idea was opposed in the initial stages by his brother to which subsequently he reconciled. During his stay in the society he worked as its Secretary and became so much close to it that he became its soul and life.

    2. Visits to England

    3. Gokhale had the opportunity of visiting England 7 times on account of one reason or the other. Each time he left an impression of his ability on the people there. In 1897, he went there to give his evidence before Welby Commission set up by the Government to enquire into the Indian finances. In 1905, he was a member of the delegation sent by the Congress to persuade the British Government not to go ahead with the proposal of the partition of Bengal. In 1908, he gave evidence before Hobhouse Decentralisation Commission. In 1912, he became the member of Islington Commission to enquire into the working of civil services of India. In 1912, he had to go to England in connection with the working of P. S. Commission. During his visits to England, Gokhale seized the opportunity of meeting Lord Morley and convinced him about the need and necessity of giving constitutional reforms to India. It was due to his efforts and influence that India got her first dose of constitutional reform in 1909.

    4. Work as Legislator

    5. Gokhale became a member of Bombay Legislative Council and rep­resented Central Division of this Presidency town. In the council he worked for the cause of people and raised a voice against the land revenue policy of the Government. Though his ideas were basically accepted by the Government but after he had staged a walk-out the Government had passed the required bill. He was also responsible for District Municipal Act and similar other Acts passed for the betterment of municipal ad­ministration in Bombay. In 1902, he became a member of Viceroy's Legis­lative Council when he was hardly 36 years of age. He continued to stay there for full 11 years. In the Viceroy's Council he stood for ad­ministrative and financial reforms and there also he created a place for himself. His budget speeches were listened to with great attention and care even by those who did not care much for Indian sentiments. In the Council he pleaded for the abolition of Salt duty. He opposed the Indian Universities Bill by which Lord Curzon wanted to bring Universities under Government control.

    6. Association with Indian National Congress

    7. Gokhale was President of Indian National Congress in 1905. In that capacity he guided the National Congress in various ways. No doubt his task was a bit difficult but still he took the organisation with him with vigour and energy. It was his influence on the moderates that ex­tremists could not win their point at Surat though the unfortunate split occurred and the extremists had to leave the Congress. Again, it was



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    1. due to his untiring efforts that there was unity in the Congress organisation in 1916 and both the extremists and the moderates decided to sit together and to work hand in hand.

    2. Work in South Africa

    3. In his early career a mention may also be made about his work in South Africa to improve the condition of Indians settled there. He met South African leaders and persuaded them to abrogate and repeal those acts which were pinching to the Indians. Along with Gandhiji he was quite successful in his mission.

    4. Connected Organisations

    5. Gokhale was also responsible for founding a few organisations and working in responsible capacities in a few others. He was one of the Secretaries of Sarvajanik Sabha, Poona, Secretary of Deccan Education Society, founder-member of Deccan Sabha. The Servants of India Society was his most important society which did the most significant and most important work in the political life of our country even long after his death.

    6. Gokhale's Times

    7. Gokhale was living at a critical time when liberalism was at the cross­roads. For more than a decade the Indian National Congress had been representing to the British bureaucracy for granting constitutional ad­vancement. However the fruit had been practically negligible. Even most of the moderates had been duped and began to lose faith in British sense of justice. The Government of the day had acted very much against the sentiments and wishes of the people. When the people expected reforms the Government gave them partition of Bengal. The task before Gokhale was not only to convince the people of India about the British sense of justice but also convince the Britishers about the need of constitutional reforms in minimum possible time. It was a double sided task which required not only intelligence and calibre but also patience and tactful handling of the situation. At the time when liberalism was passing through crisis the extremists were exerting more and more pressure on political scene. They were trying to convince Indians that some extreme steps will have to be taken to improve the conditions of India. It was at such a critical time that Gokhale had to work for saving liberalism and taking the Indians with him and also convincing the Britishers about immediate constitutional reforms. It was a time when the youth of India were not devoted to the national cause to the extent to which such a sacrifice was required. Gokhale. was also to work in a fashion that the Indian youths willingly came forward burning with national spirit and having full faith in constitutionalism.

    8. Influence of M. G. Ranade

    9. K. Ishwar Dutt says,"77iere were three men in particular to whom Gokhale felt spiritually drawn and yielded reverence from his very soul—



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    1. patriarchal Dadabhai Naoroji, his great master, Mahadev Govind Ranade, and the incomparable Gandhiji (though his junior). In their presence he felt elevated." Gopal Krishna Gokhale was very much influenced by the philosophy and working of M. G. Ranade from whom he used to get inspiration and guidance. From Ranade he learnt liberalism and con­stitutionalism. Like him he also believed in British sense of justice and in the idea that British rule in India was for the betterment of the multitudes of Indians. In the words of C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer, "Ranade was the prime factor to the growth of instructed Indian political and economic thought. He was himself a scholar politician and he trained Gokhale to follow his footsteps. At the same time, Ranade and Gokliale alike, transformed politics of India and spiritualised it by insisting on self-surrender, complete dedication to the cause of the country and purity of motive and action." Influence of B. G. Tilak

    2. C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyer has also pointed out the influence of Tilak, on Gokhale by saying that "There is no doubt that Gokhale, though he reacted against chauvinistic doctrines, was at the same time, perhaps un­consciously influenced by the onslaughts made by the Tilak group on British rule and its results and manifestations." In addition to this Gokhale philosophy was influenced by his personal circumstances. He had seen poverty and worked under adverse circumstances. As such he knew the feelings of the poor and their real and practical difficulties. He got education with great hardship. As such he personally realised the significance and value of education in the life of a man. His subsequent love for education was the direct outcome of his personal experiences in life.

    3. Political Philosophy

    4. Gokhale was all praise for British rule. Under the influence of M. G. Ranade he pleaded for the continuance of British rule in India. Like Ranade Dadabhai Naoroji and Raja Ram Mohan Roy he had faith in British liberalism. In the budget speech in 1902, he said, 'What is needed is that we should be enabled to feel that we have a Government, national in spirit though foreign in personal, a Government which subordinates other considerations to the welfare of Indian people, which resents indignity afforded to Indians abroad as though they were afforded to Englishmen and which endeavours by all means in its power to further the moral and the material interests of the people in India and outside India." Gokhale pleaded that we want only dominion status and wish to remain within the British empire. He believed .boldly that British -ule in India was an act of blessing of God and should be taken in that spirit.

    5. Support of Peace

    6. Gokhale's championed the cause of peace and order. He wanted status quo to the extent possible. He was deadly against violence and was very much shaken when he came to know that Indian press was being used to excite the people of India to take to violence. In order

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    8. to maintain law and order he even supported the notorious Indian Press Act by saying that, "My Lord, in ordinary time I should have deemed it my duty to resist such proposal to the utmost of my power. Tlie 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 principles of this Bill. It is not merely the as­sassinations that have taken place or the conspiracies that have come to light or the political docoities that are being committed, that fill me with anxiety. Tfte air in many places is still thick with the ideas that are undoubtedly antagonistic to the unquestioned continuance of British rule, with which our hope of peaceful evaluation are bound up ; this is a feature of the situation quite as serious as anything else. Several other causes have con­tributed to produce this result of which the writings in the section of the press have been one. And to the extent to which the remedy can be applied to these writings, by such executive action as is contemplated in the Bill, I am not prepared to say that the remedy should not be applied."

    9. Support of Liberty

    10. Gokhale stood for individual liberty and certain basic rights which the people should enjoy. According to him, no progress was possible in our society without enjoyment of minimum basic liberties, denial of which actually and virtually meant denial of development of human per­sonality.

    11. Support of Local Self Government

    12. Gokhale strongly favoured the idea of strengthening local self- govern­ment institutions. He stood for decentralisation of authority. He felt that it was through this gradual decentralisation and by way of forming Advisory District Council for Advising District Administration that India could progress. Gokhale while giving evidence before Hobhouse Decentralisation Commission, Gokhale pleaded for the system of Village Panchayat and District Councils for the smooth running of Indian administration.

    13. Plea for Communal Harmony

    14. Gokhale agreed with Ranade that the Hindus and the Muslims should be made to live a harmonious and enjoyable life. He said that in this country of ours responsibility vested on the Hindus, who were in majority, and that they should create such an atmosphere wherein the Muslims, who are in the minority, should realise that they could live with dignity and harmony with the majority community. This, he said, could be done by respecting the sentiments of minority and by giving them what was their due. It was by this mutual adjustment that India could progress and achieve what was her due.

    15. Love of Swadeshi

    16. Gokhale's love for Swadeshi was immense. He believed that there should be Swadeshi in everything. With Swadeshi alone a nation could



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    1. solve many of its problems including those of unemployment and poverty. While delivering his Presidential Address in Banaras he said," The devotion to Motherland which is enshrined in higher Swadeshi is an influence so profound and so passionate that its very thought thrills and its actual objects live out of oneself. India needs today above everything else that the gospel of this devotion should be preached to high and low, to prince and to peasant, in town and in hamlet, till the service of Motherland becomes with us as over-mastering a passion as it is in Japan."

    2. Faith in Indians

    3. Gokhale had deep faith in the capacity of his countrymen to solve their own problems. According to him, Indian would positively rise with the passage of time. They would require no foreign assistance in raising themselves to higher level from their present low level of living and thinking provided they had proper understanding of their problem and resolve to solve them. In 1903, in his budget speech he said, "The India of the future will, under Providence, not be an India of diminishing plenty of empty prospects or of justifiable discontent; but one of expanding industry, of awakened faculties, of increasing prosperity, and of more widely distributed comfort and wealth. I have faith in the conscience and purpose of my own country, and I believe in almost illimitable capacities of this." In the words of Dr. Radhakrishnan. "Tlie problems facing India in Gokhale's time were formidable. Tliough, he had served all sides of our life in a brilliant and wholehearted manner he was conscious of the long distance we have to traverse before we reach the goal. He had faith i. the destiny of his country." Gokhale himself said, "It will no doubt be given to out countrymen of the future generations to sen'e India by their success, we of present generations must be content to serve her by our failure For hard though it may be out of those failures, the strength will come, which in the end will accomplish this great task."

    4. Critical Remarks

    5. Gokhale was very much influenced by ihe wave of liberalism that swept the whole of the European continent and which was influencing many other parts of the world. Like Burke he also believed that we should follow a go slow policy instead of violating laws and taking recourse to violence. Sometimes he had to face great hardships ar«d opposition even from his countrymen for the actions which were unacceptable to them. For example he openly begged apology from the Governor of Bombay for his statements about European soldiers which he subsequently, could not support and this he did without caring for his personal popularity. For him. nation was above everything else. To conclude in the words of C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyer, "For over a decade, Gokhale was the ac­knowledged and accredited leader of non-official Indian opinion. His avowed programme was not merely to oppose mistaken Government policies and actions but to put constructively before Government, the Indian point of



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    1. view and India-oriented policies. He followed the line of toleration and comprehension of adversary's viewpoint."

    2. Constitutional Methods

    3. Gokhale was a constitutional liberal and moderate in his outlook. He believed that we should always adopt constitutional means for achieving our object. According to him India could gain much by remaining within the British Empire. He advised his fellow countrymen not to be in haste in getting constitutional reforms. Like Burke he believed that the progress should be slow and steady. At the same time he had a very clear vision as to what the Indians were to achieve and what the Government should give to the people. At Banaras Congress Session, he outlined the ultimate object of national struggle by saying that there should be increased rep­resentation of Indians in the Legislative Council with more Indian Ministers and with Indianisation of administrative system. There should be separation of executive and judiciary because combination of the two was bound to result in tyranny. Gokhale suggested expansion of education, in­dustrialisation and reduction of expenditure on non-productive items like military or civil administration. He believed that there should be progressive decentralisation of authority with Panchayati Raj System and formation of District Councils for running district administration. He believed that India could go on the path of progress if Indians cooperated with the Government in improving the conditions of Indian masses. This could be done by improving the living conditions of the agriculturists who were in vast majority in India.

    4. According to Gokhale one of the methods for achieving political objects could he adoption of such methods as Swadeshi and boycott of foreign °oods. His concept of Swadeshi was very wide and extensive. It covered many things including boycott of goods which were even most essential for out day-to-day living. His boycott included passive resistance and non-payment of taxes. In constitutional agitation he also included exerting pressure on those who mattered in administration and to mobilise public opinion in favour of those constitutional reforms. He pleaded that one of the methods for our fight was to arrange processions, to send delegations to England and to the high ups in India to acquint them with our pitiable conditions. There should be various forums like those of Servants of India Society and Deccan Society where the public opinion could be consulted and mobilised. In the words of C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyer, "In other words, the school of Gokhale, of Wacha and Sastri envisaged the goal of political progress through constitutionalism. It was their conviction that revolutionary action, even if successful in realising their ideals, may produce a reaction and carry things backward. In the result, as a biographer of Gokhale has stated, the followers of Mazzini hated Cavour even more than they hated the Austrians ; and it is, perhaps true that some Indian politicians hated Gokhale worse than they hated the British."



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    1. Servants of India Society

    2. In 1905, Gokhale established Servants of India Society with a view to educating and training Indian youth for national cause. He desired that there should be missionary zeal in our young people for serving their nation through this society. Discussing the objects of this society he said that it was meant for creating love for Motherland among our young men and also to prepare them for every sacrifice for the nation. The society was also to impart political education and to create public opinion for nationalism in the country. One of the objects of Society was to promote a sense and spirit of goodwill among various Indian communities living together and to uplift down the down-trodden of Indian society socially and economically. He wanted to see that there was no depressed or down-trodden in our society. The preamble of the Society said, "The Servants of India Society has been established to meet, in some measure these requirements of the situation. Its members frankly accept the British connection as ordained, in the inscrutable dispensation of Providence, for India's good, Self-Government within the Empire for their country and a higher life generally for their countrymen is their goal. This goal, they recognise, cannot be attained without years of earnest and patient effort and sacrifices worthy of the cause. Much of work must be directed towards building up in the country of a higher type of character and capacity than is generally available at present, and advance can only be slowly."

    3. Each member of the society was required to take a pledge saying that he will serve the society and through that the country to the best of his capacity and will not try to take any personal advantage out of it for himself. He was also required to work for the betterment of all and to lead a pure personal life. The pledge read as under :

    4. (i) That the country will always be first in his thoughts and that he
      will give to her service the best that is in him.

    5. (ii) That in serving the country he will seek no personal advantage
      for himself.

    6. (iii) That he will regard all Indians as brothers, and will work for
      the achievement of all without distinction of caste and creed.

    7. (iv) That he will be content with such provision for himself and his
      family as the society may be able to make, and that he will
      devote no part of his energy to earning money himself.

    8. (v) That he will lead a pure personal life.

    9. (vi) That he will engage in no personal quarrel with any one.

    10. (vii) That he will always keep in view the aims of the society.
      Ends and Means

    11. Like Mahatma Gandhi, who very closely followed his ideals, Gokhale believed in the purification of means for achieving the ends. Fnr him only good means could bring good and lasting results. He could aot



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    3. GOPAL KRISHNA GOKHALE
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