Gokhale, Gopal Krishna

views updated May 21 2018


GOKHALE, GOPAL KRISHNA (1866–1915) Indian educator and politician, president of the Indian National Congress (1905). Gopal Krishna Gokhale was one of the wisest moderate leaders of India's National Congress, revered by Mahatma Gandhi as "my political guru." Born in Maharashtra's village of Kotaluk, the younger son of a Chitpavan brahman clerk in Kolhapur State's administration, Gopal inherited little money but was brilliant and diligent enough to master English literature and write Victorian-style poetry, as well as poetry in his own language, Marathi. At Pune's Deccan College, Gokhale committed many passages from the works of Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, and John Morley to his prodigious memory. He later was to become one of Morley's most highly respected advisers, during Liberal Morley's half decade as secretary of state for India, from 1906 to 1910. He also mastered mathematics, a subject he taught for several years at Pune's New English School, after living for a year in Bombay at Elphinstone College.

One of young India's most enlightened social reformers as well as liberal nationalists, Gokhale supported the first municipal high school for girls, started in Pune, bringing him into sharp conflict with religiously conservative popular Hindu leaders, like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who argued that a "woman's place was in the house," not in school. Gokhale and Tilak remained poles apart on every issue of social reform and political action. In the "age of consent" controversy, Sir Andrew Scoble's 1891 bill to raise the minimal age of "rape" in India's Penal Code despite a child wife's "consent" from ten to twelve years, won Gokhale's strong support. Tilak led outraged Hindu Brahman opposition to that timid legislative attempt to save the lives of young girls from often lethal attacks on their wedding nights by husbands three or four times their age. Similarly, Tilak and Gokhale stood at opposite sides of barricades raised over Hindu widow remarriage. Since 1829 the burning of Hindu widows as satis (true ones) had been abolished by British Indian Law, and since 1854, Hindu widow remarriage received legislative legitimacy; yet Hindu widows were still expected to reside, unadorned, in rear quarters of Hindu Brahman households. Gokhale, and his sage role model, Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, led an enlightened vanguard of Hindu reformers who knew that female education and reforms in all spheres were prerequisites to national freedom.

Political Role

Gokhale took an active role in India's National Congress and became the youngest leader ever elected to preside over that premier political body, at its Benares Congress in 1905. Gokhale's eloquence and brilliance in denouncing the "cruel wrong" of Britain's first partition of Bengal did not, unfortunately, suffice to reverse that act of imperial arrogance when Liberal Morley took charge of Whitehall's India Office a year later. But Morley sought and followed Gokhale's advice in many matters relating to his Indian Council Reforms Act of 1909, and before the end of his tenure helped to draft the reunification of Bengal announced by King George on his visit to Delhi in 1911.

Impact on Mahatma Gandhi

Gokhale also supported Gandhi's South African struggle at every meeting of India's Congress. He visited his political heir in South Africa to bolster Gandhi's courageous satyagraha there against the discriminatory poll tax levied on all Indians, bringing hope to Gandhi and his followers at crucial times in their fight for equality. When Mahatma Gandhi left South Africa at the start of World War I, it was to return to India to join Gokhale's Servants of India Society in Pune, so eager was he to work for India's rebirth as an independent nation under "Mahatma" Gokhale's tutelage. But just a few weeks later, Gokhale's heart, long weakened by diabetes, gave out. "He is dead, but his work is not dead," Mahatma Gandhi eulogized his guru, India's greatest moderate nationalist.

Stanley Wolpert

See alsoGandhi, Mahatma M. K.


Gandhi, M. K. Gokhale: My Political Guru. Ahmedabad: Navajivin Publishing House, 1955.

Shahani, T. K. Gopal Krishna Gokhale: A Historical Biography. Mumbai: R. K. Mody, 1929.

Srinivasa Sastri, V. S. Life of Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Bangalore: Bangalore Printing and Publishing Co., 1937.

Turnbull, E. L., and H. G. D. Turnbull. Gopal Krishna Gokhale: A Brief Biography. Trichur, 1934.

Wolpert, Stanley A. Tilak and Gokhale: Revolution and Reform in the Making of Modern India. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1953 and 1961.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale

views updated May 21 2018

Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866-1915) was an Indian nationalist leader. President of the Indian National Congress, he also served in the Imperial Legislative Council and founded the famed Servants of India Society.

On May 9, 1866, Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born in the Ratnagiri District of the Bombay Presidency into a poor but eminently respectable Chitapavan Brahmin family. At age 18 he secured a bachelor's degree from Elphinstone College and joined the illustrious Deccan Education Society. At 22 Gokhale became secretary of the famous Sarvajanik Sabha, the leading political organization of Bombay. He also became a professor at Fergusson College and, in 1891, secretary of the Deccan Education Society.

In 1895 Gokhale was chosen secretary to the Indian National Congress. In the same year he was elected to the senate of Bombay University. He was 29 years old. From 1898 to 1906 Gokhale was a member of the Poona Municipality and served as its president in 1902 and 1905. Under his leadership the municipal government was effectively reformed and democratized. In 1899 he was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council, in which he played a prominent role until his election to the Imperial Legislative Council in 1902.

In the Imperial Legislative Council, Gokhale demonstrated a breadth of knowledge as well as a painstaking mastery of all relevant details on pending legislation, which soon marked him as the most distinguished member of the Council. He was particularly noted for his impressive participation in the annual debate upon the budget.

The year 1905 saw Gokhale at the apex of his career. He was elected president of the Indian National Congress, and he founded the prestigious Servants of India Society, dedicated to advancement of the nation's welfare and to the "spiritualization" of politics. In the same year he was sent by the Congress on a special mission to England to air India's constitutional demands before British leaders. While there he had several important interviews with Lord Morley, secretary of state for India. In 1908 Gokhale was again deputed to visit England in connection with the impending Morley-Minto constitutional reforms of the government of India.

In 1912 Gokhale visited South Africa, where he met Mohandas Gandhi in connection with Gandhi's campaign for rights for Indians. Gokhale also met with Gen. Jan Smuts to assist in securing a satisfactory agreement regarding the position of Indians. His involvement in so wide a range of public and legislative bodies and his strenuous commitment to the advancement of education had, however, worn him out, and he died in Poona on Feb. 15, 1915.

Further Reading

The Speeches and Writings of Gokhale were edited by R. P. Patwardhan, D. G. Karve, and D. V. Ambekar (2 vols., 1962-1966). The best volume in English on Gokhale is D. B. Mathur, Gokhale: A Political Biography (1966). A brief study is T. R. Deogirikar, Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1964). There is an interesting collection of articles on Gokhale in Gopal Krishna Gokhale: A Centenary Tribute (1966), published by the Maharashtra Information Centre. See also Stanley A. Wolpert, Tilak and Gokhale: A Revolution and Reform in the Making of Modern India (1962).

Additional Sources

Nanda, Bal Ram, Gokhale: the Indian moderates and the British raj, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.

Wolpert, Stanley A., Tilak and Gokhale: revolution and reform in the making of modern India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989. □

Gokhalé, Gopāḷ Krishna

views updated May 23 2018

Gokhalé, Gopāḷ Krishna (1863–1915). An Indian political leader, born near Chipḷooṇ in the W. Indian region of Konkaṇ. His influence on religious matters (via politics) was great, because he was a staunch advocate of constitutional methods and reforms for Indian Home Rule, and was of importance for Gāndhī.