Gopal Krishna Gokhale

(1866 – 1915)

The school boy who used to  learn his lessons at night under the light of a street lamp near his humble home due to his family’s poverty, later on became one of the remarkable leaders of India's freedom movement during the pre-Gandhi days, and the one whom Gandhi himself accepted as his political mentor. He was Gopal Krishna Gokhale of Maharashtra, who became a professor of Mathematics, who founded the Servants of India Society, who ran colleges under the Deccan Educational Society, who became a member of the Bombay Legislative Assembly, who became the president of the Congress Party, and who took part in the administrative reforms deliberations in London representing his party – a leader of great creative energy.

He was born in 1866, in Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra, as the second son of Krishna Rao and Satyabhama. His early life, as mentioned above, was in poverty, though his family was a famous one. His father died when he was just 13, and had to complete his school education off the limited money earned by his elder brother. He continued his education, working as a school teacher and writing political articles in some of the famous Marathi journals, and came to the attention of senior political leaders like Bal Gangadhara Tilak. Soon Gokhale became a professor in the Fergusson College, founded by Tilak, and which became a famous center of higher education later.

Gokhale attended the Congress session for the first time in 1889, and his speech was widely appreciated. Though young, the talented professor-turned-politician was deputed to London to represent his party before a commission for administrative expenses of the Government of India. He rose in political ladders step by step, became a municipal councilor, senator of the university, a member of the state legislative council, established himself as a prominent leader, and became member of the central legislative council too.  He visited England several times for promoting the Indian causes there, and once for discussing with the Viceroy important aspects of administrative reforms. In 1905 he was elected as the President of the Congress party. It was in the same year that he founded the Servants of India Society and recruited the youth to work for the progress and development of the country. Gokhale was not an extremist as a politician and this should be how the young Gandhi became attracted to him. In 1912 Gokhale reached South Africa to study the living conditions of the Indians there. When Gandhi launched upon his movement of Satygraha in South Africa for bettering the lot of the Indians there, Gokhale gave him all support, including financial.  When Gandhi returned to India and started to work for the cause of the motherland, Gokhale had advised him to tour the country first in order to get a first-hand idea of the predicament of the people before expressing in public about public affairs.

Gokhale died of poor health in 1915, leaving his legacy to Gandhi and others.