The Mahatma's mentor

The Mahatma

On the occasion of Gopala Krishna Gokhale's 147th birth anniversary on Thursday, Dr Janamaddi Hanumath Sastri recollects the great nationalist's...

On the occasion of Gopala Krishna Gokhale's 147th birth anniversary on Thursday, Dr Janamaddi Hanumath Sastri recollects the great nationalist's service to the country. Among other things, Gokhale introduced free primary compulsory education bill in the erstwhile Imperial Legislative Council in 1911

"I was in quest of a really truthful hero in India and I found him in Gokhale. His love and reverence for India were truly genuine. For serving his country, he completely eschewed all happiness and self interest," said Mahatma Gandhi, while paying tribute to Gokhale.

Gopala Krishna Gokhale was born on May 9th, 1866, in a poor Maharashtrian Brahmin family in Kouluk village, Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. His father, Krishna Rao, died in 1879, leaving behind his wife, two sons and four daughters. Govind Rao, the elder brother of Gokhale, helped him complete his high school education.

Gokhale won a scholarship and graduated from the Elphinstone College,Mumbai in 1884. He attained distinction in English and Mathematics. He joined the Law College and had to discontinue his studies just to help his family financially. He worked as a teacher in New English School, Pune. He attracted the attention of great leaders and educationalists. At the call of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Prof Agarkar of the Deccan Education Society, Gokhale became a member of the Deccan Education Society and took to teaching in Fergusson College, Pune.

In 1886, he entered public life and contributed articles to 'Maharatta' and 'Sudharak' journals. He became the honorary secretary of the Sarvajanik Sabha and editor of its quarterly journal. In 1895 Gokhale was chosen secretary to the Indian National Congress and in the same year he was elected to the senate of Bombay University.

During 1898-1906 he was member of the Pune Municipality and was its president twice. He started the Servants of India Society for training a number of young men to take up social service. The members of the society were sworn to poverty. They were enlisted to serve as volunteers for the social political and economic welfare of India. Great men like Dadabhai Naoroji, Ferozshal Mehta, Edulji Wacha encouraged Gokhale in his public life. The most dominating influence in his life was Madhaev Govind Ranade who trained him in public life.

Gandhiji came to India from South Africa in 1996 to seek help from his motherland in his fight against racism in South Africa. He met Gokhale and was deeply influenced by his personality. He accepted Gokhale as his political guru. Gokhale joined the Indian National Congress in 1889 and went to England, along with Lala Lajpat Rai. He was there for 49 days and addressed 45 public meetings in different towns, explaining the plight of India under the British rule.

In 1897, severe plague was raging in then Bombay presidency. Gokhale, with the help of a band of volunteers rendered yeoman service to the affected people. In 1899 Gokhale was elected member of the Bombay Legislative Council for two years. He raised his voice against the unsatisfactory working of the famine code. He opposed the introduction of the principle of separate electorates for different communities. In 1902 he was elected member of the Imperial Legislative Council, after the retirement of Ferozeshah Mehta. During the budget session in 1903, he pleaded with the government to start small scale industries and to abolish sale of intoxicants. Gokhale introduced his free primary compulsory education bill in the Imperial Legislative Council in 1911. He concluded his speech on the bill as follows:

"I know that my bill will be thrown out before the day closes. I make no complaint. I shall not be depressed. I have always felt and often said that we of the present generation in India can only hope to serve our country by our failures. The men and women who will be privileged to serve their successes will come later. My Lord, whatever fate awaits our labour, one thing is clear: we shall be entitled to feel that we have done our duty and where the call of duty is clear, it is better even to labour and fail than not to labour at all�" The bill was thrown out as anticipated. At the invitation of Gandhiji, he visited South-Africa in 1912. He was moved to see the deplorable conditions of the Indians there and he helped Gandhiji by collecting funds to help the people there. In 1912, the Government appointed the Royal Commission to enquire into the civil services in India. He collected evidence and went to England.

Gokhale was a mentor to Gandhi in his formative years in 1912. He was also a role model and mentor of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.A He strove tirelessly for the welfare of the people. He was a statesman, an idealist and a dreamer. On February 19, 1915 his end came peacefully. A Bal Gangadhar Tilak, his lifelong political opponent, said at his funeral. "This diamond of India, this jewel of Maharastra, this prince of workers, is taking eternal rest on funeral ground. Look at him and try to emulate him".

(The writer is a retired lecturer in English and founder-secretary of CP Brown Library)

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