Gopal Krishna Gokhale was one of the most notable pioneers of the national movement of India and the founder of the Servants of India society. Gandhi considered this social reformer to be his political mentor. Gokhale was one of the senior leaders of the INC, and through the society he founded, he tried to reform the social and political norms for the betterment of the common people. He advocated the application of non-violence.
Family, education and early career
Gokhale was born in a village of Maharashtra to a poor family of Krishna Rao, a farmer turned clerk, who managed to give his son an English education despite the austere family conditions. Later he went on to receive a university degree from Elphinstone college of Mumbai, which was rare in those days. His strong intellect enabled him a fine command of English political theory and the English language, helping him become a teacher in the New English School, Pune. He also became the Principal of Fergusson College, which he had founded. His association with Mahadev Govind Ranade, the learned social reformer, took him closer to politics, leading to his becoming the secretary of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha.
Association with Indian National Congress and rift with Tilak
Gokhale joined the INC in 1889 and within few years became one of their most prominent leaders, at par with Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was his contemporary but with a different mindset. Gokhale had a moderate point of view and attitude, believed in nonviolence, and wanted to end the British Rule through dialogue and consensus. Though he and Tilak were the Joint Secretaries of the Party, their sharply divergent opinions were getting difficult to reconcile. In 1905 Gokhale became the president of the INC and the party was split into two groups of moderates and extremists under Gokhale and Tilak, respectively.
Foundation of Servants of India Society
Gokhale believed that education was the utmost important tool for every Indian to grow in life. His sole motive in founding the Servants of India Society was to create awareness among the people about their civil duties that can bring a major political change in the country. This society was formed to educate people about the current scenario of the country and their duties to improve it. They founded schools, colleges, established mobile libraries, and arranged for formal education for people living under the poverty line.
Cordial Relationship with British Government
Gokhale's main motive was to see a social reform towards betterment. He never believed in aggressive movements and hence proffered to work in association with the existing British Government. This cordial relationship helped him to rise high in his political career and he became the Governor General of the country in 1903. His close rapport with the British and increasing political power worsened the existing enmity between him and others like Tilak.
Mentoring Gandhi and Jinnah
Gokhale was a role model for Mahatma Gandhi, who received personal guidance from him about the current political and social condition of India. Gandhi described Gokhale as a true gentleman, brave and pure in heart, yet a master politician of India who could alter the fate of the country. Gokhale also influenced Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, along with several other staunch Muslim leaders and spiritual heads.
Gokhale was a very active man and travelled abroad extensively for political reasons. However, excessive stress, work pressure and ailments like asthma and diabetes worsened his physical conditions. Gokhale breathed his last on 19 February 1915, at a premature age of 48.
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