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Saturday, May 9, 2020

remembering freedom fighter - Indian National Congress - Gopalakrishna Gokhale

Important pre-scripts before you read something on Indian History and an important personality born this day – 154 years ago !

1.      Once on a train from Central to New Delhi remember buying this English daily ‘The Hitavada’  circulating mainly in Central parts of India.  A photo of its first page (epage) is here.  It was founded in 1911 by  this great freedom fighter in Nagpur, was taken over by Purohit and Company, owned by Mr Banwarilal Purohit,   present governor of Tamilnadu.
2.      In School history books, we read – Congress of Gandhi and Nehru fought the British and got us freedom without shedding blood.  Indian National Congress which fought the British won freedom, after Independence Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister, his daughter Mrs Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi too were the PMs as the Congress party ruled for 6 decades
3.      We never studied nor understood that Indian National Congress was started much earlier, had its  first session in Bombay in Dec ecember 1885 at the initiative of retired Civil Service officer Allan Octavian Hume.  Its aim was to obtain a greater share in government for educated Indians, and to create a platform for civic and political dialogue between them and the British Raj.  Hume organised the first meeting in Bombay with the approval of the Viceroy Lord Dufferin. Umesh Chandra Banerjee was the first president of Congress; the first session was attended by 72 delegates.  It was an elitist group and not a mass movement
4.      In 1907 at Surat there was fight between  the moderates and extremists for the  presidential chair.  Scuffle broke out,  pandal was strewn with broken chairs and shoes were flung; sticks and umbrellas were thrown on the platform.  The session ended with the split in Congress.   
5.      The man who was touted as mentored as MK Gandhi, left the party.  He had earlier started ‘ Servants of India Society’ in Pune, Maharashtra, on June 12, 1905 with aim of promoting    social and human development and overthrow the British rule in India.  Prominent Indians were its members and leaders. It chose to remain away from political activities and organizations like the Indian National Congress.
6.   He was awarded Companion (CIE) – the  Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, an order of chivalry founded by Queen Victoria in 1878.

You may not observed this statue inside Madras University Complex  in front of the Senate house opposite to present MGR / Jayalalithaa samathi at Marina beach .. .. .. the man Gopala Krishna Gokhale.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale CIE  (1866 – 1915)  was a social reformer and a leader of the moderate faction of Indian  Independence Movement. Gokhale was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and the founder of the Servants of India Society.  Gokhale campaigned for Indian self-rule and for social reforms. He was the leader of the moderate faction of the Congress party that advocated reforms by working with existing government institutions.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born on 9 May 1866 in Kotluk village of Guhagar taluka in Ratnagiri district, in present-day Maharashtra (then part of the Bombay Presidency) in a Brahmin family. Despite being relatively poor, his family members ensured that Gokhale received an English education, which would place Gokhale in a position to obtain employment as a clerk in the British Raj. He studied in Rajaram College in Kolhapur. Being one of the first generations of Indians to receive a university education, Gokhale graduated from Elphinstone College in 1884. Gokhale's education tremendously influenced the course of his future career – in addition to learning English, he was exposed to Western political thought and became a great admirer of theorists such as John Stuart Mill and Edmund Burke.

Gokhale became a member of the Indian National Congress in 1889, as a protégé of social reformer Mahadev Govind Ranade. Along with other contemporary leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dadabhai Naoroji, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai and Annie Besant, Gokhale fought for decades to obtain greater political representation and power over public affairs for common Indians. He was moderate in his views and attitudes, and sought to petition the British authorities by cultivating a process of dialogue and discussion which would yield greater British respect for Indian rights. Gokhale visited Ireland and  arranged for an Irish nationalist, Alfred Webb, to serve as President of the Indian National Congress in 1894. The following year, Gokhale became the Congress's joint secretary along with Tilak. In many ways, Tilak and Gokhale's early careers paralleled – though there were  differences in their views concerning how best to improve the lives of Indians. 

The fight between the moderates and extremists came out openly at Surat in 1907, which adversely affected political developments in the country. Both sides were fighting to capture the Congress organisation due to ideological differences. Tilak wanted to put Lala Lajpat Rai in the presidential chair, but Gokhale's candidate was Rash Behari Ghosh. There was scuffle and party split ! In Jan  1908, Tilak was arrested on charge of sedition and sentenced to six years imprisonment and dispatched to Mandalay. This left the whole political field open for the moderates.  Gokhale was deeply concerned with the future of Congress after the split in Surat. He thought it necessary to unite the rival groups, and in this connection he sought the advice of Annie Besant. Gokhale died on 19 Feb 1915.

Gokhale's mentor, justice M.G. Ranade started the Sarvajanik Sabha Journal. Gokhale assisted him.  Gokhale's deposition before the Welby Commission on the financial condition of India won him accolades. His speeches on the budget in the Central Legislative Council were unique, with thorough statistical analysis. He appealed to the reason. He played a leading role in bringing about Morley-Minto Reforms, the beginning of constitutional reforms in India.  Gokhale was a scholar, social reformer, and a statesman, arguably the greatest Indian liberal.

In 1899, Gokhale was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council. He was elected to the Imperial Council of the Governor-General of India in  1901, and again in  1903 as non-officiating member representing Bombay Province.  Gokhale's achievement must be studied in the context of predominant ideologies and social, economic and political situation at that time, particularly in reference to the famines, revenue policies, wars, partition of Bengal, Muslim League and the split in the Congress at Surat.  Gokhale was famously a mentor to Mahatma Gandhi in the latter's formative years.

Nation remembers Gopala Krishna Gokhale.  Some photos of his statue at Chennai (inside Madras University Campus) are posted here.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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