His Life: An Illustrious Social Reformer
- Year 1866 – Born in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, India.
- Year 1880 – Married Savitribai.
- Year 1884 – Completed B.A. from Elphinstone College.
- Year 1885 – Became professor at the Fergusson College.
- Year 1889 – Joined Indian National Congress.
- Year 1895 – Selected as the joint secretary of INC.
- Year 1905 – Elected president of Indian National Congress.
- Year 1905 – Established Servants of India Society.
- Year 1912 – Visited South Africa on Gandhiji’s invitation.
- Year 1915 – Left for his heavenly abode.
“What the country needs most at the present moment is a spirit of self-sacrifice on the part of our educated young men, and they may take it from me that they cannot spend their lives in a better cause than raising the moral and intellectual level of their unhappy low castes and promoting their well-being.”
Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a distinguished political leader and social reformer of India during the Independence movement. He is said to be India’s ‘Gladstone’ due to having a unique understanding of financial matters and the ability to debate it with authority. He was the most famous moderator in the Indian National Congress. Also known as ‘professor to order’ due to his extensive knowledge in a vast array of subjects, he was the political mentor of Mahatma Gandhi.
Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born to Krishna Rao, a farmer turned clerk and Valubai on May 9, 1866. He was born in the Kothluk village of Guhagar in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. Because of the infertility of the soil of that area, his father started working as a clerk. Gokhale received his elementary education in Rajaram High School of Kothapur with financial assistance from his elder brother due to the untimely demise of his father.
Despite being born in a poor family, he received an English education due to selfless efforts of his family. For higher studies Gokhale moved to Bombay and completed his B.A. from Elphinstone College in 1884. His generation was supposedly the first to receive a university education in India. Later he joined the Law College in Bombay, but couldn’t complete the degree.
Gokhale married twice in his lifetime. First, he tied his knot with Savitribai in 1880 when he was just 14. She was suffering from an incurable ailment. Then he remarried in 1887. He had two daughters with her second wife. After the demise of his both wives, he didn’t marry again and both daughters were taken care by his relatives.
In 1885, Gokhale moved to Pune and joined the Deccan Education Society. He served as the professor of history and political economy in the Fergusson College. While in Pune, he met Mahadev Govind Ranade, a prominent social reformer and founding member of Indian National Congress (INC). He became politically and publicly active under Ranade’s counsel and joined INC in 1889. In 1895, he was selected as the joint secretary of INC along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak. At that time, the duo was sharing the same motto- To get independence!
In 1905, he was elected the president of the Indian National Congress. In the same year, with the help of Ranade, he established Servants of India Society to promote education, health care and fought against discrimination. According to Gokhale, if Indians would be educated, they would understand responsibility for their country and society, and they would fulfill it well. The society focused upon social reforms without indulging in any political activity. The society has established many schools and colleges, evening classes, etc. The society is still active but at a slow pace.
Gokhale has been the advisor for Gandhiji in his early years. At Gandhiji’s invitation Gokhale visited South Africa in 1912 to help him over the South African problem. Gokhale urged Gandhiji to return India and join the Indian struggle of Independence. He promised to return back and sought Gokhale’s mentorship to embark on his political journey. It is said that Gokhale was also the role model for Mohammad Ali ‘Jinnah’, the founder of Pakistan.
Although being a notable face of Indian Independence Movement, Gokhale was more concerned about the social reforms than the independence. Since he was a communist leader, he had a very harmonious relation with the then British government. Gokhale believed in uprooting social evil with the help of the British government. This ideology led to his confrontation with Tilak on many occasions.
Gokhale was politically active during his later years and contributed in many social events and movements for the upliftment of society. He left for his heavenly abode on February 19, 1915, at the age of 49. At the time of his funeral, Bal Gangadhar Tilak said – “The mainspring of Gokhale’s life was his selfless dedication to the cause of the country. The Diamond of India is taking an eternal rest on funeral ground. Look at him and try to emulate him.”
Thus, he devoted his entire life for the betterment of the society and people of India. As of now his Gokhale Education Society runs more than 50 educational institutions in Maharashtra.