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Remembering Gokhale
By Ajit Ranade
A great nationalist leader and social reformer who influenced economic and development thinking.
Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born on May 9, 1866, and died at the age of 49, on 19 February 1915. During this year and next, we mark a centenary of his death anniversary, and also his 150th birth anniversary. He is described as one of the founding leaders of India's independence movement, having risen to become the President of the Indian National Congress in 1905.
He was a mentor and guru to both Mohandas K Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Gandhi himself considered him a guide, and once called him a "Mahatma". Jinnah was so influenced that he said he wanted to be known as a Muslim Gokhale. Although it is appropriate to label him as a social and political reformer and leader, his name is also associated with an internationally renowned institute of economics, located in the city of Pune. The institute was established in 1930, by the Servants of India Society (SIS) founded by Gokhale himself. The founding Director of Gokhale Institute was the eminent economist DR Gadgil, most famous for the "Gadgil Formula", which specifies how national tax resources are split between the centre and states. The institute has been home to many eminent economists who have made great contributions to national policy-making as well as the teaching of economics.
But Gokhale too in his time influenced our thinking about economic development as well as social reforms. He was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council, and participated actively in budget debates. In those debates he took on the likes of even John Maynard Keynes. Through his speeches he was able to conclusively argue and demonstrate how the British policies were hurting India. Gokhale represented the breed of highly educated Indians, exposed to English education and western philosophy, who became the backbone of the independence movement as well as social reform.
Gokhale was a constitutionalist at heart, and a protege of MG Ranade. But Gokhale's methods should not be interpreted as mindless conformism. He was a man who believed that reform, nay even a silent revolution was possible by means of existing institutions, and not merely overthrowing them. So deep was Gokhale's commitment to service that on founding the SIS, he said, "the Society will train men prepared to devote their lives to the cause of country in a religious spirit, and will seek to promote, by all constitutional means, the national interests of the Indian people".
One of his most illustrious contemporaries, also a Punekar, was Lokmanya Tilak. At one time this duo formed the heart of the intellectual foundation to India's independence struggle. In later years Gokhale's differences with Tilak were magnified as those between the "jahaal" (extremist) and "mavaal" (moderate) nationalists, leading to the split in the Indian National Congress in 1907. Interestingly, the year that he died, 1915, was also the year Tilak published his treatise, the Gita Rahasya, an inspired meditation and unique perspective on the Bhagwad Gita and Karma Yoga. Perhaps there was a subtle influence of Gokhale on Tilak's thinking too.
Gokhale's impact on the national struggle for independence is immense, and it was he who prevailed upon Gandhi to return to India from South Africa. Gandhi met Gokhale in 1896, but eventually managed to return to India in 1915, the same year that Gokhale died. But his earlier meetings in 1901 had great and lasting influence on Gandhi. Gokhale's advice to Gandhi was to tour the length and breadth of the country, "with eyes and ears open, but mouth shut"; absorbing, learning, digesting, but not reacting. Although Gandhi later adopted civil disobedience, which was somewhat contrary to Gokhale's core thinking, his debt to Gokhale was immeasurable. Gandhi described Gokhale thus: "As pure as crystal, as gentle as a lamb, as brave as a lion, and the most perfect man in the political field."