Topic: GOPALA KRISHNA GOKHALE BY D. N. BANNERJEA_গোপালকৃষ্ণ গোখেল

GOPALA KRISHNA GOKHALE
BY D. N. BANNERJEA

(1866-1915)

IN the muster-roll of Indian publicists that have nobly served their country, the late Mr. Gokhale occupied a very conspicuous position,— indeed, a position which, if not unequalled, has never been surpassed, by the foremost of his contemporaries. It were idle or at any rate premature to predict, at this stage, of the coming leader of New India, whose attainments and record of service might eclipse Gokhale' s unique contributions to the Indian cause. For Gokhale placed on the altar of patriotic duty, not simply his talents, energies and abounding enthusiasm, but his very all. Politics were to him not a hobby, to be ridden to death during moments of relaxation from the strenuous duty of piling up riches ; nor yet a pastime when other pursuits became cumbersome and boring, to while away the tedium of an aimless existence ; but an exalted form of duty which demanded sacrifice and study, and intelligent and continuous interest of a life-time. Politics to Gokhale were coeval with life and religion and the most intimate verities of personal life. These were, for him, synonymous with useful citizenship and national duty.

gopala krishna gokhale

Without the slightest attempt at exaggeration it may be said of him that ever since he took his B.A. degree, from Elphinstone College, Bombay, at the early age of eighteen, right up to the date of his retirement practically in 1904, from the professoriate of Fergusson College, Poona, self-dedication to India has been the most dominant motive of his life. And when, in 1906, we see him emerge on the political arena at the termination of his two years' furlough, secured after an uninterrupted educational work for eighteen years, we find the capacity for service and self-sacrifice that was a normal feature of his life, enhanced and intensified. This spirit of self-abnegation never forsook him. At a time when he was at the zenith of fame, having the possibility of lucrative careers well within his grasp, he preferred an arduous sphere with a bare subsistence allowance attached to it, because of his conviction that this sphere would afford wider opportunities for unostentatious service, and because he felt that he would thereby be laying the foundations deep of that spirit of co-operation which is essential to true success in nation-building.

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Gokhale kindled a rare enthusiasm in his pupils and taught various subjects, for example, history, mathematics and economics, in the indigenous institution, on whose Board of Control, so to speak, he was himself a distinguished member. The very fact that his services were successfully utilised in the teaching of such diverse subjects bears witness to his versatility which never compromised his efficent discharge of the duties thrust on him. His colleagues would often chaff him and designate him as " a professor to order " who would step into the breach as emergency arose. He had a fine ear for English style, and would devour with great avidity brilliant master-pieces by English authors of renown. And he was always thorough almost to a fault, in his preparation of lectures and addresses. But though his mental powers were quite capacious and his memory of brilliant retentiveness, the destinies had not ordained that his great successes should be won on the academic battlefield. His services as professor were quite successful, but by no means of unique distinction. He would exercise great discrimination in selecting pupils of exceptional merit for special interest.

His father, who held a small post in Kagal, a state in Kolapur, died when the hero of our sketch was only twelve years old. At the early age of eighteen, Gopalrao had to decide on his life work, having passed his matriculation from the Raja Ram High School in 1881, his " previous " from Raja Ram College in the year following, his first B.A. from the Deccan College in part, and his final B.A. from Elphinstone College, Bombay. So at an age when the minions of fortune are safely cradled behind parental care, and the pampered sons of luxury take a breathing-space before some prosperous berths are found for them, Gokhale was completely thrown on his own resources. But, needless to say, this strenuous discipline bred in him habits of industry, foresight and self-reliance which did splendid service for him, throughout his life and left its imprint on his personality. It is, of course, true that the hard struggles of his early life somewhat contributed to his premature death, if also to his precocity and mental vigour. But we shall express no great surprise at this, if we bear in mind that, with a few exceptions, most of India's illustrious men have had, since his day and before, to smash their way through adversity.

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One word more about his teaching work. It is said that though as professor of English literature he took considerable pains in cultivating in his pupils a desire for correct and luminous style, and took an active interest in debates, recitations and the like, he was at his best when teaching history and more especially economics. From his master, Mahadeva Govinda Ranade, he had learnt how to grasp economic principles and apply them to conditions prevailing in India, thus making the study of economics a matter of lively human interest and national utility. We also learn that Gokhale was very eager in his study of European history, and particularly of English history, because the latter impressed him as neither more nor less than the gradual triumph of democratic struggles, and the slow but sure overthrow of dynastic and oligarchic conceptions. No one could take greater pride in Indian history than he, but somehow he felt depressed to think that there were epochs in Indian history which registered bare chronicles of autocratic beneficence or commercial prosperity or religious triumph, but did not tingle with the keen zest for the democratic idea whose gradual evolution was to Gokhale the very life-blood of the British constitution.

It is rather unfortunate that his versatility and many-sided activities should serve as a formidable barrier to specialisation in any one department of knowledge. For it must be confessed that Gokhale has left behind him almost nothing, by way of original reflections on Indian economics or fresh impressions of even the history of India, which might serve as a fitting monument to his scholarship and erudition, that were very extensive, though by no means profound. We shall have to modify our regrets, however, when we bear in mind, as well we may, that Gokhale's life was always crammed full of useful and altruistic activities, leaving very limited scope for research or feats of learning. During the time that he was fully engrossed with College work he continued as Secretary of the Sarvajanik Society from 1888 to 1896.

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We have referred to Gokhale's appearance on the political arena as taking place somewhere in 1906. By this we only mean his exclusive and whole-time preoccupation with politics. But his political activities carry us to a much earlier date, for we have only to remind ourselves that as early as 1895 Gokhale was nominated as Secretary of the Reception Committee for the Poona Session of the Indian National Congress, and that on the advice of such experts as Ranade and others, he was deputed to give evidence before the Welby Commission in 1896, in the interests of India and, therefore, to a large extent, as a representative of the Indian Congress.

In 1908 we find him win the greatly coveted distinction of being elected the President of the Congress that held its sitting in Poona ; an honour that lay, in his own mind, quite beyond his fondest dreams as he requested his elders for a seat on the coach-box, when Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji was being driven through Indian streets twelve years earlier. Gokhale has been intimately associated with the Congress almost since its inception in 1884.

He was always an advocate of popular causes, and movements aiming at a larger measure of political emancipation and the betterment of the masses, but not being a demagogue or willing to play to the gallery, he was seldom very popular either among the Intelligentsia that were disappointed because of his constant love of compromise, or among those that were not quite articulate and conscious politically, because of Gokhale's extreme restraint and caution both in his utterances and demands.

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Nevertheless, beyond the least shadow of a doubt, Gokhale has fully vindicated his title to be a very influential and prominent tribune of the people. Having broken away from the parochial views and petty bickerings that gather round caste restrictions, narrow religious orthodoxy and petty provincial rivalries, he could not command the same amount of respect and homage that fall to the lot of those that summon the masses to rally round banners emblazoned with popular catchwords. His intellectual pursuits and absorption in the larger, fuller vision of India's future, combined with unceasing endeavour slowly to realise the vision by means of concentrated effort, incapacitated him from untrammelled intercourse with admirers, or critics, which counts a great deal towards popularity in leaders.

We thus always find him studiously dissociating himself from membership of Gaurakshini Sabhas (i.e., societies for the protection of cows) or partnership in anti-cow-killing agitations, that perfectly harmless in themselves and even laudable because of the sympathies shown therein to hoary religious traditions, might occasionally be used by political enthusiasts as a powerful leverage for arousing racial animosities. If he believed in eventual self-government for India as the goal of political endeavour, he would prefer that his countrymen work ed incessantly, honourably, and hopefully by constitutional means, if possible, in co-operation with the Government, instead of arousing the baser passions of an excitable populace through violent appeals to a divinity of implacable hatred. Lord Morley tells us in his " Recollections " published quite recently ''(Macmillian and Co. : 255. net) that in his interviews apropos of the then contemplated Minto-Morley Reforms, Gokhale made no secret of his identification with the demand for full fiscal and political autonomy within the empire, and that he (i.e., Lord Morley), was equally frank in his repudiation of the idea as then lying beyond the region of practical politics. The said " Reforms " being then on the anvil, Lord Morley tells us that he invited Gokhale to co-operate with him by offering suggestions and advice. And never was co-operation more prolific of better results or more honourable in its professed aims. But to quote Morley 's exact words : "I had a farewell talk with Gokhale…. On the whole his tone both attracted and impressed me. He promises very confidently a good reception for our Reforms by the Congress….But whether dealing with Parnell, Gokhale, or any other of the political breed, I have a habit of taking them to mean what they say until and unless I find out a trick. Parnell always so long as we were friends or allies, treated me perfectly honourably…. Mr. Gokhale is to stay in London until the end of the session, and I am in good hopes of finding him a help to me, and not a hindrance, in guiding the strong currents of democratic feeling that are running breast high in the House of Commons. (" Recollections," pp. 171, 286, 321).

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We are now referring to the events that passed with such dramatic rapidity in the course of the year 1909. India was then seething with political excitement and vague hopes of a more promising future. There were sporadic outbreaks of uncontrollable feeling, but not of any appreciable magnitude to alarm level-headed statesmen, at the helm of affairs. Those were feelings of disappointment over pledges that lay unredeemed and brilliant flourishes of rhetoric that led neither to political reform worth mentioning nor even to amelioration of the sad lot of the peasantry and the masses.

The ground-down peasantry were overburdened with new—and in a measure oppressive—impositions in the Chenab Canal Colony. The volume of discontent was swelling because of the sad havoc caused by the repeated visitations of plague and famine, whose memories still lingered and rankled in the minds of prince and peasant alike ; 50,000,000 people carried away, in a little over two decades, by famine and plague alone, in spite of famine-relief operations and the discovery of the rat-flea ! So much for the masses. As for the educated classes, their minds were being burdened, tortured, driven forward by new ambitions concerning India. They were dreaming dreams and seeing visions. Some saw India exalted on a temple-throne. Others thought of the honourable place she was destined to take among the nations. But the actual realisation bore no analogy to the dreams or the tragic suffering mentally endured by those in whose blood burned the consuming fires of patriotism or whose imaginations were electrified by Japan's astounding victories over Russia, as if these were symbols that Asia's age-long secular slavery to Europe was coming to an end. Before Lord Minto's assumption of Viceroy alt y, it was young India's misfortune to be saddled with a Viceroy, ablest no doubt among any on whose shoulders the burden of government has fallen, and possessing great capacity for work, but impatient of new ideals that throbbed in the heart of new India ; imperious and dictatorial to a degree ; disdainful of public opinion and with political vision tainted with the worst ideals of unscrupulous imperialism. It is hardly necessary to mention the name of this distinguished individual. Never before or since has Indian self-respect been more remorselessly crushed or legitimate Indian ambitions more contemptuously scouted. When a history of the repressive measures directed against the renascent sense of nationhood in India comes to be written surely a whole page must be dedicated to this chauvinistic viceroy, who in other respects, has no doubt rendered remarkable services to India.

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It is to Gokhale's credit that passing through the ordeals of these highly critical and trying times, and sharing, to a large degree, the experiences and emotions that were pulsating in the breasts of his countrymen, he never let fall one word from his lips that might be construed as a counsel of despair, nor encouraged another to send round a word that might unlock the floodgates of passion and rancour. He seldom broke faith or went back on his word, unless he was convinced that he had taken a false step or the facts on which he relied were tainted at their source or misinterpreted in the heat of the moment.

It is true that at the Surat Congress of 1906, he condemned the lettres de cachet issued by Lord Curzon as reminiscent of Aurangzeb's severity, and that, moreover, he fully upheld and supported the now historic resolution on boycott of Lancashire goods. But in all this, we see no divergence from his normal behaviour. He would always urge the adoption of mild and moderate measures until the resources of human patience were exhausted, and he saw no ground for hope that the authorities were likely to yield to the reasonable and persistent pressure of moderate appeal. Besides, in his economic creed he was a convinced and consistent protectionist, as most Indian capitalists and publicists are, and from his place in the Imperial Council his speeches urged the abolition of excise duty on Indian cotton. But under the tension of those times, the transition from a mild form of protection for nascent industries to the wholesale boycott of all goods of foreign origin, was very much accelerated by the trying episodes of the Curzonian regime. Besides, the sentiments he then expressed were not so much individual as one of a group of related convictions that heralded the advent of a new industrial India.

Mr. M. K. Gandhi has been, no doubt, the veteran protagonist of the rights of Indian Labour in the colonies of the Empire. And it is only for the last few years, since the outbreak of war, that he has retired, having won the brightest laurels open to meritorious and effective service of a patriotic nature. His propaganda, organised as it was, of passive resistance, achieved partial success occasionally when appeals and entreaties appeared futile and the pressure, reluctantly exerted by Home authorities was quietly ignored or speciously explained away. But it must be here recorded that though Mr. Gandhi was the veteran leader on the spot, Mr. Gokhale was an equally earnest and convinced advocate of the grievances of Indentured Labour in the Council Chamber, nor must it be forgotten that on his election to the Viceregal Council, after the inauguration of the Minto-Morley Reforms, the first brilliant speech that he delivered, and which was conspicuous for its reasonableness and masterly presentation of facts, was one that eloquently and with great emotion championed the cause of the Indian labourer, whose indignities and oppressions make very sad reading.

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Just as memorable was the visit arranged by the Indian Government for the purpose of enabling him to make personal investigations on the spot in South Africa. Gokhale on his arrival there was received with the utmost cordiality and respect by Generals Botha, Smuts and others, was given every facility for studying the facts for himself, and for the due investigation of the phenomena concerned. Even those who suggest that the warm and enthusiastic reception given him by the South African Government, and the honour and confidence bestowed on him by the Home Government led him to make a dangerous compromise at least in theory, in respect of the right of free entry enjoyed by all British subjects into any colony of the Empire, will have to concede that an inch of solid advance made in fact is preferable, to say the least about it, to a mile of problematic advance in theory. Gokhale must be fully conscious that the right to migrate to and from component parts of the Empire was the potential birthright of his countrymen. But he was also aware of the disturbing fact that public opinion in the colony was not amenable to philosophical considerations, that racial prejudice existed, that the composite character of the population there complicated matters still more, and that even among European colonists there were people in different stages of civilisation ; and finally that such embarrassing considerations as differences in standards of comfort, and racial characteristics, could not be revolutionised by a stroke of the pen or a single word of mouth. So he welcomed the opportunities where his mediation could bear fruit, and instead of wasting time on an academic discussion of the rights of British citizenship, which might only exist on paper, he tried to improve the situation enough to cause immediate relief, even though the difficulties and disabilities that yet remain afford plentiful material for the exercise of bold statesmanship, and the sustaining of organised agitation on the part of leaders and followers alike. We see in all this, evidence of practical instincts, which led him beyond the subtleties of a mere discussion of theories, and theories which might have left others despair- ing and despondent, stimulated Gokhale's efforts towards the achievement of the practical, even though his idealism had to be tempered with what were only hard unwelcome facts of an ugly situation.

But the achievement of Gokhale's which will lift him to the highest pinnacle of fame, was his failure (or what seemed like failure) in getting his Education Bill for free and compulsory instruction for the masses passed by the Imperial Council ! He no doubt failed in his objective, but by his heroic efforts towards stimulating public opinion and even educating the official mind out of indifference to the stupendous volume of India's illiteracy, and the moral and material helplessness which it connotes, he has done more than perhaps, he himself had sufficiently thought. For to-day people have begun to realise that the problem is an urgent one, and needs diplomatic and even generous handling. To-day, if a similar bill were to be manoeuvred through the Council, even nominated members would vote in its favour, and even the Moslem League would heartily endorse its soundness and desirability. It was no revelation of Gokhale's that after a century and a half of British rule, only ten per cent, of men and one per cent, of women had derived the benefits of rudimentary instruction.

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But, even so, the focussing of public interest on this question, and on the recognition that no substantial political progress or even social advance is possible apart from the upliftment of the masses, has been encouraged as the necessary sequel to Gokhale's passion for this much needed reform.

The Government of India, we understand, viewed this modest measure with sympathy and even approval, if only because of the progressive views entertained by Sir Harcourt Butler, the Member for Education. But the Provincial Governments were not so advanced as to welcome this step big with meaning and promise for the future of India. Besides, there were even popular bodies that had not sufficiently intelligently grasped the import of this proposal. Still it has stung the Government into strenuous activity and it has discouraged lethargy and indifference, on the part of the people,

No less admirable was his able marshalling of statistics and his moderate though exceedingly convincing presentation of fact and argument.

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His command over the English language, his mastery of the methods of debate, his appreciation of friends, and fairness towards opponents, called forth the admiration and respect of all that had dealings with him.

Even such a past-master in literary style and adept at handling figures as Lord Curzon, declared in Council—not once or twice but repeatedly—that it was a rare honour " to cross swords with the Honourable Mr. Gokhale." Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson, the late Finance Minister of the Government of India, used to compare him to Mr. Gladstone in point of his great ability in the accurate handling of data, and the right interpretation of statistics. When owing to his unavoidable absence from the Council chamber, occasioned by his nomination to a membership of the Royal Commission on the public services of India, his unique qualities of " Leader of His Majesty's Opposition " were greatly missed, Sir Guy frankly confessed before the Members that the discussion of the Annual Budget without the presence of Mr. Gokhale was " like the study of Hamlet with Hamlet left out."

No less conspicuous were Gokhale' s efforts while member of the Royal Islington Commission to press forward Indian claims, to plead for the removal of racial bars and colour bars and the fuller concession to them of positions of trust and responsibility ; for the initiation of a generous policy which will recognise the primacy of the claims of Indians in their own country ; for a fairer recognition of Indian talent and administrative capacity by giving to them higher appointments than the narrow-minded policy of the day had made possible. By skilful thrust-and-parry in cross-questioning ; by offering information where desirable ; by combating ingenious subterfuges and specious arguments offered by the Bureaucracy in India as a reason for shutting out Indians from the higher rungs of the official ladder, Mr. Gokhale did splendid service to the Indian cause. And though Mr. Bhupendra Nath Basu, the present Indian Member of the Council for India, has already characterised the final Report of the Commission as " a mere scrap of paper fit for the waste-basket," in the presence of Lord Chelmsford, it is also true that whatever embodied in the Commission's Report points to the dawning of an ampler day for the youth of India is mainly owing to Gokhale's able and expert advocacy of legitimate claims, in the teeth of the organised resistance opposed by the vested interests in India.

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