Gopal Krishna Gokhale ( 1866-1915)

Gopal Krishna Gokhale was one of the founding social and political leaders of the Indian independence movement. He was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress.

Life of Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Gopal Krishna GokhaleGopal Krishna Gokhale was born on 13th May, 1866 in Banaras in Maharashtra. Although the family was Chitpavan Brahmins, they were poor. 

Gokhale however, received an English education which facilitated him in obtaining an employment as a clerk or a minor official in the British Raj. 

He was one of the first generations of Indians to receive a university education. Gopal Krishna Gokhale graduated from Elphinstone College in the year 1884. 

In addition to learning English, he also was exposed to western political thought and became an admirer of theorists like John Stuart Mill and Edmund Burke Gopal Krishna Gokhale became a member of the Indian National Congress in the year 1889 as a protégé of the social reformer Mahadev Govind Ranade. 

Gokhale along with other leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dadabhai Naoroji, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai and Annie Besant fought for decades to obtain greater political representation and power over public affairs for common Indians. He has a moderate views and sought to petition the British authorities by cultivating a process of dialogue and discussion.

Confrontation with Tilak

Gokhale had visited Ireland and arranged for an Irish nationalist Alfred Webb, and served as President of the Indian National Congress in the year 1894. In the next year, Gokhale became the Congress’s joint secretary along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak. In many ways, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak had a parallel life. 

There were many similarities between them like both were Chitpavan Brahmins, both attended Elphinstone College, both became mathematics professors and both were important members of the Deccan Education Society. 


However, when both became active in the Congress, the divergence in their views concerning how best to improve the lives of Indians became increasingly apparent.

Gokhale’s first major confrontation with Tilak was centered on one of his pet projects, the Age of Consent Bill which was introduced by the British Imperial Government in 1891-92. Gokhale, along with his fellow liberal reformers wished through the Consent Bill to curb child marriage abuses.

However, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was aprehensive of the fact that the British would be interfering and dealing with Hindu tradition for raising the marriageable age. Despite Tilak’s opposition, Gokhale and the reformers won and the bill became law in the Bombay Presidency.

Role as the President of INC

In the year 1905, Gopal Krishna Gokhale became the president of the Indian National Congress and he used his influence to undermine his long time rival Tilak refusing to support him as a candidate for the post of president of the Congress in the year 1906. 

By then, the Congress party was split and Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak became respective leaders of the moderates and the extremists (aggressive) in the Congress.

Gokhale was a moderate reformist whereas Tilak was an advocate of civil agitation and direct revolution to overthrow the British Empire. These two parts of Congress later patched up again after Gokhale’s death. 

Gopal Krishna Gokhle In the year 1905 when he was elected president of the Indian National Congress, he founded the Servants of India Society to specifically further the cause of expansion of Indian education. 

According to him, true political change would only occur when a new generation of Indians became educated. As the Indian Civil Service didn’t make much effort in providing opportunities to Indians to gain the political education, Gokhale hoped the Servants of the Indian Society would fulfill this need. 

The society took up the cause of promoting Indian education and set up mobile theatres, founded schools and provided night classes for factory workers.

Role as a Freedom Fighter and a social reformer

Gopal Krishna Gokhale was more associated in social reforms rather than Indian independence. He wanted changes in India through his reforms. In the year 1899, he was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council. 

He was elected to the Council of India and Governor General of India on 22nd May 1903 as a non-conflicting member representing the Bombay Province. 

He later served to the Imperial Legislative Council after its expansion in the year 1909. During his service there, he earned a reputation of being an extremely knowledgeable person and contributed a lot to the annual budget debates.

His significant reputation with the British can be well understood as he was invited to London to meet with the secretary of state Lord John Morley. Through this visit, he helped shape the Morley-Minto reform which was introduced in the year 1909. 

He was appointed a CIE (Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire) in the year 1904 New Year’s Honors List which is a formal recognition by the Empire for his service. Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a mentor to both Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. In the year 1912, Gokhale visited South Africa on Gandhiji’s invitation.

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi referred to Gokhale as his mentor and guide. He also recognized Gokhale as an admirable leader and master politician. Gokhale was also a role model and mentor of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who in the year 1912, aspired to become ‘Muslim Gokhale’. 

Gokhale had a significant impact on the Indian nationalist Movement. Gokhale with the help of his close relationship with the highest order people of the British India Empire forced India’s colonial masters to recognize the capabilities of a new generation of educated Indians and to include them in the governing process.

Death of Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Gopal Krishna Gokhale passed away on 19th February 1915 at an early age of forty nine years old. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, his lifelong political opponent, said at his funeral, “This diamond of India, this jewel of Maharashtra, this prince of workers is taking eternal rest on the funeral ground. Look at him and try to emulate him”.


The Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE) which is commonly known as Gokhale Institute, is one of the oldest research and training institutes in economics in India. 

The institute was founded with an endowment offered to the Servants of India Society by Shri R.R. Kale and the society is the trustees of the institute.

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