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Issue No.: 572 | February 2015
 

Gokhale And Gandhi – Their Second Meeting

Prabha Ravi Shankar
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Gandhi’s attitude towards Gokhale had a large element of hero worship. It was like the same veneration that Gokhale had for his master M. G. Ranade. Both Gokhale and Gandhi knew that temperamentally they had many differences. Gokhale was amused with Gandhi’s food fancies, nature cure, simple habits, extreme frugality, dislike of western civilization and other fanciful ideas such as travelling third class in train and by trams. Gandhi paid a rich tribute to the work ethics of Gokhale – how he never wasted a minute, his friendships which were for the public good, his talks which had reference to the good of the country and were absolutely free from any trace of untruth or insincerity.

The first meeting between Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Mahatma Gandhi took place on 12 October 1896 at Poona when the latter visited India to secure public support for the Indian struggle in South Africa. Soon after this first meeting, Gandhi began to consider Gokhale as his ‘Political Guru’. They both met for the second time at Calcutta in late 1901. This meeting was far more significant than the first. Gandhi had definitely planned to settle in Bombay as a barrister, primarily with a view to do public work under the advice and guidance of Gokhale and had just assured his friends in South Africa that he would return only if his presence was absolutely necessary. 

He reached India in the second week of December and attended the session of the Indian National Congress at Calcutta in the last week of the same month. His introduction to the Congress was done in an unostentatious manner and he made a speech explaining the grievances of the Indians and asking the Congress to pass resolutions condemning the treatment of the British citizen. He found Gokhale a sympathetic supporter of the Indian problem in South Africa. This was a cause to which Gokhale was in due course to render important service. Gokhale was ready to place all the wisdom of his political experience at the disposal of Gandhi who was seeking to serve the cause of the Indian people. With the help of Gokhale, Gandhi managed to get a resolution passed at the Congress condemning the treatment of Indians in South Africa. 

After the Congress session was over, Gandhi decided to spend some time in Calcutta at the India Club. Gokhale, who was then a member of the Imperial Legislative Council, invited Gandhi to come and stay with him at his official residence on the Upper Circular Road. Accordingly Gandhi lived under Gokhale’s roof for more than a month. This allowed them get to know each other well and it sealed what was to be a lifelong friendship. Gandhi recalled in his ‘Autobiography’: "My stay under the roof of Gokhale made my work in Calcutta very easy, brought me into touch with the foremost Bengali families, and was the beginning of my intimate contact with Bengal.”

In Calcutta, Gokhale introduced Gandhi to P. C. Ray, a Bengali chemist, who later recalled in his memoirs that it was from Gandhi’s lips that he first came to know about the plight of Indians in South Africa and the efforts made by him to seek redress for their grievances. To bring it to the popular knowledge, Ray advised Gokhale that a public meeting be organized and Gandhi should be invited as the principal speaker. Gokhale immediately responded and entrusted Ray with the task of organizing the meeting. 

Gandhi delivered two lectures at the famous Albert Hall – one on the 19 and the other on 27 January 1902. The first lecture was titled ‘My Experiences in South Africa’ and was presided over by Narendranath Sen editor of the Indian Mirror. Gandhi explained the position of the British Indians in that sub-continent. He said that in the Natal Immigration Restriction Act, the law relating to licences and the state of education of Indian children were chiefly matters of concern. All laws were based on racial hatred but he proposed to conquer that hatred by love. While seconding the vote of thanks to the speaker, Gokhale recalled his first meeting with Gandhi in 1896 and how much he had been impressed by ‘his ability, earnestness and tact and also by his manner at once so gentle and firm’. Since then, Gokhale said, he had followed his career with ‘the deepest interest and admiration and having studied every utterance of his and every movement in which he had any share, he would say without any hesitation that Mr. Gandhi was ‘made of the stuff of which heroes are made’. He admired Gandhi’s moral and upright qualities. In spite of all the humiliations to which he was subjected there was no trace of bitterness in him. In Gokhale’s opinion, Gandhi had set an example of how to work in India. "If Gandhi decides to settle in his motherland” he added, "it was the duty of all the earnest workers to place him where he deserves to be, at their head”. This was a great tribute paid to Gandhi by Gokhale. Narendranath Sen was perhaps the only editor who published Gokhale’s speech in his Indian Mirror of 26 January 1902. 

The second meeting was held on 27 January 1902 in which Gandhi mainly spoke on the work of the Indian Ambulance Corps formed during the Boer War (1899-1900). Gokhale presiding over the meeting recalled his last speech and said that the ‘policy that was followed by our countrymen in South Africa in connection with their legal disabilities, could be summed in two maxims which guided it, viz., to stick to the truth at all costs and conquer hate by love. This was the ideal to be realized.’ Once again Gokhale praised Gandhi in a big way. This time, surprisingly, Gandhi felt not only awkward but somewhat annoyed. Gandhi told Gokhale that he had appraised his services to the country all too generously by magnifying little incidents and was ‘too lavish and generous in his praise.’ This is evident from a letter dated 6 October 1909 which Gandhi wrote to Henry Polak, his closest political aide and fellow-seeker, as the latter was also speaking of him in superlatives:

 "I have your letter from Kathore. Can you not dismiss me from your conversations at least with me? I think for the sake of the cause, too, you must leave me out of consideration, except where you may find it necessary to bring me in. I know you will retort that you never unnecessarily discuss me, but that is really not so. Your enthusiasm, at times, as you will admit, thus carries you away. You will find that if you persist there will be a reaction, not against me, which would be quite bearable, but against the cause, which you, at any rate, will not like. I had to speak somewhat like this to Mr. Gokhale also, when I was with him in Calcutta and when he heaped upon me praise that I thought was excessive. Indeed, I spoke to him somewhat bitterly.”

While in Calcutta, watching Gokhale moving in a private carriage, Gandhi innocently asked him as to why he had not opted for public tramcar. Gokhale answered that the choice was not out of love for comfort, but a need for privacy. "I envy your liberty to go about in tramcars” said Gokhale. "But I am sorry, I cannot do likewise. When you are the victim of publicity as I am, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for you to go about in a tramcar.”

Years later, Gandhi pointed out in his paper Young India that being a disciple was more than being a son, it is a second birth, it is a voluntary surrender. He further said, "It was different with Gokhale. I cannot say why, I met him at his quarters on the college ground. It was like meeting an old friend, or better still a mother after a long separation. His gentle face put me at ease in a moment. His minute enquiries about myself and my doings in South Africa at once enshrined him in my heart. And as I parted from him, I said to myself, ‘you are my man’. And from that moment Gokhale never lost sight of me. In 1901 on my second return from South Africa, we came closer still. He simply ‘took me in hand’ and began to fashion me. He was concerned about how I spoke, dressed, walked and ate. My mother was not more solicitous about me than Gokhale. There was, so far I am aware, no reserve between us. It was really a case of love at first sight, and it stood the severest strain in 1913. He seemed to me all I wanted as a political worker – pure as crystal, gentle as a lamp, brave as a lion, and chivalrous to a fault.” 

Gandhi’s attitude towards Gokhale had a large element of hero worship. It was like the same veneration that Gokhale had for his master M. G. Ranade. Both Gokhale and Gandhi knew that temperamentally they had many differences. Gokhale was amused with Gandhi’s food fancies, nature cure, simple habits, extreme frugality, dislike of western civilization and other fanciful ideas such as travelling third class in train and by trams. Gandhi paid a rich tribute to the work ethics of Gokhale – how he never wasted a minute, his friendships which were for the public good, his talks which had reference to the good of the country and were absolutely free from any trace of untruth or insincerity. 

However, before long Gandhi had to leave for South Africa. He thought that he would be away in South Africa only for a few months but he was detained in South Africa until July 1914 and could not return to India until early January 1915. Gokhale visited South Africa in 1912 and admired Gandhi’s capacity for sacrifice. It was Gokhale who persuaded Gandhi to return to India via England on 4 August 1914. Gandhi’s plan was to stay for a few days in England. But he had to stay there for nearly nine months because of the outbreak of the First World War as well as his own illness. He returned to Bombay to a tumultuous welcome on 9 January 1915. 

DR. PRABHA RAVI SHANKAR is Associate Professor at the S. N. D. T. Women’s University, Mumbai. Email: prabharavishankar@yahoo.com

 
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GOPAL KRISHNA GOKHALE (1866 – 1915)

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The Legacy of Gopal Krishna Gokhale

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Laying the Foundation for a Modern India

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His Relevance Today

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Gokhale And Gandhi – Their Second Meeting

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Sir Pherozeshah Mehta’s Tribute

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