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Why Mahatma Gandhi is deprived of Nobel yet

By: Ashwini Ahuja
Jan-14-2008
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Doesn’t a common question sometimes haunt you- why Mahatma Gandhi- an apostle of non-violence has not been considered for a Nobel Peace Award so far? Did he not deserve the accolade for his contribution in making India an independent country through his agitation of non-violence? Even after the fifty nine years of his death, he is still deprived of the worldwide credit of Nobel which he deserved even in his life time.

Recently, the UNO has commemorated his birthday as a non-violence day. No doubt, the codes of belief which Mr. Gandhi had instilled into his countrymen are now more relevant than the period of his life time. Not only India but the whole world also feels the need of his inspiration at a time when the entire humanity is suffering from the threat of terrorism.

If we peep into the history of Nobel Award, we notice that sometimes, this most worldwide prestigious award had gone to those who really didn’t deserve for it. And those who deserved the acclaim were deprived of it. Mahatma Gandhi was one of them.

Apart from Mahatma Gandhi, there are so many others deserving the award but they were not given it. Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Graham Greene, Anton Chekhov and Kafka are a few to name. One of the greatest Russian novelists, Tolstoy from whom Mahatma Gandhi drew inspiration was also not given Nobel either for peace or for literature.

As for Mahatma Gandhi, he was nominated for Nobel five times- in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and 1948- the last a few days before his assassination- but never awarded the prize. Although, the members of the Nobel committee later publicly expressed their regrets for not crowning him with Nobel. But does mere showing of regret do justice to the great man of India- who is known as the father of nation.

In the year of 1989 at the time of awarding Nobel for peace to Dalai Lama, the chairman of the committee had said that this award was in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi But the chairman of the committee was failed to spell out as to why Gandhi was not awarded so far.

The question is: if the members of Nobel committee were unable to appreciate the struggle for freedom among non- European people? Why was the horizon of Norwegian Nobel Committee so much narrow? If some people blamed that the members of Norwegian committee were afraid of spoiling their relationships with Great Britain, they were not mistaken in their estimation. For whose panic, the Norwegian Nobel Committee could not develop its unanimity, the same UK government in 1969 after 21 years of Gandhi’s martyrdom, issued a United Kingdom double sized postage stamp to commemorate his birth centenary.

In the early 1930s, a group of pro-Gandhi diplomats namely “Friends of India” has been actively established their identities in Europe and USA. In the year of 1937, a member of labour party in Norwegian Storting (Parliament) Ole Colbjørnsen nominated Mr. Gandhi for that year’s Nobel Peace Award and he was duly included among the thirteen candidates in the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s shortlist. Under the guidance of Colbjørnsen, the nomination was forwarded through the leading women of Norwegian branch of “Friends of India”

If the adviser of the Norwegian Noble Committee professor Jacob Worm had submitted his positive report on Gandhi’s nomination, Gandhi might have been bestowed on the award. Mr. Jacob played the trick. On the one hand, he expressed his admiration for Gandhi- “He is undoubtedly a good, noble and ascetic person- a prominent man who is deservedly honoured and loved by the masses of India. On the other hand, considering the worth of Gandhi as a political leader, he wrote critically- sharp turns in his policies, which can hardly be satisfactorily explained by his followers. He is a freedom fighter and a dictator, an idealist and a nationalist…an ordinary politician

The infamy of Chauri Chaura- the first non-co-operation movement in the year of 1920-1921 under the command of Mahatma Gandhi when a crowd attacked a police station killing many cops and setting fire to the police station was also one of the reasons of his omission from Nobel Peace prize that year. That incident had slurred Gandhi’s image of peace-loving leader.

The Nobel Committee adviser Professor Jacob Worm lost no opportunity in mentioning in his report that “He was not consistently pacifist that he should have known that some of his non-violent campaigns towards the British would degenerate into violence and terror.” But the question is: did Mr. Gandhi really intend to unleash terror and violence to oppose the attitude of British regime towards Indian? It was a mistake on the part of crowd for which Mr. Gandhi had the deepest regret.

The second reason for the omission that year was the frequent criticism from non-Indians. They asserted that Gandhi was too much of an Indian nationalist. Hence, Mr. Jacob Worm expressed his own doubts regarding Gandhi’s ideas: whether his ideas were meant to be universal or primarily Indian. And in his report, he also mentioned that Gandhi’s well known struggle in South Africa was on behalf of the Indian only. It was not for the blacks whose living conditions were even worse.

After that, Ole Colbjørnsen renominated Gandhi both in 1938 and in 1939 also but Nobel did not come his way.

In 1947, Mr. B.K Kher from Bombay, Mr. Govindh Bhallabh Pant and Mr. Mavalankar sent nomination for Gandhi from India through Norwegian Foreign office via telegram. Recommend for this year Nobel Prize Mahatma Gandhi- an architect of the Indian nation, the greatest living exponent of the moral order and the most effective champion of world peace today” Consequently, Mr. Gandhi was shortlisted. Among six, he was fortunately one of them.

That year also, the report of the Nobel Committee’s adviser historian Jens Arup Seip was much supportive. Seip wrote, From 1937 up to 1947 led to the event which for Gandhi and his movement was at the same time the greatest victory and the worst defeat – Indias independence and Indias partition

Although, Seip’s report was not critical in the same way as the report written by Mr. Jacob Worm ten years earlier yet the members of committee were unanimously of the opinion that Nobel Peace Prize should never awarded for that sort of struggle and they saw India’s partition as worst defeat which achieved India under the command of Gandhi.

But if we view in the larger perspective the partition was unpreventable to end the violence between the Hindus and the Muslims. During the last months of his life, Gandhi worked very hard to end the violence which followed the partition of India.

Although two acting members- the Christian conservative Herman Smitt Ingebretsen and Christian Liberal Oftedal were in favour of awarding Gandhi but they could not convince the other members. Moreover, a politician Martin Tranmæl from The labour party and a former foreign minister Birger Braadland were not in favour of awarding the prize to Gandhi in the midst of Indian Pakistan conflict.

Moreover, once at a prayer meeting, Mr. Gandhi had made a statement indicating that he had given up his consistent rejection of war. “The Time” on September 27, 1947 had reported under the headline- “Mr. Gandhi on war with Pakistan” where they had published Gandhi’s statement- Mr. Gandhi told his prayer meeting to-night that, though he had always opposed all warfare, if there was no other way of securing justice from Pakistan and if Pakistan persistently refused to see its proved error and continued to minimise it, the Indian Union Government would have to go to war against it. No one wanted war, but he could never advise anyone to put up with injustice. If all Hindus were annihilated for a just cause he would not mind”

The chairman of the Nobel Committee Mr. Gunnar Jahn quoted in his diary that while it is true that Gandhi is the greatest personality among the nominees – plenty of good things could be said about him – we should remember that he is not only an apostle for peace; he is first and foremost a patriot. Moreover, we have to bear in mind that Gandhi is not naive. He is an excellent jurist and a lawyer.” Indeed, three of the five members were against awarding the 1947 Prize to Gandhi but after Gandhi’s statement in ‘The Time’ it was unanimously decided to give the award to Quakers.

In 1948, 1st February was the last date for Nobel nominations that year but unfortunately Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948, two days before the closing date. The Committee received six letters of nomination naming Gandhi. With three names only, Mr. Gandhi that year also came on the Committees short list.

Seip wrote a positive report on Gandhis activities during the last five months of his life. He said that through the course of his life, Mr. Gandhi had put his profound mark on ethical and political attitudes inside and outside India.

So far, nobody had ever been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. But according to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation the Nobel Prizes could, under certain circumstances, be awarded posthumously. Thus, it was possible to award Gandhi the prize but Mahatma Gandhi did not belong to any organisation and he left neither property nor will behind him.

The question was: who should receive the Prize money if the prize was given? The Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute consulted with a battery of lawyers. Before they could think of a way out, the Swedish prize awarding institution released its decision- “posthumous awards should not take place unless the laureate died after the Committees decision had been made” So, that year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to make no award on the grounds that there was no suitable living candidate. Chairman Mr. Gunnar Jahn wrote in his diary: To me it seems beyond doubt that a posthumous award would be contrary to the intentions of the testator

But the bitter truth is: Norwegian Nobel Committee did not want offering the prestigious Nobel award to any south Asian. Upto 1960, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded almost exclusively to Europeans and Americans. Gandhi was very different from earlier laureates. He was no real politician or proponent of international law.

The question is: Had Mahatma Gandhi been alive a few months more, he might have been awarded noble for peace? The prize of 1948 could not have found a living suitable candidate but it was not conferred on Gandhi who truly deserved the prize. It is really nothing more than an indifferent attitude of the members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee towards South Asian achievers.


Ashwini Ahuja

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