Yesterday’s announcement of Nobel Peace Prize has once again sparked the controversy of not awarding the same to Mahatma Gandhi ever. This has been a constant source of unhappiness for us- Indians inclined to view Gandhi as by far the most deserving candidate of the 20th century. A lot of debate has taken place for his omission from this prestigious award. So, what were the reasons for Gandhi not been conferred with Nobel Peace Prize and do we – Indians really need to feel aggrieved and deprived for such an act?
Mahatma Gandhi was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize 5 times - in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 & 1948. But during the first 4 times, British Govt. pressurized the Norwegian Nobel Committee not to award it to Gandhi as that would be seen as accepting British occupation of India as illegal and also led to many more colonies asking for independence from the domination of various European powers. Please remember, many other European countries had similar colonial history viz., France, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain etc. and as such it was more due to political and economic reason that he lost out. It is noteworthy to mention here that the Physics, Chemistry and Literature prizes are announced by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences and the prize for Medicine by the Karolinska Institute but the Peace prize is announced by a committee elected by the lower house of the Norwegian Storting (parliament). So, political consideration while deciding the Nobel Peace Prize winner can never be ruled out. However, racial reason was also another major factor for not conferring Nobel Peace Prize to Gandhi as till about 1960, this award was confined mostly to Europeans and Americans and that too members of Christian religion only. In 1948, before the awards were announced, Gandhi was assassinated and Nobel Prize was never conferred posthumously – that was the rule. According to the rule book in force that time Nobel Prize could be awarded posthumously provided the winner belongs to an organization or he/she had left behind a will declaring somebody as the heir for receiving monetary benefits or recognition etc. So he missed again and forever. But that year, nobody was awarded this prize on the grounds that "there was no suitable living candidate". This is a testimony to the fact that had he been alive, that year’s Nobel Peace prize would surely been conferred on Gandhi but on his death, the winners list was silently but respectfully left open. Many Nobel Laureates for Peace have themselves agreed that Gandhi should have been honoured much before they were honoured. The Dalai Lama, in his acceptance speech in Oslo on 10th Dec’1989, described himself as accepting the award “as a tribute to the man who founded the modern tradition of non-violent action for change, Mahatma Gandhi, whose life taught & inspired me.” Again both Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, have always acknowledged that whatever they learnt and did was by following Gandhi.
A feeling persisted among some of his critics in Europe that Gandhi was pre dominantly an Indian nationalist. So, a lack of appreciation among European politicians and institutions towards the struggle for freedom among non-European people was the primary reason for not conferring Nobel Peace prize to Mahatma Gandhi. One of the proof of such an attitude prevailing among the committee members can be found in the words of one of the committee's adviser, Professor Jacob Worm-Müller during 1930s. He wrote a report on Gandhi, wherein he said, "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. He is frequently a Christ, but then suddenly, an ordinary politician". Gandhi had many critics in the International Peace Movement dominated by European politicians and thinkers and the Nobel Committee during 1930s and 1940s maintained that Gandhi was not consistently pacifist and that he should have known that some of his non-violent campaigns towards the British would degenerate into violence and terror. For this they gave example of Chauri Chaura, in the then United Provinces. During the first Non-Cooperation Campaign in 1920-21, a crowd here attacked a police station, killed many of the policemen and then set fire to the police station. Another frequent criticism from such thinkers was that Gandhi was too much of an Indian nationalist. In his report, Professor Worm-Müller expressed his doubts as to whether Gandhi's ideals were meant to be universal or primarily Indian, "one might say that it is significant that his well-known struggle in South Africa was on behalf of the Indians only and not of the blacks whose living conditions were even worse". The Nobel Peace prize was never awarded to any freedom fighter for leading his country and people for any freedom movement. Gandhi was seen first and foremost as a patriot. In 1947, the committee members comprising of the Labour politician Martin Tranmael was very reluctant to award the Prize to Gandhi in the midst of the Indian-Pakistani conflict and former Foreign Minister Birger Braadland agreed with Tranmael. They cited a statement by Gandhi during one of his prayer-meeting to make their point in refusing Gandhi Nobel Peace prize which was laughable. Based on a telegram from Reuters, The Times, on September 27, 1947, under the headline "Mr. Gandhi on 'war' with Pakistan" reported, "Mr. Gandhi told his prayer meeting tonight 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. If there was war, the Hindus in Pakistan could not be fifth columnists. If their loyalty lay not with Pakistan they should leave it. Similarly Muslims whose loyalty was with Pakistan should not stay in the Indian Union". This statement they used to indicate that Gandhi had given up his consistent rejection of war. It’s ironical that the reasons cited for not conferring the award on Gandhi were the main deciding criteria while awarding the first ever Nobel Peace Prize outside the Euro-American politico-cultural sphere in 1960 and it was not a coincidence that the prize went to somebody who considered Gandhi as his mentor and inspiration. Therefore, the 1960 Peace Prize, to Albert John Luthuli, former President of the African National Congress, who had long engaged in a peaceful struggle against apartheid, was a ground breaking one in the sense that the Committee had finally found a laureate outside the limits of western civilization.
But I feel, Gandhi is much nobler without a Nobel. Why should this be a matter of regret for us Indians and why should we strive for such accolades? Anyone familiar with Gandhi’s life would recognize that Gandhi never cared for such forms of recognition and it is in the fitness of thinking that Gandhi, who left this world with very little on him, should have been unadorned by any titles, awards, formal designations and the likes. The Nobel Prize would have made Gandhi small- as the historian Jens Arup Seip, acting as the committee’s advisor in 1947 and 1948 said, that Gandhi had left such an immense ethical mark on the world that he could “only be compared to the founders of religions”. Considering that its recipients have included naked imperialists such as Theodore Roosevelt, self-avowed terrorist such as Menachem Begin and Henry Kissinger - the architect of the secret bombing of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile etc., it would be doing Gandhi a discredit to place him in that company. Colonization of the mind is more far-reaching than economic colonialism or political domination and one pervasive form of such colonization is the fact that we Indians, as well as other people in the “developing” world, continue to look to the West to validate our lives and recognize our works & achievements to make them more meaningful. Our obsession with the Nobel Peace Prize that was never conferred on Gandhi is not so much inspired by indignation that he was overlooked as by the feeling that we think of our lives as incomplete until we have been given proper recognition by the West. Actually, we should be relieved that Gandhi was not given the Nobel Peace Prize and by this very act, the world has placed Mahatma Gandhi many steps higher than all the Nobel Peace Prize winners combined.
Is it also a co-incidence that Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest literary figure in the world, whom Mahatma Gandhi considered as his Guru for teaching him the ideals of non-violent resistance, had also never been recognized with Nobel Prize for Literature?