Gandhi and the Nobel Peace Prize

Nobe Prize is an award bequeathed by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel. It awards excellence in  Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, Literature, and Peace and were first awarded in 1901.

The most peculiar category in all this is, of course, the Peace Prize. It is peculiar for the fact that the criteria for awarding the Peace Prize is not clearly defined and is, often, the most controversial of all the prizes awarded.

As an example, the latest controversy was around the awarding of the Peace Prize to the US President, Barack Obama, within an year of his election to Office,in 2009.

Lets get down to the reason why I am telling you all this. The peace prize was awarded to some truly great people and has high value and honour attached to it. But, one name is missing from that list: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Gandhi, to be noted, was nominated for this award 5 times (!),  in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and, finally, a few days before he was murdered in January 1948. But, he was never given the Peace Prize.

Many greats, who have done wonderful things in their lifetimes, struggle to get a single nomination, but this great man has been nominated 5 times but was not awarded the Peace Prize.

Here, is a report which explains the circumstances surrounding the 5 nominations. It goes thus:

First Nomination:

First time, in 1937 a member of the Norwegian Storting, Ole Colbjørnsen (Labour Party), nominated Gandhi for that year’s Nobel Peace Prize, and he was duly selected as one of thirteen candidates on the Committee’s short list. The committee’s adviser, professor Jacob Worm-Müller, wrote a report , “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, when considering Gandhi as a political leader, he wrote, “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.” He added “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.”

Second and Third Nomination:

Again in 1938 and 1939 Gandhi was renominated by Ole Colbjørnsen, but ten years were to pass before Gandhi made the committee’s short list again.

Fourth Nomination:

After 10 years, in 1947 the nominations of Gandhi for the fourth time by the Norwegian Foreign Office. The Nobel Committee’s adviser Seip wrote, “The following ten years 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 – India’s independence and India’s partition.” Seip also wrote briefly on the ongoing separation of India and the new Muslim state, Pakistan, and concluded – rather prematurely it would seem today and Gandhi’s nomination was rejected.

Final Nomination:

The last time Mahatma Gandhi was nominated was in 1948, but he was assassinated on 30 January 1948, two days before the closing date for that year’s Nobel Peace Prize nominations. But according to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation in force at that time, the Nobel Prizes could, under certain circumstances, be awarded posthumously(occurring after one’s death:). Thus it was possible to give Gandhi the prize. However, Gandhi did not belong to an organisation, he left no property behind and no will; who should receive the Prize money? The Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, August Schou, asked another of the Committee’s advisers, lawyer Ole Torleif Røed, to consider the practical consequences if the Committee were to award the Prize posthumously. Røed suggested a number of possible solutions for general application. Subsequently, he asked the Swedish prize-awarding institutions for their opinion. The answers were negative; posthumous awards, they thought, should not take place unless the laureate died after the Committee’s decision had been made.

On November 18, 1948, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to make no award that year on the grounds that “there was no suitable living candidate“.

So, the award never went to whom Einstein, the greatest mind the World has ever known,  is known to have referred to as, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as [Gandhi] ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

It was not like the award was not posthumously awarded ever. It happened twice:  the 1931 Literature Prize awarded to Erik Axel Karlfeldt, and the 1961 Peace Prize awarded to UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. But, they didn’t think Gandhi was worthy enough of this.

This is perhaps he greatest stain on the Nobel Peace Prize. It failed to recognize one man who shaped the narrative of protests  and non-violent agitation in the 20th Century, a man whom winners of the Peace Prize like Nelson Mandela, and even Barack Obama, have called their inspiration.

This reminds me of a quote from Harsha Bhogle, when asked if it was a stain on Sachin Tendulkar’s record and Cricketing career that he didn’t have a name on the board which lists Lord’s Century makers, to which he quipped, “Is it a loss to Sachin or the Lord’s honours board?”(Or, somewhat to that effect).

This somewhat applies to the Nobel Peace Prize.

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1 Comment

Filed under Gandhi, India, India's Freedom Struggle, Nobel Prize

One response to “Gandhi and the Nobel Peace Prize

  1. Hasan

    I have never read anything on Gandhi(being a confused pakistani) before and was led to your blog from your posts on Jinnah in Express tribune.
    Well I don’t know but the last paragraph really sums up the whole post.

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