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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 42

Gandhiji—Missing Nobel Peace Laureate

Wednesday 8 October 2008, by A K Dasgupta

The question why Gandhiji was never chosen for the Nobel Prize came to the fore again when Geir Lundestad, the permanent Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, after the announcement of the 2006 award to Muhammad Yunus and the Gramin Bank of Bangladesh, observed, “Our record is far from perfect and not giving Mahatma Gandhi the Nobel Prize was the biggest omission”.1 A candid admission indeed! On an earlier occasion, a similar sentiment was expressed by Equil Aarvik, the Chairman of the Committee, when the 1989 Prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama. He said that people “have occasionally wondered why Gandhi himself was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the present Nobel Committee can, with impunity, share the surprise while regarding this year’s award….as in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi”.

However, the Committee had never commented on the speculation as to why Gandhiji was not awarded the Prize, and until recently the sources which could have shed some light on the matter were also not available. Now there are at least three authentic sources to show that Gandhiji was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and finally, a few days before he was assassinated on January 30, 1948. Apart from the book, The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates, by Irwin Abram, a historian of the Nobel Peace Prize,2 there are two other important sources, namely, the diary of Gunnar Jan, who served on the Committee from 1942-66, excerpts from which were made public in 1998, and an article by Qyvind Tqnnesson, Editor of the Peace Prize section of the Nobel Museum of the Norwegian Nobel Institute (Oslo).3 Tqnnesson, who had access to the Nobel Institute archives, provides a fairly good account of how Gandhiji’s name was consistently rejected by the Committee.

SURPRISINGLY, none of these sources mentions that Gandhiji was also nominated way back in 1923. The Ananda Bazar Patrika, the well-known Bengali daily, on November 21, 1930 reported that a New York based newspaper, The Negro World, severly criticised the Nobel Committee for rejecting Gandhiji’s candidature for the Peace Prize in 1923.4 Based on the press reports of the time, the paper said that Gandhiji lost by a narrow margin.5 The Negro World observed that the Prize was being awarded for achieving what it termed “political peace”. The big and powerful nations themselves were responsible for disturbing world peace. Only they could successfully put pressures on the warring nations to sign peace treaties. And they are hailed as peace brokers! Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Peace Prize for successfully negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese War.6 Woodrow Wilson was honoured for playing a leading role in getting the Treaty of Versailles signed which brought a formal end to the First World War.7

The paper surmised that the Committee did not want to antagonise Great Britain, the world’s most powerful nation, against which Gandhiji was fighting. It further observed that as long as real efforts were not made to ensure world peace, there could be no lasting peace. Only such efforts would lead to the removal of all causes of violence. That was the best way to sustain world peace and Gandhiji’s movement was aimed at this goal. The paper, therefore, regretted that those who had been working for real peace were never seriously considered for the award, and Gandhiji was one among them.

Perhaps, while the Mahatma deserved the Nobel Prize, the Nobel Prize did not deserve the Mahatma!


1. The Hindu (Hyderabad), October 17, 2006.
- 2. Irwin Abram, The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates (Boston, G.K. Hall, 1988). An updated edition has been published in 2001 by the Science History Publishers (New York).
- 3. The article has been reproduced in Frontline, March 3, 2000, pp. 94-97.
- 4. The report in the Ananda Bazar Patrika has been included in the first volume of Rabindra Prasanga (pp. 322-23). The publication, in four volumes, is an annotated collection of news reports on Tagore, published in the paper during March 13, 1922-December 31, 1948. The collection was compiled and edited by Chittaranjan Bandyopadhyay and published by Ananda Publishers, the book publication wing of the paper.
- 5. No prizes, however, were awarded for 1923 and 1924.
- 6. Theodore Roosevelt, who received the Peace Prize in 1906, was the 26th President of the USA (1901-09). In the war between the Russian Empire and Japan (1904-05), Russia suffered a series of humiliating defeats.
- 7. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th US President (1931-21) was awarded the Peace Prize in 1919, Ironically, he himself took America into the First World War in 1917. The defeated Germany was rather forced to sign the Versailles Treaty on June 28, 1919 by the USA, Great Britain, France and Italy.

The author is a former Librarian and Member of Faculty, Administrative Staff College of India. He was also the Chief of Research, Eenadu Telugu daily, Hyderabad.

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