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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 48 New Delhi November 19, 2016

Why the Two Greatest Indians were Denied Nobel

Monday 21 November 2016


by Praveen Davar

‘Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.’ So said Albert Einstein on Mahatma Gandhi soon after his assassination on January 30, 1948. Renowned historian Romain Rolland called Gandhi the ‘greatest Indian after Buddha and the greatest human being after Christ’. If Gandhi was the greatest Indian, Jawaharlal Nehru, according to Dr S. Radhakrishnan, was the greatest Indian after the Mahatma. Dr Radhakrishnan said so in 1965 on the occasion of Nehru’s first death anniver-sary. It was reiterated, half-a-century later, by the doyen of Indian journalism, Inder Malhotra, during the celebration of Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary in 2014.

It is surprising therefore, that the two of India’s greatest sons were not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their monumental contri-bution to humanity and world peace. According to the archives of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, 12 Indians, besides Gandhi and Nehru, were recommended by various organisations/eminent citizens (both Indian and foreign) for the Nobel Peace Prize. The names of these Indians were: Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Sri Aurobindo, Vinoba Bhave, Mahesh Yogi, Aga Khan III, Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, H.M. Banerjee, Nalini Kumar Mukherjee, Sanjib Kumar Chaudhuri, B.N. Rau, Rajah Manikam and Dr M.C. Davar (for his efforts to prevent partition and promote Indo-Pak amity).

Mahatma Gandhi was first nominated for the award in 1937 by a member of Norwegian Parliament who wrote : ‘Gandhi’s absolute peace ideal, non-violence has permeated India’s poor and tortured masses. In spite of differences they were now of one mind and willing to endure mistreatment, imprisonment, hunger and death in an unarmed peaceful freedom struggle.’ But the Nobel Committee (NC) rejected the nomination on the ground that Gandhi’s actions in politics were ‘tactical with sly calculations’. In the following two years, 1938 and 1939, Gandhiji was recommended by 27 memebers from “Friends of India” in Denmark. The recommendation was supported by renowned missionary C.F. Andrews and Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland. In 1947 three eminent Indians—C. Rajagopalachari, B.J. Kher and G.V. Mavlankar—nominated Gandhi for the award. A consultant of the NC wrote: “There is no doubt that Gandhi is the spokesman for violence-free resistance, a pacifist in the most radical sense. —For the vast majority of his countrymen he is a prophet like no other since the Buddha.” However, the NC felt that Gandhi had given up his consistent rejection of war. After Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, Norwegian jurist Frede Castberg sent a proposal for a posthumous award for Gandhi. He said that “Gandhi could only be compared with the founders of major religions”. This time the NC wanted to award a posthumous prize to Gandhi but a minor technical hitch became an obstacle to the award: Where will the prize money be sent? Gandhi had left no estate and no testament.

Jawaharlal Nehru was first nominated for the award in 1949 by the universities of Delhi and Bombay who wrote: “During the course of the two years after India attained her freedom, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had made it clear that his country would not align with any of the power blocs into which the world is unfortunately divided today. By thus adopting an independent line of foreign policy he has considerably strengthened the forces working for international peace.” However, Nehru missed the award by a whisker. The 1949 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a Black American, Ralph J. Bunche. By awarding a Black for the first time the NC wanted to send a strong message of racial indiscrimination. Nehru was nominated to the award for another six times till 1961. In 1954 he was nominated, alongwith former British PM Clement Attlee, for “establishing a parliamentary government in India—for his neutralist foreign policy and for upholding the same principles as Gandhi”. The nominators included many international organisations, foreign universities and Nobel Laureates. The documents of the NC suggest that the Norwegian Government was interested to award the Noble Prize to Nehru. However, his firm handling of the Kashmir issue with Pakistan, the accession of Goa and, later, deteriorating relations with China cost him the honour. A member of the NC quoted from a statement of Nehru on the use of military and weapons for the sake of India’s security. He was no more seen as ‘a man of peace’.

It was not only India’s misfortune, but also of the Nobel Committee that two most deserving persons in the world were denied the honour which would have brought greater glory to the award.

The author is an ex-Army officer and a member of the National Commission for Minorities. The views expressed in the article are personal.

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