Gandhi and the Nobel Peace Prize
- By Thomas Weber
The main institutionalised forms of recognition for those who have made a significant contribution in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, as well as for those working for peace (and more recently in the area of economics), are the Nobel prizes. When one thinks of major figures who have been engaged in the advocacy of peace during this century the name of Mahatma Gandhi springs readily to mind. It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to learn that Gandhi was never awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
Nobel Peace Prize chronicler Gray suggests a "curious omission" when men like Martin Luther King Jr. (the 1964 laureate who acknowledged Gandhi as his mentor) and 1960 Nobel Prize winner Albert Luthuli (who applied Gandhi's principles in South Africa) are duly honoured but Gandhi, "the first to employ nonviolence in a political context, was never awarded the Peace Prize".1 He adds that "A great many people have wondered, over the years, why Gandhi was never chosen for a Nobel Peace Prize."2
Lipsky, in his account of the history of the Peace Prize, noted that even the relatively narrow range of choice circumscribed by the Nobel Committee was no guarantee that it would not be subjected to the criticism which "is the lot of any one who seeks to make a selection from among a highly qualified field."3 The greatest furore, he claims, resulted from the failure to award the Prize to either Tolstoy or Gandhi. In the case of Gandhi he points to a 1934 editorial in the Christian Century as expressing widespread opinion that "if Gandhi is not the most logical candidate for the Nobel prize, then the popular idea of the function and purpose of that prize needs to be revised."4
In a scholarly review of the Prize, Abrams also makes the point that there is a conspicuous and unjustifiable absence of war-resisters and non-resistant among the laureates and concludes that "even less defendable is the parochial neglect for so long of the non-western and non-Christian world."5 He admits that while "there have not been many serious candidates...it does the Committee little credit to have found a place for a General Dawes6 in its rolls, and none for Mahatma Gandhi."7
Even August Schou, then director of the Nobel Institute, in his assessment of the Peace Prize awards, admitted that
One outstanding criticism is that the Prize has never been awarded to "real" pacifists. But if we run through the list of all those pacifists who have been proposed only one name really seems to justify this objection: namely, that of Mahatma Gandhi.8
The Awarding of Nobel Prizes
The last will and testament of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, dated 27 November 1895, stipulated that the bulk of his considerable fortune was to constitute a fund known as the Nobel Foundation. With Nobel's death, on 10 December 1896, and the making public of the will, the legal deficiencies and flaws of the document came to light. Its proclamation was greeted with criticism and protest, family members were shocked and the intended prize-givers expressed misgivings and doubts about its provisions.
The fund as yet did not exist and the institutions assigned to award the prizes from the interest provided by the fund were requested to undertake a substantial additional work load without prescribed enumeration or "instruction as to the procedures in cases where no suitable candidate could be found."9 However, due to the tireless efforts of the executors of the will, and in particular those of the young Ragnar Sohlman, Nobel's last secretary, the obstacles were overcome and the machinery for the awards was finally set up. As Schou commented, the setting up of the Foundation was generally "received with acclamation throughout the civilised world."10
The prizes were to go to those individuals who had best served humanity in the previous year. A note included with the will expressed Nobel's desire "that in awarding the prize no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not."
Three prizes were to be awarded to researchers in physics, chemistry and medicine, a fourth was for "idealistic literary accomplishment" and finally, the fifth prize, was to go to the person "who had worked the most or the best for the fraternity among peoples and the abolition or reduction of permanent armies, as well as the establishment and promotion of peace congresses."
Nobel's intention to institute a peace prize had already been expressed in his earlier will of 1893 and in a letter to Baroness Bertha von Suttner.11 Further, his commitment to peace was made clear when he left 1% of his assets to the Austrian Peace League.12 The proposed Peace Prize, however, was plagued with controversy from the moment Nobel's intentions became known.
The Chemistry, Physics and Literature Prizes were to be allocated by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, and, in the case of medicine, by the Karolinska Institute. However, controversially, the Peace Prize was to be awarded by a committee elected by the lower house of the Norwegian Storting (parliament). Why Nobel stipulated this is still unclear. Perhaps he saw it as a way of lessening the tensions that then existed between the two countries, or it may have stemmed from his regard for Norwegian poet and pacifist Björnstjerne Björnson, or the peace work of the Storting in the early 1890s.13 Whatever the reason, Swedes were critical seeing the provision as detrimentally affecting "Sweden's political interests and her relationship with Norway."14 Even the Swedish king was hostile, believing that Nobel's decision was influenced by "peace fanatics and especially women."15
When the statutes of the Norwegian Nobel Committee were finally constituted they contained a number of compromises. Instead of being restricted to individuals as Nobel intended, "institutions were added in order to appease some of the Swedish opponents of the prize", and, again, deciding that his wishes were impractical, it was determined that the Prize would not be restricted to works undertaken in the previous year.16 Further, according to Abrams, there is evidence that "Nobel wished his money to be used not so much to reward past performance as to free individuals from financial cares so that they could be of greater service in the future."17 This however was not made explicit in the will and consequently the Prize often went "to persons whose greatest contribution was far behind them"18 and to those who had no need of being freed from financial cares in order to be able to continue in service.
Before a Nobel Peace Prize is awarded several steps must be fulfilled. First, candidates must be nominated, and the right of nominating candidates is restricted to certain individuals: present and past members of the Nobel Committee or the Norwegian Parliament, members of the various parliaments of the world, members of the International Court of Justice at the Hague and of the International Court of Arbitration, executive members of the Permanent International Peace Bureau, members of the Institute de Droit International, serving university professors of law, political science, history and philosophy, and holders of the Nobel Peace Prize.19
In order to be considered for a particular year nominations must be submitted by the beginning of February. In its spring session the Committee shortlists the nominees on whom the Institute is to provide special reports.20 These reports are then submitted to the autumn session. The Committee usually makes its final decision early in October and if an award is to be made (on several occasions there have been no awards because of war or because no candidates were considered suitable) the Prize winner and press are notified. The ceremony takes place on 10 December, the anniversary of Nobel's death, in Oslo.
Attempts to determine the reasons for Gandhi's omission from the ranks of laureates is plagued by procedural difficulties. The Nobel statutes forbid public revelation of the deliberations of the Committee or the disclosure of the list of nominees for any given year.21 Although some indication of the reasons for decisions are now given, the Norwegian Committee had, before the 1960s, chosen to interpret the rule reasonably strictly.22 Norwegian freedom of information legislation is limited to government agencies, and, consequently, cannot be used for the public scrutiny of the Committee's deliberations.
The 1937 Nobel Peace Prize
In 1934, in an editorial, the journal The Christian Century suggested the nomination of Gandhi for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The note continued:
Why not award the Nobel peace prize to Gandhi? It would be no personal favour to him and he probably does not want it. The honour would not greatly impress him and he would not know what to do with so much money except give it away. These are all high qualifications for such a prize. The Nobel Committee could find no worthy recipient for the award in 1933. This is the seventh time in thirty-five years that the prize has been reserved. Of the twenty-five awards that have been made to eminent promoters of peace, too many have gone, as the Stockholm peace society protests, to "presidents, ministers and other high officials" and too few to "working friends of peace or to really radical proponents of peace and disarmament." It is asserted that the founder's intention was to encourage bold dreamers and prophetic spirits whose ideas are too far ahead of their time to win attention without some such adventitious aid, rather than to reward practical politicians who merely negotiated another treaty or took another mile of trench in the long campaign against bloodshed....23
Agatha Harrison, an English Gandhi follower, was accompanying the Mahatma and Rajendra Prasad during their tour of earthquake stricken areas of Bihar when the editorial appeared. Harrison showed Gandhi, on his weekly day of silence, the "interesting suggestion." She records Gandhi's reaction:
The expression on his face was a study as he read it through carefully. Then, selecting a very small scrap of paper, he wrote; "Do you know of a dreamer who won attention by `adventitious' aid?" With a broad smile he handed this to me and went on with the work I had interrupted.24
Gandhi and his ideas of nonviolence were well known by this time. As the leader of the famous Salt March to the sea-side village of Dandi to challenge the might of the British empire by breaking the iniquitous laws imposing a tax on salt, he had been Time magazine's "Man of the Year" for 1930; and in 1934 his non-violent philosophy was widely publicised in America through Richard B.Gregg's landmark book The Power of Non-Violence. The Christian Century suggestion of a Peace Prize nomination for Gandhi was in the circumstances a reasonable one but no official nomination by anyone with the requisite standing was forthcoming.25 After assessing Gandhi's thoughts on international affairs, political scientist Paul F.Power, has maintained that "Gandhi deserves a place among the great spokesmen for peace" adding that the 1934 Christian Century proposal "deserved considerably more serious attention than it received from world opinion".26
The story however did not end there. Gandhi was officially nominated several times before the end of his life. The first nomination was by Norwegian parliamentarian Ole Colbjørnsen in 1937, and the nomination was repeated during the following two years.27
There is historical evidence that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has been influenced in its decision making and the accusation has been made that Gandhi was deprived of the 1937 Prize because of pressure from the British government.
Many have commented that it appears that Nobel had drafted the provisions of his will dealing with the Peace Prize with his old friend the professional pacifist Baroness von Suttner in mind. Suttner wrote tirelessly on peace and was honourary president of the Permanent International Peace Bureau. She was however overlooked as the peace laureate during the first four years of the award causing "a good deal of dismay."28 This led Nobel's nephew Emanuel Nobel, a family member who had refused to join with the others in their attempt to contest the will, to intervene. He informed committee member Björnson that he knew from his uncle's remarks that the Prize was intended for Suttner. One of the witnesses of the will, Lieutenant Ehrenburg, wrote to Björnson in a similar vein, and the following year the Baroness was duly awarded the Prize. At the awarding ceremony Björnson declared that the choice of Bertha von Suttner was "a duty to Nobel's memory."29
The announcement of the 1935 award, which was delayed for almost a year, shows that the Nobel Committee was also sensitive to international pressure. The leading candidate for the Prize, passionate German journalist, pacifist and opponent of German rearmament, Carl von Ossietzky, was at the time being held in a Nazi concentration camp. Whether this should influence the awarding of the Prize to Ossietzky, according to Lipsky, resulted in a serious wrangle within the Committee:
Certain members of the committee led by Halvdan Koht, the Norwegian foreign minister, were reluctant to do anything that might place Norway in an awkward position in relation to Germany and they were sincerely apprehensive of the consequences that might follow if the Nazi regime were offended.30
Not only the Committee but also Norway itself split on the issue. Twenty-one nations and hundreds of eminent people petitioned for the designation of von Ossietzky and a world wide movement was organized under the slogan "Send the Peace Prize into the Concentration Camp."31
The German government warned the Committee not to provoke the German people by rewarding this traitor to our nation. We hope that the Norwegian government is sufficiently familiar with the ways of the world to prevent what would be a slap in the face of the German people.32
The stalemate led to the resignation of opposition members, the former premier and the former foreign minister. An amendment of the rules of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to exclude persons who held Cabinet positions in the Norwegian government was introduced in 1937.33 A week after the resignations, towards the end of November 1936, the awarding of the Prize to von Ossietzky was announced. An official German government communique declared that the award to a "notorious traitor" was a "brazen challenge and insult to the new Germany", and shortly thereafter Hitler, in order to avert repetition of such "shameful occurrences", forbade the acceptance of the Nobel Prize "to all Germans for all future time."34
The paper Germania, following Gandhi's nomination in 1937, remarked that "One is astounded time and again at the fatal capacity shown by certain circles in Norway of giving offence to the great Powers through institutions which are supposed to aim at fostering peace among nations."35 The words "Norway's fatal capacity of giving offence to the great Powers" were reproduced in the Norwegian press, which, the British ambassador in Oslo commented, "after the Ossietzky affair regard the Nobel Committee as capable of anything."36
These instances show that in its decision making capacity the Committee could be made to feel the pressure exerted by outside groups. Although the ability to withstand such pressure in the future had been enhanced with the amendments to the rules of the Nobel Committee in 1937,37 it is not unreasonable to assume that the "von Ossietzky affair" was not quickly forgotten and that other members of the Committee maintained a concern about their country's international standing and well being when conducting their deliberations.
The Civil Disobedience movement, launched by Gandhi's celebrated Salt March, petered out during 1933 and was finally officially suspended by the Indian National Congress in mid 1934. From the time of his release from prison, in August 1933, Gandhi turned his back on active politics to concentrate his energies on welfare work for India's "untouchables". And this work, to which he devoted himself for the next half a dozen years, was not threatening to the colonial rulers and indeed earned him praise even from his political opponents. He was not to recommence the struggle for independence until the Second World War was well under way. 1937, in short, was a year during which there would have been as little British objection to Gandhi receiving a Nobel Peace Prize as any in the Mahatma's active political career.
Cecil Dormer, Britain's representative in Oslo, reportedly believed that Gandhi's candidature aroused more interest than it otherwise would have, owing to comments in the German press which had been reproduced in the Norwegian papers. In an urgent lengthy letter, dated 7 April 1937 and addressed to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden, he quotes the Volkischer Beobachter as editorialising that "Englishmen who were unable at the time to understand the German attitude when the Nobel peace prize was awarded to the traitor Ossietzky will now perhaps begin to understand it."38 Almost three months later, Patrick Ramsay, the British representative in Copenhagen, informed Eden of strong Scandinavian feelings in favour of Gandhi's candidature.39
The Charge of British Interference
There has been much speculation as to the reasons for Gandhi not receiving a Nobel Peace Prize, most of it, unfortunately, without any basis in fact. Easwaran, for example, maintains that it was
mainly because peace has been so poorly understood. The word "peace" is publicly used with such contradictory meanings that acts of war and preparation for war are easily passed on in its name.... Therefore because Gandhi did not publicly stop an Open war between two countries his relevance to the peace process went unnoticed during his lifetime.40
That Gandhi's relevance to the peace process was noticed even during his own lifetime is clearly attested to by the number of books dealing with precisely this connection published before the Mahatma's death.41 In making his further claim regarding the public stopping of wars, Easwaran has obviously not taken the trouble to look at the list of laureates. Perhaps he wrote his piece on Gandhi when the memory of the Prizes for Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho (1973) and Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin (1978) were still very much to the fore in the public consciousness. It should, however, be borne in mind that during this period many of the other Prizes went to those involved in peace demonstrations, those helping the less privileged, those championing a fairer economic world order, social justice, the cause of prisoners of conscience and refugees, as well as those opposing their own totalitarian governments. Andrei Sakharov (1975), Amnesty International (1977), Mother Teresa (1979), Lech Walesa (1983), Desmond Tutu (1984) and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985) could by no stretch of the imagination be thought of as having publicly stopped a war between two countries any more than Gandhi had.
During the 1930s and 1940s, when Gandhi could have been a contender, the Prize winners included pacifist writers (e.g. Sir Norman Angell, 1934, Carl von Ossietzky, 1936, and Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, 1937), the International Office for Refugees (1938), the International Committee of the Red Cross (1944), promoter of the United Nations, Cordell Hull (1945), and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom worker Emily Green Balch and her joint 1946 laureate John Raleigh Mott,42 who had devoted his life to the Young Men's Christian Association.
Speculation on the reasons for Gandhi's omission from this list take on a far more accusatory tone in the writings of B.Bissoondoyal and K.P.Goswamy. Without providing any documentary proof they dress up conjecture as fact and although their reasoning, as with Easwaran's, contains several inaccuracies their charges warrant further consideration.
In his small book Mahatma Gandhi: A New Approach, Mauritian Indian writer Bissoondoyal, states that "For all time to come some will want to know why Tolstoy was refused the Nobel Prize and, later, his disciple Gandhi."43 He continues by informing us that although Gandhi was acclaimed the world over as the greatest man of peace [he] went unnoticed by the Nobel Committee even when a formal proposal was made in 1937.
The Swedish Nobel Prize Committee awarded a prize to the greatest man of peace for every year and a man like Winston Churchill who never believed in peaceful methods was awarded a prize. Even one of Gandhiji's disciples of U.S.A., Martin Luther King, was awarded the peace prize although posthumously. But it eluded Gandhiji. It was too much for British Raj to agree to Gandhi being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Bissoondoyal then quotes K.P.Goswamy (without giving any reference) as claiming:
It is not known to many in the country that Gandhi's name was in fact officially proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937 but could not materialise because of the vehement opposition of the British Government.44
It may be instructive to investigate the above assertions in order. It is quite true that Gandhi was formally nominated for the 1937 Peace Prize. It is however unlikely that Gandhi's nomination "went unnoticed" in the deliberations for that year - after all, it was submitted by a Norwegian parliamentarian, the well known and influential labour leader, Ole Colbjørnsen. The initiative for the nomination appears to have been taken by the Friends of India Society, of which Madame Colbjørnsen was the vice-president. The president of the society, Bokken Lasson, is reported to have claimed in the press that the society "shall not give in until Gandhi receives the Nobel peace prize."45
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by the Norwegian not the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee. In his mention of Churchill, Bissoondoyal manages an intellectual sleight-of-hand. Churchill was indeed awarded a Nobel Prize; however, it was a prize for literature not for peace46 - and literary talents need have no connection with beliefs in "peaceful methods". Martin Luther King was awarded the Peace Prize in 1964; he was assassinated in 1968.
These inaccuracies are the result of sloppy research and in themselves are of little significance. However the assertion that Gandhi was "deprived" of the 1937 Peace Prize due to British pressure is a serious charge and, as with Abrams' insinuation that racism may have been the motivating force behind Gandhi's omission, may contain more than a grain of truth.
Indian essayist Das, in a more sophisticated article, asserts quite bluntly that "Britain was highly perturbed when it learned that the doughty naked fakir was being considered for the prize. If he did get it, it would have meant severe political repercussions in Britain's colonies."47
According to Das, "British government officials silently castigated the European zeal to award the peace prize to Gandhiji and termed their vigorous attempts as an over reaction to Nazism."48
Das' analysis is more scholarly than that of Bissoondoyal and Easwaran lending it a greater air of authenticity. Unfortunately he does not provide footnotes so that his sources can be checked. In reality his article is little more than a reproduction of Dormer's letter informing London of Gandhi's nomination and a mention of the Ramsay letter.
Das gives no evidence of any reaction in official circles following these communications. In fact, he admits that "no clear documentary evidence to prove that Britain prevented the Nobel Committee from giving the prize to Gandhiji in 1937" exists but nevertheless concludes that "Anthony Eden - Winston Churchill's son-in-law, silently worked overtime on this."49 The basis for this assumption is the "unscheduled and mysterious movements of British officials between London and Oslo" as reported by the Times and other British papers at the time. "The brain behind all this", Das adds, "was Eden."50
Here his troubles start. The index to the Times has no reports of unscheduled and mysterious official movements between London and Oslo. If Das had gone to the trouble of looking at the London Foreign Office records that bear on the issue a little more closely, a different picture may have emerged.
The Dormer letter, which forms the basis of his speculation, contained a pertinent postscript and official comment which he conveniently ignores. The P.S. reads:
The comment on the file, signed by G.Vereker,52 states that "If the Nobel Committee wish to make fools of themselves I suppose we cannot prevent them."
Sir Patrick Ramsay, the British representative in Copenhagen, also wrote to the Secretary of State about Danish women's support for Gandhi's candidature. The sentiments of the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom, and especially its Danish chapter, could not have had any bearing on the award for Gandhi and of themselves add little to the debate. However Ramsay's letter reporting the women's position also contains an interesting official comment - one completely overlooked by Das. The note, by Laurence Collier, a Counsellor in the Diplomatic Service, reads:
I, personally, wouldn't worry much if Mr. Gandhi was chosen; & if he is, I hope we shall not be so foolish as to make a fuss about it, as the Germans did about Ossietzky. It doesn't really matter who gets these "prizes".53
Das' reference to Eden being Churchill's son-in-law, besides being factually incorrect, is in keeping with Bissoondoyal's intellectual subterfuge when referring to Churchill. By bringing Winston Churchill into the argument Das is playing on negative Indian emotions: following Gandhi's talks with Viceroy Irwin after the Mahatma's release from imprisonment temporarily ended the 1930 Civil Disobedience Movement, Churchill stated publicly that he was revolted by the nauseating and humiliating spectacle of this one-time Inner Temple lawyer, now seditious fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceroy's palace, there to negotiate and to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.54
And who, earlier, at an open meeting of the Indian Empire Society had declared that "Gandhi-ism....will have to be grappled with and finally crushed."55
Although Churchill led the opposition to concessions for India, he had been on the back bench since before the turn of the decade and would remain there until the outbreak of the war. Though a vehement critic of Gandhi and the government's India policy he was in no political position to have any influence with those who could pressure the Norwegians.
The linking of Eden, who received Dormer's letter, with Churchill the anti-Gandhian must have been seen as somehow strengthening the argument. Eden in fact married Clarissa Churchill, a niece of Winston, in 1952 following the dissolution of an earlier marriage. This is fifteen years after the Nobel Prize controversy he attempts to connect it to.
If Eden was as preoccupied with the Peace Prize for Gandhi question as Das suggests, it is perhaps somewhat odd that the Mahatma scarcely rates a mention at all in Eden's voluminous memoirs, even though written many years after Indian independence, and that they contain no reference at all to the Nobel Prize.
In short, while it cannot entirely be ruled out as a possibility, there is no concrete or even persuasive circumstantial evidence available to back up the proposition that Gandhi was denied the 1937 Nobel Peace Prize because the British were able to exert political pressure on the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
Nevertheless, political considerations may have played a part in the decision. In the period leading up to the war the Norwegians were understandably pro-British, and the Committee might have wished to avoid embarrassing Britain or pleasing Germany. Accepting this possibility, Jakob Sverdrup, the current director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, maintains that "If consideration of British sentiments played any part it must have been of the committee's own chosing,"56 rather than a submission to outside pressure.
The controversy about the overlooking of Gandhi for the 1937 Prize seems almost to be on the basis that he was the only worthy candidate. There were however several other notable nominees that we know of (and as the lists of nominees are not publicise, unless nominators have made their nominations public, the identities of the candidates remain concealed). From a field that originally contained the names of Cordell Hull (who withdrew his candidature) and President Franklin Roosevelt,57 on 19 November the Times announced the award to the British writer Lord Cecil of Chelwood (author of The Way of Peace in 1928, and President of the League of Nations Union in Britain).
Even excluding pressure from Britain and fear of British retaliation, or the pro-British leanings of Committee members as factors in the decision, it is not unreasonable to see Cecil as well qualified to receive the award. Cecil was ex-Lord Privy Seal and founder of the International Peace Campaign. He had helped to draft the Covenant of the League of Nations and was greatly concerned with its work in the realm of disarmament. With the League in decline and rearmament gaining pace, the Committee "honored....one of its sturdiest defenders."58 M. Pierre Cot, joint president with Lord Cecil of the International Peace Campaign, said at the time that "no decision which could have been made would have been so well received by the world."59
Tranmael's prediction that Gandhi would not receive the Prize in the near future was to prove correct. At a time when the problem of refugees was increasing, the last Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded before the war went the Nansen International Office for Refugees, an international relief organization that grew out of the High Commission for Refugees started by Fridtjof Nansen in 1921.60 Much of its work had been directed towards helping Jewish refugees from Germany.
Although Gandhi had again been nominated for 1939 no further Prizes were announced until 1944 when, appropriately enough, the International Committee of the Red Cross was honoured.
Ten years after his first nomination, Gandhi was again considered for the Nobel Prize. In 1947 he was nominated by three Indian politicians.61 At this time Norwegian public sentiment favored Indian independence and supported Gandhi.
In late 1946 and early 1947, during his Noakhali pilgrimage, seventy-seven year old Gandhi came probably as close as anyone ever had, to borrow Easwaran's phrase, to publicly stopping an open war, in this case between two communities. Following that, he toured riot-affected areas in Bihar, and almost single-handedly, through his heroic fasts, brought peace to riot-torn Calcutta and Delhi.
Perhaps, after these efforts, Gandhi had finally established his rightful claim to the Prize. But then again, because of the communal slaughter and the fact that newly independent India and Pakistan were at war over Kashmir at the time of its deliberations (and that by then Gandhi was condoning India's action of sending its troops to fight the Kashmir invaders62), the Committee may have seen the awarding of the Prize to the sub-continent as inappropriate63 or may even have been worried about the direction Gandhi may move on the as yet unresolved Kashmir issue.
Out of a field that allegedly included Czechoslovakian statesman Eduard Beneš, American stateswomen and chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Eleanor Roosevelt, and Soviet diplomat Aleksandra Mikhaylovna Kollontay,64 the Prize was shared by the Quaker groups The Friends' Service Council and The American Friends' Service Committee.
The Quakers had long been doing good work; it seems that their time had finally come. And there was no accusation from Indian quarters that Gandhi was in any way discriminated against in his failure to receive the 1947 award.
A host of extremely influential world figures again nominated Gandhi for the 1948 Nobel Peace Prize. The nominators included former Prize-winners such as Emily Greene Balch and the American Friends Service Committee, five professors of philosophy at New York's Columbia University, five professors of law from the University of Bordeaux, and Norwegian professors Frede Castberg65 and Kristian Oftedal.66
On 30 January 1948, just before the close of nominations for the 1948 Prize, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. Three months later the Madras English daily The Hindu ran an article headlined "Nobel Prize for Gandhiji: Posthumous Award Likely".67 The story continued:
...Dr. Samar Sen of the Dacca University, who was on a lecture tour of Norway last year and who has recently returned to India, told the United Press of India today that there was general regret in Europe that the Nobel Prize for Peace was not awarded to Mahatma Gandhi during his life-time though he was the greatest apostle of peace. Dr. Sen further said serious attempts were now being made to make a posthumous award of the Peace Prize to Gandhiji.
So it appears that the Mahatma had finally, if indeed not before, become a serious contender.68
According to Lipsky, Article Four of the Statutes of the Nobel Committee limits the award to living persons with the exception that a nominee may be considered if the death occurred between the nomination69, or "when nominations closed"70, and the date of the announcement of the Prize. He notes that under this rule Erik A.Karlfeldt received the Literature Prize posthumously in 1931 and Dag Hammarskjöld the Peace Prize in 1961.71
We know that Gandhi was legally nominated for the 1948 award. Therefore, on one of Lipsky's interpretations of the relevant Statute, he should have been eligible to receive the Prize. However, on Lipsky's other interpretation, as the closing date for nominations is the beginning of February and Gandhi died on January 30, it would appear that he may have missed out on becoming a Nobel peace laureate because the assassin Godse's bungling attempts to kill the Mahatma succeeded two days too soon.
It is the first of Lipsky's interpretations of Statute Four which is correct. That Statute, stated inter alia, that "The work of any person since deceased cannot be submitted for award; should, however, the death of the individual in question have occurred subsequent to a recommendation [meaning "nomination"] having been made in due course for his work to receive a prize, such a prize may be awarded."
The awarding of Nobel Prizes under this statute has an interesting history. The Swedish poet Karlfeldt had been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in the prescribed way but had died while his candidature was under consideration. Although he received the Prize, there were special circumstances. Karlfeldt had already been chosen as a laureate in 1919 but, being an official of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, the awarding body, he felt that he ought not accept the honour. The Nobel Foundation, in its official volume on Nobel and the Nobel Prize, comments:
When he was again proposed in 1931, it was known that, having reached the statutory age limit, he had decided to resign as a Permanent Secretary, and that after that he would obviously feel free to accept the prize. This special case has not, however, affected the Academy's general attitude in regard to the propriety of posthumous awards. The step can be judged in different ways. However, it was not sentimental reasons that prompted the decision, but a sincere conviction that Karlfeldt's poetry merited the distinction, even if death had prevented the laureate from receiving its wreath.72
In fact there was to be no other posthumous award of the Nobel Prize until another Swede, United Nations General Secretary, Dag Hammarskjöld, received the Peace Prize in 1961. The Foundation claims that this was "the first posthumous award in the history of the Prize."73
Lipsky informs us that under Statute Four Hammarskjöld could receive the Peace Prize, but another potential laureate, one who allegedly was in the running for the 1948 Prize with Gandhi, Count Folke Bernadotte, was disqualified.74 This is interesting because Hammarskjöld died in a Congo plane crash on the night of 17-18 September 1961, and Bernadotte was assassinated by Jewish extremists on the same day (17 September 1948). The apparent anomaly has a simple explanation. Although The New York Times of 19 November 1948 declared that "the Committee had intended to name Count Folke Bernadotte but the terms bar the award of the prize to any but living persons",75 the paper had got its intelligence wrong. Bernadotte, in fact, had not even been nominated that year.76
Gandhi had been legally nominated within the time-frame laid down in the Statutes and the nomination was not invalidated because of his death; why then was he not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1948? According to Sverdrup, the problem for the Committee was to decide, without the benefit of precedent, just who should receive the prize money.77 In the end, after seeking legal advice,78 the Committee played safe and The New York Times, this time correctly, declared that "The annual Nobel peace prize will not be awarded this year because of the lack of a suitable living candidate, the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament announced tonight."79
In order to avoid similar future problems, the rules regarding the posthumous awarding of the Peace Prize have since been changed. The relevant part of Statute Four now states: "Work produced by any person since deceased cannot be rewarded with a prize; if, however, his death occurred subsequently to a proposal having been submitted, in the manner stipulated, that the work should be rewarded, then a prize may be awarded."
According to these revised rules a posthumously awarded Prize is only possible if the decision to make the award had been taken before the nominee's death. Under the present rules, therefore, neither Gandhi nor Hammarskjöld would have been eligible to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.
The 1960 Peace Prize, awarded in 1961, was a ground breaking one. The peace laureate Albert John Luthuli, formerly President of the African National Congress, had long engaged in a peaceful struggle against apartheid. Abrams makes the important point that "it was noteworthy that the Committee had finally found a laureate outside the limits of western civilization."80 Perhaps it was this Eurocentrism, the pre-war Norwegian international bias or, the interpretation preferred by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Gandhi's untimely death, more than any British political pressure, that defeated the honouring of the Mahatma. As Sverdrup comments:
I don't know why Gandhi didn't get the Prize - and nobody else does. All members of the Nobel Committee from those years are now dead, and no records are kept on their deliberations. I suppose he would have got the Prize if he hadn't been killed in the beginning of 1948, but that is just my guess.81
This article first appeared in South Asia, (1989), vol.12, no.1, pp.29-47.