More than 60 years after his death, Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence movement, continues to be one of the strongest symbols of peace and non-violence across the world.
The question still remains – why was he not bestowed with the world’s greatest accolade for peace despite being nominated five times and shortlisted three times for the Nobel Prize?
The subject came up again on Friday when India’s Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist, was awarded the prize jointly with Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai.
Oivind Stenersen, a Norwegian historian and Nobel Peace Prize expert, told The Wall Street Journal that awarding Mr. Satyarthi the peace prize was a “very smart move by the committee.”
“It’s always had a guilty conscience because Gandhi didn’t get the prize and we know the committee has been looking for an Indian for quite some time,” Mr. Stenersen said.
On the official website of the Nobel Peace Prize, the selection committee has given a host of reasons why Mr. Gandhi never received the coveted prize:
During Mr. Gandhi’s first nomination in 1937, the selection committee’s adviser Jacob Worm-Muller was critical about him: “He is, undoubtedly, a good, noble and ascetic person – a prominent man who is deservedly honored and loved by the masses of India,” he had said, according to the Nobel Foundation.
At the same time, Mr. Worm-Muller wrote, there are “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.”
Mr. Gandhi, he said “had many critics in the international peace movement… He 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.”
Mr. Worm-Muller also believed Mr. Gandhi was too much of an Indian nationalist: “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,” he said in his report to the selection committee.
One of the committees was also of the view that Mr. Gandhi was not a “real politician or proponent of international law, not primarily a humanitarian relief worker and not an organizer of international peace congresses.”
Mr. Gandhi was nominated for the award again in 1938 and 1939 but was shortlisted a second time only in 1947 when the Nobel Peace Committee Advisor Jens Arup Seip was less critical of Mr. Gandhi than Mr. Worm-Muller had been.
“It was rather favorable, yet not explicitly supportive,” selection committee chairman Gunnar Jahn wrote in his diary, according to the Nobel Foundation.
“While it is true that he (Gandhi) is the greatest personality among the nominees – plenty of good things could be said about him – we should remember that he is not only an apostle for peace; he is first and foremost a patriot. Moreover, we have to bear in mind that Gandhi is not naive. He is an excellent jurist and a lawyer,” Mr. Jahn wrote.
Mr. Gandhi was shortlisted the third time in January 1948, just days before his assassination, which prompted the selectors to think whether the award could be given posthumously.
According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation at the time, the award could, under certain circumstances, be awarded posthumously. “Thus it was possible to give Gandhi the prize. However, Gandhi did not belong to an organization, he left no property behind and no will; who should receive the Prize money?” the committee said according to the Nobel Foundation.
Finally, the committee decided not to award the prize at all that year, saying that “there was no suitable living candidate.”