Sunday, August 1, 2004

Mahatma Gandhi, The Missing Nobel Laureate & 5-Time Nominee

Most people don’t know that Gandhiji was nominated for the Nobel five times. This article explains the history, examines the reasons why he never won, writes about the deliberations after his assassination to overturn the principle of awarding the Prize only to the living, and the honors showered by the Committee and many of the winners of the Prize.Thanks to Øyvind Tønnesson and Thomas Weber for their research I used for this article.

Indians have won five Nobel Prizes to date. It should have been six. Yet the most famous Indian, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) never received a Nobel Prize, though he was nominated five times from 1937-1939 and 1947-1948.

Alfred Nobel, in his will dated 27 November 1895, left the bulk of his considerable fortune to the Nobel Foundation. The peace 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." The Peace Prize is given by a small Norwegian Nobel Committee in consultation with an appointed advisor.

Mahatma Gandhi was a known figure in Europe due to his struggles in South Africa, even before he returned to India in 1915, due to the twenty years he spent in the apartheid struggle. Gandhiji invented the use of non-violent struggle, a method so successful it was exported around the world and used time and again. The non-violence he preached was a deeply rooted belief. Many Nobel Prize winners have given homage to Mahatma Gandhi and credited him for teaching them. This august list includes Albert Einstein, Aung San Suu Kyi, George Marshall, The current Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

The Christian Century, a US magazine suggested nominating Gandhiji for the Nobel Peace Prize in a 1934 editorial, when he was already well known in the United States for the Salt March of 1930. The editorial read: “Why not award the Nobel peace prize to Gandhi? It would be no personal favor to him and he probably does not want it. The honor 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 editorial went on to criticize the 1933 Committee for finding no deserving recipients. It lamented that “of the twenty-five awards, too many went to presidents, ministers and other high officials and too few to working friends of peace or to really radical proponents of peace and disarmament.”

The 1937-39 Nominations

Ole Colbjørnsen, a well known and influential Labour Party MP, nominated Gandhi for the first time in 1937. The Norwegian branch of "Friends of India" wrote the note supporting the candidacy. The Committee's adviser, Professor Jacob Worm-Müller praised Gandhiji, saying he was noble, ascetic, prominent, and much loved man. However he criticized him for not being consistently pacifist in his political actions. He argued that Gandhiji should have known that some of his non-violent campaigns towards the British would degenerate into violence and terror. He also labeled Gandhiji as an “Indian nationalist”, criticizing him for helping Indians and not the worse off Blacks in South Africa. At this time no Nobel had been given for a nationalistic freedom struggle. The Prizes had been awarded for international actions, or actions taken outside ones’ own country for the betterment of the masses. Gandhiji’s focus on the plight of the Indians in South Africa and India did not fit well. The Prize instead went to Lord Cecil of Chelwood, UK.

Ole Colbjørnsen renominated Mahatma Gandhi again in 1938 and in 1939, but the arguments made by Prof Worm in 1937 ensured that Gandhiji did not get on the shortlist in either year.

The 1947 Nomination

In 1947, shortly after India’s independence, Gandhiji was nominated again, and ended up as one of six names on the Nobel Committee's short list.

The Nobel Committee's adviser Jens Arup Seip was a historian. Jens was full of praise for Gandhiji for his efforts in three different, but mutually related conflicts: the struggle for Independence against the British; the stance taken to support India's participation in the Second World War; and, finally, his efforts to resolve the conflict between Hindu and Moslem communities. In all these matters, Jens said, Gandhiji had consistently followed his own principles of non-violence. Unfortunately, Jens was not explicitly supportive of the Nobel going to Gandhiji. Jens also hinted that the partition of India and the resulting violence had reduced the impact of Gandhiji to some extent.

At the time of the Nobel discussions, there was considerable unrest due to the violence and war between India and Pakistan. When the deliberations began on October 30, 1947, two Committee members spoke in favor of Gandhiji’s nomination. However they were not able to convince the three other members. Øyvind Tønnesson speculates that Committee members must have had to consider the political fallout and signals that would be sent if they had awarded the Peace Prize to India’s leader in a time of war. A second strong argument against Gandhiji was his statement made in September 1947, that although he had always opposed warfare, he would support it if it was the only way to secure justice from Pakistan. The Committee took a negative view of this stance, and decided to give the award to the Quakers.

The 1948 Nomination

Two days before he was assassinated, six nominations were received by the Nobel Committee. The Quakers who pipped Mahatma Gandhi in the previous year, nominated him, and he was included in the final short list of three names. Alas, when Gandhiji died, so did his chances for a Nobel. The award only went to the living.

Till 1948, no one had ever been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. But the Nobel Foundation could make this award under certain exceptional circumstances. Unfortunately, the organization chose to focus on some rather irrelevant details regarding the practical consequences of the money distribution if the Prize were awarded posthumously. Although Gandhiji had no will or succession plan, this was a weak excuse; his sons were living, and Navjivan Publishing House publishing Gandhiji’s writings could have inherited the award. The Swedish Committees that award all other Nobels were consulted. They did not support a posthumous award, stating that it could only have been made if the laureate died after the Committee's decision had been made.

After much deliberation, the Committee opposed 4-1 to make a posthumous award to Mahatma Gandhi. The announcement was made on November 18, 1948, that "there was no suitable living candidate" and therefore the prize would remain unawarded that year. This gesture certainly was intended as a show of respect for Mahatma Gandhi.

It is unfortunate that the Committee lacked the courage to create a precedent. What we do know is that this is a decision that the Nobel Foundation regrets to this day, as evidenced quite openly in their actions.

Nobel Organization regrets

The Nobel Foundation website talks about the Mahatma’s life and work at great length in an aptly titled write-up, “The Missing Nobel”. When the Dalai Lama received the Peace Prize in 1989, the chairman of the Nobel Committee said “It would be natural to compare him with Mahatma Gandhi, one of this century's greatest protagonists of peace, and the Dalai Lama likes to consider himself one of Gandhi's successors. People have occasionally wondered why Gandhi himself was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the present Nobel Committee can with impunity share this surprise, while regarding this year's award of the prize as in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.” The Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Geir Lundestad said that no prize could establish a perfect record, indicating their omission of Mahatma Gandhi.

At Chicagopex 2001, the Chicago Philately Association recognized this omission as well. The organization celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize by releasing a number of first day covers. All covers bore the title “One Nobel prize was not awarded – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi”, and had stamps honoring Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, George Marshall and Nelson Mandela, figures who always supported and honored this man.


Were the Nobel Committees in the 1930s and 1940s too short sighted? Politically motivated? Did it fly in the face of the imperial designs of Europe, and send wrong signals to the struggling non-Europeans who were trying to overcome European tyranny around the world. Or was it due to Norway’s connections to Britain. Little is recorded of those Committee’s debates, and no evidence suggests that Britain tried to block the awards.

We can only speculate that Mahatma Gandhi did not fit the stereotype of an international political and humanitarian figure. Neither was he European or American, in a time when the Nobel typically went to Westerners with such backgrounds. He was a “nationalist” seeking to free Indians from the British in India and South Africa, thus unable to fit into the narrow definitions that made the Nobel Committees comfortable assessing for such awards.

Thankfully in today’s times, such nationalistic struggles would surely be rewarded by the Nobel, as is evidenced in their awards to Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyui. In fact, some argue that the principles of Alfred Nobel of “the abolition or reduction of permanent armies, as well as the establishment and promotion of peace congresses" have not been considered in some awards to controversial supporters of war and violence, including Menachem Begin, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.

No wonder the Nobel Organization has tried to make amends for its omission of Mahatma Gandhi. They’ve done less to honor Leo Tolstoy, another historical figure that was never awarded the Nobel, but that’s another story.

It is believed that Gandhiji would have been invited to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948, had he not died tragically that year. He would certainly have been the brightest light in six instead of our five winners•

Scenes from a Pakistani Restaurant

Sadly, everything you read here is true. Except for the name of the restaurant and the characters.

“Yeh Hindu hai. Yeh meat nahi kaat-ta”. (He is Hindu, he doesn’t cut meat) announced the Shere restaurant manager with pride to the team in the kitchen.
I had just started work one hour ago, on a typical grey, wet Saturday afternoon in Rusholme, the Pakistani section of Manchester, England.

Full of idealistic thoughts which included supporting myself and
taking no money from home, I set out looking for jobs as soon
as I stepped off the plane in the UK as a grad student at the
University of Manchester. And slammed straight into the middle
of England’s worst recession. After being turned down by
everyone including McDonalds (where I had included my current Masters, my two BITS degrees, my 38 days at Index Computing and both PS I and PS II experiences, convinced that I would be a top hire), I
knew this called for desperate measures. I headed for Rusholme Road, the street lined with Indian and Pakistani restaurants in the South Asian section of Manchester. I turned into the first restaurant I saw. The manager was there. I told him that I was looking for a job. He asked me for two bits of information. “I am from India.” “I can legally work in England.” From his stunned reaction, it appeared
unlikely that he had heard any job prospect at his restaurant say
either of those things. I was hired on the spot. At 2 quid per hour, I had joined the ranks of the gainfully employed.

“What do you want to do?” the greasy manager asked, his white
shoes about as shiny as his bald pate. “Waiter banega?” (Will you
be a waiter ?). I had been hanging out with the students from Manchester Business School, discussing highfalutin’ things like investment banking, consulting, and the changing face of Euro -driven politics. I winced. Could I face running into my classmates,
dressed in the black and white garb of a waiter ? My un-Gandhian middle-class views on the dignity of labor made it difficult to risk this prospect.

Hiding in the kitchen seemed the natural choice. But I had one
condition – “Meat nahi katoonga” (I wouldn’t cut the meat.) I cited
religious reasons. The truth was I didn’t know how. He took me to the crowded room in the back. I was introduced to Shahji – the naan maker, who had stopped studying in 4th grade in Pakistan and spoke no English.

Khan Sahib was the cook. Nigel was the Nigerian dishwasher. I was
appointed assistant errand boy to all three. The next three hours went by pretty uneventfully. That is if cutting 3 sacks of onions and 9 sacks of green peppers (simla mirch) can be considered uneventful. As someone who had never cooked, and spent the last five years in Pilani messes, I was unprepared for this ordeal. The hour I
spent frying the onions to a golden brown passed by more difficultly.

Every time one of his employees came into the kitchen, the manager
would follow, and parade me like a newly acquired pet. “Yeh Hindu hai. Yeh meat nahi kaat-ta”, he would smile and say. I was an instant hit.

“Lets go shopping”, the restaurant manager said. Ten minutes later, we were headed back to the restaurant, a 20 lb bag of flour on my head. It was more dignified to carry it in my arms or on my shoulder, but it was so much easier on my head. Screw my dignity.
I held it on my fast whitening head,and walked down the street, praying that no one would know me. The manager walked a few feet ahead. I felt numb.

At 6:00 pm the hustle of the restaurant increased in preparation for
the 6:30 pm opening. Two waiters were there, young and fresh, their first day on the job. They looked 17, their fear-filled private-schooled faces a reflection of the leafy, air-conditioned, pucca bungalows of suburban Karachi that they came from – where the
maid washed the laundry, the guard took the dog for a walk. The fear in their faces strangely gave me strength. I could get through this.
At 7:00 pm, the manager came looking for the two new waiters he’d hired. They were nowhere to be found. Unable to withstand the culture shock, they’d run away. I felt sorry for them. And stronger.
By 7:30 pm the dishes were coming back faster than Nigel could handle them. As the dishes piled, I was added as reinforcement. My job was to load the dishwasher with the dishes Nigel gave me, and to
unload a minute and a half later.


Nigel had another responsibility. He had to empty the dishes
before they went into the dishwasher. And ensure that no meat coming back from the restaurant was wasted.

Whaaaaaat !!!

All the salad was recycled. Stained bits of onions were
washed and rearranged. And most importantly, all the meat and chicken left in the dishes was carefully extracted and put back into two bowls – one for meat, and another for chicken.

At least the gravy, thankfully was thrown away. My faith in the amazing institution of Indian restaurants, shaken to its core.

At Shere, the most astounding thing was the efficient meat
extraction process. It involved a woman, a fork, and lots of
screaming. Every half hour, the female owner of the restaurant (a
real b----- if I ever saw one) would come into the back of the
restaurant and scream at everyone for no reason. Then she would
grab a fork and head over to the trash can where all the food was
being dumped. She’d poke around. Every so often, she’d lift out a piece of meat, or paneer or chicken – sometimes half chewn, sometimes not – and wave it in Nigel’s face, screaming that he
was letting good food go to waste and threatened to dock his wages.
Nigel never said anything.

That first night, at 1 am, I tried to leave the restaurant after it had closed. The cook wouldn’t let me go without eating. He fed me a
good meal – good meat, good chicken, great nans. I felt like I was part of a team. Exhausted, numbed, and smelling of onions, I had the best sleep of my life.

I went back the second night – to a lot more onions, yelling,
screaming and chaos. The cook stormed out at 9:00 pm – after throwing a whole bunch of mixedup orders that had piled up on the
kitchen floor. Thankfully I did not have to clean any of it up. He
came back at 10:00 pm. At 1 am, I went to the manager, to ask for
my money. Two days, twenty four hours, forty eight quid ! I was
bone tired, but I was going to be rich.

He handed me a twenty pound note. “I’m keeping the rest of the
money or you won’t come back next week.” Tears welled up. I
pleaded but I was helpless. I walked out and went home. I could not shake the smell of onions for a week – even though I was taking showers twice a day.

The following week I got a job at the library. At GBP 5.65 per hour,
shelving books, with breaks in between. Thank heavens for British unions, I thought.

The story ends well. My local guardian, an angry Thakur from
Rajasthan was furious when he heard of my experience. He went calling the same day, and no less than Kenneth Clarke, then Home Secretary. After scaring the living daylights out of Kenneth Clarke’s assistant, he was put straight through to the man

Four months later, the restaurant was raided. Citing illegal immigrant workers and a series of serious health violations, the restaurant was shut down and the owners were fined GBP
8,000. Almost two hundred times what the restaurant owed me.

I celebrated. I recently went to Manchester to attend a friend's wedding. I drove around to Rusholme to see the restaurant. It was another drizzly Manchester morning. The whole area was deserted – things wouldn’t start to hum till later that afternoon. The restaurant was shut. The name on the board had changed. Vivid
memories flooded back, of walking down the road with the bag of flour on my head, of hundreds of onions, of the first twenty quid I had earned in England.

I put my hands in my pockets and walked back to the car. I stopped to look back one last time, and felt a calming sense of closure.

The Battle Of The Pilani Masters At Bunker Hill

The aroma of fresh warm idlis mingled with the smell of newly cut grass in Princeton, New Jersey and added an exotic excitement to the famed Bunker Hill golf course. Over two hundred years ago, the battleground of the same name had witnessed a bloody battle that the British won. But it was a historic battle. For at Bunker Hill, the American soldiers discovered their own prowess, courage and almost beat back the regulars. Bunker Hill became a rallying cry of the patriots throughout the war. Today, on a warm, grey day, the tone was set for the third year of the acclaimed Pilani Masters Golf Tournament.

Battle scarred legends from years past quietly gathered around the coffee and tea bins in preparation for another battle to come. Armed with weapons of graphite, nerves of steel and a single-mindedness of purpose, they made their way to the hot vadas and chilled beers that awaited. The Bagarias, Gokhrus, Mynenis, Nalgundwars, Padmanabhans and Paladugus stood shoulder to shoulder, weapons by their side, their broad chests and huge biceps foretelling a grim tale of the bloodshed to come.
The last fleck of sambar wiped away, the last gulp of Corona light and Gatorade swallowed and it was time. Bob the Ranger raised his conch and beckoned the giants to battle. A grizzled three-time warrior, KC, the oldest and most active BITSian, put his ammo to the tee, took careful aim and let loose with a might roar into the winds.

It was another outstanding day. The cloudy haze and intermittent showers ensured that the closest to pin didn’t come close. A 25.5 feet effort by the runner-up was narrowly pipped by Rahul Banerjee with a 24-footer. The greens held their ground.
With adrenaline pumping after tough negotiations with the vendor for extra chutney, Sandeep Arora and Rahoul Mehra shared honors for the best score on the front 9. Renchy Thomas, taking tips from Sandeep who rode in the same chariot, routed the enemy on the back 9, sharing honors with Rahul Banerjee.

Satish Paul came with weapons of mass destruction but dud scuds they were ! With a score of 176, he won the trophy for having fought the longest, the divots at Princeton bleeding from the massacre that he wreaked on the tall blades (of grass) that stood in his way.

In the end we raised $1,000 thanks to three great NJ companies. Radiant Systems (thanks to CEO - Venu Myneni), Wissen (thanks to CEO - Satish Paul), and DreamCricket’s contributed to the BITS cause by sponsoring the arms race at Princeton.

In the villages of India, the saying went “Jitney haath, utni lathi”. Venk brought Chetan, Kailash brought Ashish and Ravi brought Rahoul. Young, handsome, fearless warriors, they stood by their fathers like Arjun’s Abhimanyu, to chide, ride, goad and support each other to victory. And victorious they were. Ravi won. Venk Sharma came 3rd. Ashish came 2nd. Blood they say is thicker than water…that stood in their way.

Ah water ! Across the swollen rivers and on the sandy dunes, the battle raged for hours. The rivers rose to overwhelm the riders, the waves crashing into the bridges. But the steeds rode fast and steady, the wheels of the chariots clattering like the rolling thunder in the hills.

Ravi Mehra came for a third time to meet his challengers. Two time champion, a witness of heavy fighting on the 5th, 17th and 18th holes year after year, this time was no different. The passage of time has not lowered his sights, but the victories are becoming narrower and the runners-up are getting younger. With an outstanding 83, he staved off a challenge from Ashish Sharma, a Pilani son (of Kailash Sharma) who came in second with a best-ever 85. Ashish’s two memorable birdies on the front nine were replaced by the two lost balls on the back 9. Ashish, the early leader, fell a notch and Ravi rode back victorious.

War is about teamwork. The Mehra-Sharma battalion (Ravi, Rahoul, Venk & Chetan) with an average of 96 were way ahead of the Sharma-Myneni (KC, Ashish, Anupendra and Venu) battalion that came second with an average of 106.

In the end there were no casualties, just battle scarred, happy survivors with gleaming gold and crystal trophies for everyone, all winners for having come to stand their ground.

As the participants swung out of the lot, their low slung red Ferraris, Maseratis and Jaguars jostling with the Hondas, Toyotas and Fords to get out of the car park, the raft of trophies in the back windows added some more glitter to a sparkling parking lot and an already memorable day.

And suddenly it was over. As the sun set on the Battle for Bunker Hill, the only reminder of those famed warriors was the gentle whiff of Cuban cigars, the lingering aroma of the afternoon samosas and alu tikkis, and a half empty bottle of Gatorade, swaying in the wind.

But they’ll be back next year. In even larger numbers. For though the Battle is over, the War of the Masters will last a lifetime.