Globalist Perspective

Mahatma Gandhi: A Peaceful, Ignoble Oversight?

On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday, we ask why Mahatma Gandhi was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Never to meet.


  • Why was Mahatma Gandhi never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?
  • The denial of the Nobel Peace Prize to Gandhi invited worldwide controversy that is still being debated today.
  • Eminent personalities, who based their own actions on the pattern of Gandhi’s teachings, were themselves awarded the Nobel Prize.
  • Gandhi taught the world a new method of struggle, political warfare and a new kind of diplomacy.

Why was Mahatma Gandhi, the ‘Symbol of Peace’ and the ‘Unelected Spokesman of Non-Violence’ of the 20th century, never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

Mahatma Gandhi, otherwise known as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was one of the first to offer a wake-up call to humanity by stressing the philosophy of nonviolence.

Gandhi taught the world a new method of struggle, political warfare and a new kind of diplomacy.

Unity of mankind

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, described Gandhi as “a great internationalist believing in the essential unity of man, the underlying unity of all religions and the needs of humanity and more specially, devoting himself to the service of the poor, the distressed and the oppressed millions everywhere.”

Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times — in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and, only days before he was assassinated, in 1948. Yet, he never won.

The denial of the prize to Gandhi invited worldwide controversy that is still being debated today. Even before his first nomination, an editorial in the “Christian Century” in 1934 stated, “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.”

Although it is widely held that Gandhi should have been the ideal candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, until now, the Committee has not revealed the exact reasons for his omission. Statute 8 of the Nobel Foundation states, “the deliberations, opinions and proposals of the Nobel Committee with the award of prizes may NOT be made public or otherwise revealed.”

Gandhi and the Nobel Peace Prize

However, rumors floated all across Asia that Gandhi may not have won for numerous reasons.

For example, outside political pressure may have been exerted on the Norwegian Committee or, perhaps in those days, non-Westerners and non-Christians were not considered as serious candidates.

Similarly, laureates were exclusively selected from the United States and Europe — while Asia was completely out of the picture. Therefore, it is widely speculated that racial motives played a major role.

Gandhi’s critics, however, vocally defend the Nobel Commission. The Norwegian Committee was a highly reputable and autonomous body, they argue, adding that it was not obliged to pay attention to any outside pressure.

Critics also point out that in apartheid South Africa, Gandhi only acted on behalf of the Indians — and did nothing for blacks.

Gandhi, they also argue, is not a real pacifist because some of his campaigns did lead to violence and terror against British authorities. In addition, critics argue, he was more of an Indian nationalist and patriot than an internationalist.

Deep wounds

On September 27, 1947, media outlets reported that at a prayer-meeting, Gandhi said, “If there was no other way of securing justice from Pakistan, then the Indian Union Government would have to go to war against it.”

These remarks about Gandhi created deep wounds among the members of a pro-Gandhi network called “Friends of Gandhi Association” — a widely known group that was established in Europe and the United States in 1930.

It was suspected that these negative points might have lowered Gandhi’s chances for winning the Nobel Peace Prize — even though he was the greatest among the nominees.

Jacob Worm-Muller, advisor for the committee, spoke publicly criticizing Gandhi.

“He is undoubtedly a good, noble and ascetic person — a prominent man who is deservedly honored and loved by the masses of India. But 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,” he said.

The irony of ironies is that eminent personalities, who based their own actions on the pattern of Gandhi’s teachings, were themselves awarded the Nobel Prize in later years — Albert Luthuli in 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964, Mother Teresa in 1979, the Dalai Lama in 1989 and Nelson Mandela in 1993.

A posthumous prize?

Many may ask why Gandhi did not receive even a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize? This has occurred before in the cases of Swedish Poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt and the second UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold.

But at the time Gandhi died, the rules stated that a candidate’s name had to be submitted prior to February 1 to be considered. In 1974 this provision was changed and currently no posthumous awards are granted unless the nominee is alive in October when the prices are announced and happens to die before the prizes are awarded in December. This is the reason why the late Pope John Paul II was not nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

A living legacy

The only consoling factor is that the glaring omission of Gandhi was later regretted by the Nobel Committee itself. In 1989, the chairman of the Committee said, “The Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama was in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.”

Although Gandhi was not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, his legacy lives on. His message “that non-violence and peace are twin weapons for the brave” is still being spread about the world.

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About Hilwiah Roche

Hilwiah Roche is Tamil Nadu journalist whose work focuses chiefly on human rights, politics and women’s issues.

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