Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Déjà View | And the nominees are…

Go to the official website of the Nobel Prize and take a look at the nomination archives. It is a duty-free sized box of factual Ferrero Rochers

Gasp! Wheeze! Phew!

I am. Sorry. If. I sound. A little. Breathless.

But I completely lost track of time while researching this week’s column. And now I’m running to file this before the page goes to press.

Gasp. One minute. Phew.

What is this mesmerizing topic of research you ask? Have I uncovered the secret Subhas Chandra Bose papers? Nope. The long lost plans for the temple under the Taj Mahal? Not yet. Or perhaps I have finally figured out why West Bengal is called West Bengal when it is in the East? Shortly, in a future column.

The truth is that I have spent the last many hours perusing through the official website of the Nobel Prize. And what a duty-free sized box of factual Ferrero Rochers it is.

And I don’t mean just the actual list of winners or their profiles or even their Nobel lectures. Those lectures, in particular, are well worth a dekko. But I’ve been poring over a much overlooked treasure trove of information: the nomination archives.

Now the secrecy rules regarding these archives are a little complex—especially for people without a degree in law—but broadly the Nobel Prize chaps release nomination data 50 years after the respective awards have been announced.

So right now you can access nomination data upto 1963 in most award categories. I urge you to open the advanced search page, make a big pot of hot chocolate, punch in the word “India", hit “enter", and prepare to while away the weekend. The results, even if you restrict them to the Peace category, are delicious.

Take the case of Mohandas Gandhi, for instance. To this day there is much speculation about why Gandhi was never awarded the prize. This is despite the fact that there is a long, satisfying essay on the topic on the Nobel Prize website that goes into each of Gandhi’s 12 nominations over five years, and why he was overlooked.

Gandhi’s first three nominations in 1937, 1938 and 1939 were all filed by Ole Colbjørnsen, a member of the Norwegian parliament. In 1947, Gandhi was nominated by three Indians—Govind Vallabh Pant, B.G. Kher and Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar. The strongest case for Gandhi’s case was made, however, in 1948. He received six nominations—none of them Indian—including one each from the University of Bordeaux and Columbia University.

If it wasn’t for Nathuram Godse, the Nobel Prize website suggests, Gandhi would have won the Peace Prize that year. Instead no prize was awarded because the Norwegian Nobel Committee felt that “there was no suitable living candidate".

Jawaharlal Nehru was nominated 13 times between 1950 and 1961, only three of which were from India. The most peculiar of these are three nominations he received in 1953, all of them from Belgium—one each from the Senate, National Assembly and a group of professors. The archives suggest that all three nominated him for “his neutralist foreign policy and for upholding the same principles as Gandhi".

If unsuccessful Indian nominees have received little coverage, then the several nominations of foreigners by Indians have been pushed into an even darker corner of history.

In 1955, the Left of Centre French politician Pierre Mendés-France, briefly prime minister, was nominated for the Peace prize by Mohammed Shaffee Chaudhury. At the time Chaudhury was member of Parliament (MP) for Kashmir in the first Lok Sabha. Why did Chaudhury nominate the Frenchman? For withdrawing France from Indo-China apparently.

In 1961, the great J.B. Kripalani nominated British socialist, MP and a long time proponent of Indian independence, Fenner Brockway. Brockway is famous for many things, not least of which was wearing the Gandhi cap in the House of Commons when it was outlawed in India by British authorities. Many years later Brockway was one of a handful of Western critics who wrote articles against the Emergency and this, according to Ram Guha, may have influenced Indira Gandhi to call it off.

There also numerous nominations that smack of academics trying to do each other favours or at least trying to prop up one of their own.

Charles H. Alexandrowicz, Austrian scholar and professor of law, was nominated for the Peace prize twice, in 1961 and in 1962. Each time he was nominated by a professor of law at the University of Madras. The thing is, Alexandrowicz was also a professor at the same university at the time.

Cough wink nudge cough.

The most fascinating of all, for this writer, is the Indian who has been nominated for a Nobel prize the most. For five straight years, from 1933 to 1937, this Indian was nominated for the literature prize by Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, member of the Swedish Academy and father of a future secretary general of the United Nations. In total, this scholar and politician was nominated 26 times, over 30 years, in literature and peace categories. And the poor chap never won it even once. One has to feel a little sorry for Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

Every week, Déjà View scours historical research and archives to make sense of current news and affairs.

Comment at views@livemint.com. To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/dejaview

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