Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi is a symbol of non-violence, not just in India but across the world. A revered figure, Gandhi is known to have inspired other great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. While both, Mandela and Dr King are recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, Gandhi himself never received one, although he was nominated five times; in 1937, 1938, 1939, and 1947.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has since briefly acknowledged this omission when, in 1989, the chairman of the committee awarded the Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama and said it was “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi”. Many have questioned why the committee overlooked the man who is an icon of non-violent struggle.
One of the reasons cited is that the committee was afraid the prize would adversely affect the relationship between their own country and the United Kingdom. Also, members of the committee saw him as too much of a ‘nationalist’ and a ‘politician’, and believed that he was not consistently pacifist. Gandhi, in his lifetime, had risen to prominence but it was only after his death did he truly become a symbol of peace.
While the arguments against the Mahatma found little support, the Nobel Peace Prize has also been awarded to some controversial figures, some of whom have been accused of waging wars and causing widespread loss of human lives.
Former Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin was awarded the Peace Prize in 1978, along with Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat. In 1982, Begin ordered the invasion of Lebanon which led to the Sabra and Shatila massacre, killing of 762 to 3,500 civilians (number disputed).
Palestinian Leader Yassir Arafat was awarded the Peace Prize in 1990 for his role in the Oslo Accord but later presided over the Palestinian Liberation Organisation during the second intifada, an armed uprising against Israel.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, known to have been involved in the US bombing of Cambodia, violating the Geneva Convention. He is also believed to have orchestrated Operation Condor, which involved political repression, extrajudicial killings, and the assassination of opponents across Latin America, starting in 1968 which ended with the fall of the Berlin War.
Former US President Barack Obama received the Peace Prize in 2009, months after taking office. In his acceptance speech, he said, “I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict”. Military casualties in the War in Afghanistan and Iraq have been well-documented. The furore over Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the killing and persecution of Rohingya Muslims have led many across the world to demand that the Peace Prize, awarded to her in 1991, be withdrawn.Another individual or organisation will be awarded the prize this year on October 6. According to former secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Professor Geir Lundestad, the prize will continue to remain a force for good.