I’m not a massive fan of Jeremy Corbyn.
People who know me won’t be surprised by that, as I haven’t taken any steps at all to hide my lack of enthusiasm for him.
I do however know lots of people, very nice people, who do think very highly of him, and who often share things with me on social media about how lovely they think he is. One of the most popular things about J-Corbz is that he was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize, which definitely means that he is a bloody good bloke. There is even an on line petition you can sign lobbying for Jezza to get a Nobel Peace Prize, which quotes his Gandhi Peace Prize as a precedent.
Here is the photo that is most commonly shared of Corbyn at the award ceremony, looking slightly startled.
I was baffled by this photo, and the enthusiasm with which it was shared across social media.
Partly because Corbyn is a noted supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah, 2 organisations at the absolute opposite end of the political spectrum to Mohandas Gandhi, but mainly because the Gandhi Peace Prize is rarely awarded to anyone British.
Given the history of the British in India that isn’t really surprising. The Gandhi Peach Prize is awarded by the Government of India and most of it’s recipients are African and Asian activists and NGOs, reflecting Gandhi’s own career in those 2 continents. The only British recipient is Nobel laureate John Hume for his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
I was so baffled by this that I tracked down the list of recipients of the Ghandi Peace Prize:
Julius Nyere, A T Ariyaratne, Gerhard Fischer, Ramakrishna Mission, Baba Amte, Nelson Mandela, Grameen Bank/Muhammed Yunus, John Hume, Vaclav Havel, Coretta Scott King, Desmond Tutu, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Indian Space Agency
I was aware that this was an alternative Prize – the Gandhi Peace Award, awarded by the Enduring Peace Foundation, based in the US, and I wondered whether this was the prize Corbyn had won. It’s 2017 award ceremony was held at Yale and looks to have been slightly smarter than the one Corbyn went to. Ralph Nader and Omar Bhargouti shared the award, which has previously been awarded to such luminaries as Martin Luther Kin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Illustrious company for the Jeremy.
Except when I checked the list of past winners Corbyn’s name wasn’t listed either.
There is another US based Ghandi Humanitarian Award, which is given by the California based Gandhi Memorial Foundation. This is headed by Yogesh K Gandhi, who claims to be a descendent of the great man, and whose luminaries included Bill Clinton and Joan Baez. In 1999 The GHA was prosecuted for Tax Evasion, Mail Fraud and Perjury, and was closed. The whereabouts of Yogesh K Gandhi, also known as Yogesh Kathari are currently unknown.
In the end I traced down 5 different Gandhi Prizes from different continents, although I suspect that I might have missed a few. It seems like that Gandhi brand is so strong that giving out Peace Prizes is a big industry. We can immediately discount the Scandinavian Gandhi Prize, as it looks like it was scrapped a few years back, and the list of past winners has vanished off the Internet.
The Prize the Corbyn won was set up in the 1980s following the success of The Dickie Attenborough movie. Dickie Attenborough headed up the initial panel, which was largely made up of white British men, and the people who have won the award also have a predictably large bias towards white British men too. There has always been a romantic appreciation of foreign freedom fighters among those Brits who have never had to fight for anything in life, stretching all the way back to Byron.
This isn’t quite as odd as a bunch of rich White Americans creating an award in the name of Malcolm X and giving it to Donald Trump, but is has enough similarities to be a bit worrying.*
This gives us the following table of Gandhi Peace Prize Winners, which reflect the extent to which Gandhi’s endorsement, no matter how vicarious, is still prized by people.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Edwin Dahlberg, Rabbi Maurice, Eisendrath, John Haynes Holmes, Linus Pauling, E Stanley Jones, Martin Luther Kind Jr, AJ Muste, Norman Thomas, Jerome Davis, William Sloane Coffin, Jr, Benjamin Spock, Wayne Morse, Willard Uphaus, U Thant, Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Daniel Ellsberg, Peter Benneson, Martin Ennals, Roland Bainton, Helen Caldicott, , Corliss Lamont, Randall Watson Forsberg, Robert Jay Lifton, Kay Camp, Bernard Lown, John Somerville, César Chávez, Marian Wright Edelman, George McGovern, Ramsey Clark, Lucius Walker, Jr., Roy Bourgeois, Edith Ballantyne, Alan Wright and Paula Kline, Howard Frazier and Alice Zeigler Frazier, Michael True, Dennis Kucinich, Karen Jacob and David Cortright, Ehud Bandel, Arik Ascherman, Amy Goodman, Bill McKibben, Medea Benjamin, Tom B.K. Goldtooth and Kathy Kelly, Ralph Nader, Omar Barghouti Julius Nyere, A T Ariyaratne, Gerhard Fischer, Ramakrishna Mission, Baba Amte, Nelson Mandela, Grameen Bank/Muhammed Yunus, John Hume, Vaclav Havel, Coretta Scott King, Desmond Tutu, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Indian Space Agency, Bill Clinton, Werner Erhard, Joan Baez, Shirley Temple Black, David Packard, Hogen Fukunaga, Ryochi Sasakawa, Michael Harbottle, Nicholas Gillett, Adam Curle, Martin Dent Bill Peters, Denis Halliday, Helen Steven, Ellen Moxley, Clive Stafford Smith, Shabana Azmi, David Edwards, David Cromwell. Rev. Harold Good OBE, Father Alec Reid CSSR, Coram Children’s Legal Centre, The Parents Circle-Families Forum (PC-FF), Binayak Sen, Bulu Imam , Jeremy Corbyn, Godric Bader Tore Nærland, Frank Tomlinson, and Peter Tatchell
The presence of Martin Luther King on the list gives us a clue as to one of the factors at work here. Ghandist pacifism is popular in the West, and MLK is it’s main exponent. Like Gandhi The Reverend King used non-violent opposition to undermine the moral claims of the regimes they challenged. There is no doubt that Gandhi’s tactics, and King’s, worked brilliantly in attacking the moral and intellectual justifications of their opponents, both of which were based largely on racism.
Outside the West it is harder to find examples of other Asian and African independence movements following Ghandi’s pacifist lead. From the Viet-Cong to ISIS Mao-Tse-Tong’s Anti-Facist Base Area strategy has been the blue print for the kind of asymmetrical warfare that has inflicted consistent victories against Western Powers. Corbyn’s friends in Hamas and Hezbollah are Maoists not Gandhists.
I was worried that by restricting my analysis just to Mohandas Gandhi and Jeremy Corbyn I was missing something, so, in order to broaden my view I decided to pick a selection of Indian Independence leaders, and look at the prizes awarded in their names to see if there were similar themes.
My short list was; Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and Netayaji Subhas Chandra Bose. I make no apologies for picking these individuals, as in their own way they are all heroes of mine. For those who are less au fait with C20th Indian History I have included a short biography alongside a description of the Prizes awarded in their name
Jawarhalal Nehru, better known in the West as Pandit Nehru, or just Nehru is one of the few Indian politicians recognisable by one name only. He led the Congress Party of India to Independence, negotiated the departure of the British, and it was Nehru, not Gandhi who gave the speech announcing Independence 70 years ago this week:
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”
Nehru is a more likely hero for the Western left than Gandhi, who often eschewed the traditional divisions of Left/Right, Mulsim/Hindu. Nehru was a genuine anti-Facist who instinctively understood that even if Nazism threatened the Raj it was a threat to India not an opportunity. One and a Half Million Indian Volunteers fought for the British Empire in WW2, the biggest volunteer Army in history. Some fought for loyalty to the Emperor, some in the belief that helping Britain would help the case for Independence. Nehru would have fought Fascists just because they were Fascists. Good man.
Nehru only gets one prize in his name, also awarded by the Indian Government in International Diplomacy. Looking at the list of recipients it is even more prestigious then the Gandhi Prize, although as it is a Diplomatic Award at times it has been given to some odd characters including Hosni Mubarak and Robert Mugabe:
U Thant, Martin Luther King Jr, Khan Abdul Ghaffar khan, Yehudi Menuhin, Mother Theresa, Kenneth Kaunda, Josip Broz Tito, Andre Malraux, Julius Nyerere, Raul Prebisch, Jonas Salk, Giuseppe Tucci, Tulsi Meherji Shrestha, Nichedatsu Fujii, Nelson Mandela, Barbara Ward, Alva Myrdal, Leopold Sedar Senaghor, Bruno Kreisky, Indira Gandhi, Olof Palme, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Yasser Arafat, Robert Mugabe, Helmut Kohl, Aruna Asaf Ali, Maurice Strong, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahathir Mohamad, Hosni Mubarak, Goh Chok Tong, Sultan Qaboos, Mangari Maathai, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Olafur Ragnar Grimmson, Angela Merkel
Nehru also got a jacket named after him, popular with the Beatles, which may be a shallow reward, but at least recognises his cultural significance.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah led the Muslim league at the same time Nehru led Congress. While Nehru was jailed 1943-5 for his part in the Quit India campaign, and Gandhi placed under house arrest in one of the Aga Khan’s Palaces, Jinnah was free to manoeuvre and ultimately build the case for the creation of Pakistan.
Jinnah was the youngest Indian to be called to the London Bar aged only 19, and while mandating Urdu as the official language of Pakistan he preferred English himself. He also has the odd distinction that he has been played in the movies by Christopher Lee, which puts in on a par with Saruman and Count Dracula. This rather over-shadows his own political beliefs which would warm the heart of a British leftie, anti-racist, anti-imperialist and much more pacifist than his role in Partition would suggest.
Ultimately Jinnah’s legacy is highly contentious, viewed as a hero in Pakistan, and a villain in India, it is the Indian view of him which prevails the most in the West. The British left have been brave and forthright in denouncing US interference in Latin American politics, and exposing the links with corrupt and often Military regimes. That the US has done exactly the same to Pakistan seems to have passed the same people by. I am unsure why Pakistan is judged as less worthy of attention, but if you would like to join my protest march protesting against the lack of protest marches about Pakistan let me know.
I was able to track down 3 Jinnah Prizes for definite. One is apparently awarded by the Pakistani Ambassador to Canada to high performing school kids in Vancouver. The other is entirely Pakistan based, and, I think, acknowledges achievement in Journalism but my Urdu isn’t good enough to get further.
There is a British Jinnah award which recognises achievement among the British Pakistani Community, with a diverse range of recipients;
Sarfraz Manzoor, Azeem Ibrahim, Amir Khan, Riz Ahmed, Aziz Ibrahim and Imran Khan.
If you don’t recognise Aziz Ibrahim he is a highly paid session musician who played rhythm guitar on the last Stone Roses album as well as most of Simply Red’s hits.
Netajayi Subhas Chandra Bose is by far the most controversial politician on this list. Despite being one of the few Indian politicians with his own distinctive honorific Bose is almost totally unknown outside of India.
He was a radical Communist who left the Congress Party and split with Gandhi in the 1930s because he disagreed with non-violent resistance. He fought against the British and when WW2 broke out, on the run from the Empire, he was offered safe passage across Europe by Hitler as part of the Molotov-Ribbontrop Pact. Sadly for Bose he was in Berlin when the Germans invaded Russia leaving him stranded in Nazi Germany, Asian and Marxist.
Bose’s life expectancy must have been pretty short at this point, however he was able to charm Hitler with a load of nonsense about the mystic destiny of the Aryan races. Hitler gave him a German Submarine to transport him to the Far East where he raised the Indian National Liberation Army among India soldiers captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell. As he left he persuaded the Germans not to send their remaining Indian prisoners to the Concentration Camps but instead to enlist male Indian prisoners in the Wermacht as Aryan super soldiers. This is why when the British liberated Norway they found a few hundred Indians disconsolately guarding a Fjord.
In 1944 Bose and the INLA, as part of a largely Japanese strike force, crossed the Burmese border and made a military attempt to capture the nearest state capital; Imphal. Among Bose’s troops were the all woman anti-Imperialist feminist Unit – the Rani of Jansi Brigade. Bose, and the Japanese were stopped at Kojima, which when I first read the Official British Military History of WW2 was described as a border skirmish. Now it is described as the Stalingrad of the East, and is among the battle honours of the DLI and the West Yorks who fought there.
Bose and the Japanese were broken at Kojima and driven back into the Burmese jungle where, according to Japanese accounts they were subject to brutality that often crossed over to war crimes.
Bose died in a plane crash in 1945, however conspiracy theories spread immediately after his death. The Indian Navy mutinied in this name, pressurising the British during the Independence negotiations. Jinnah returned to legal practice for the last time as defence Barrister in the treason trial against Bose’s Lieutenants. The case failed and they were hung from the walls of the Red Fort in Delhi, one Muslim, one Hindu, one Sikh.
When I visited India for the first time nearly 20 years ago you could still see “Netayaji Lives!” Graffiti. Bose has no prizes named after him.
When I was a child I went to the DLI Museum with my Grandad, which for years had no mention of the role of the local soldiers who fought at Kojima, Imphal or Admin Box, or the India troops who fought alongside them, despite a number of Victoria Crosses awarded. The inscription of the British soldiers who fought at Kojima borrows from the stelae at Thermopylae.
When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, we gave our today
At the end of these stories what are we left with? A lop sided view of Indian Independence which is turned into the biography of one great man, much as the way that our domestic history is reduced the Tudors and Stuarts. Henry VIIth with a Toni and Guy haircut.
Maybe we the Brits only have room in our History books for one good Indian as long as his story doesn’t contain much ambiguity, much like the Billy Bunter’s cricket team.
There is clearly something that we are missing. Something not just about Indian History, but about our own. When we write the Rani of Jansi Brigade out of history we also write out the British troops who fought in the same battles, troops from my own home town..
As a kid I read avidly books like Pyramids of the Gods, which while fun to read, had a fairly obvious racist undertone. Non-white people couldn’t possibly have built amazing buildings like the Pyramids so long ago, it must have been Aliens.
One of my faves was “Morning of the Magicians” by Pauwells and Bergier. This is the book which first introduced the legend of the Illuminati to the popular imagination, now one of the most widely held conspiracy theories.
The Illuminati legend told by by Pauwells and Bergier is based on the Indian legend of the Nine Unknowns, who got their wisdom from the Emperor Ashoka, and passed it down from generation to generation. Pauwels and Bergier got this story from a British source – the Nine Unknowns by Talbot Mundy. I tracked down a copy of Mundy’s book to an American bookseller. It isn’t rare but it isn’t widely available due to it’s moderate racism. As you have probably guessed Mundy’s book is fiction, the sequel to his classic King of the Khyber Rifles.
We are in an era of bogus anti-establishment political movements in which people from privileged backgrounds construct narratives which pit the good people against a semi-fictional elite. Conspiracy theories about politics regularly move from the fringes into the mainstream, aiding the rise of eccentric politicians. Political movements which resemble secular gnostic cults. For movements on the left who wish to construct these kind of fake narratives non-white resistance movements provide an easy way for politicians to get themselves some radical credibility and a sense of being real, no matter how safe and privileged their own back grounds might be. An orientalist fantasy in which the phrase “our struggle” spoken by the Western Left means appropriation not solidarity.
To borrow a phrase from Salman Rushdie this is the chutnification of political struggle
When we ignore real history we allow false narratives to take hold. The examples above of the Illuminati or the competing Gandhi prizes are annoying, but largely harmless. The failure to discuss the reasons for, and the events of partition, continue to poison politics in India and Pakistan today and help create an environment in the UK in which it is easy to demonise Muslims.
Because we will only deal with a limited view of Empire and it’s ending we have allowed daft ideas of Empire to linger on, unchallenged into the modern world. Right now we have a Cabinet Minister, Liam Fox, flying business class around the world negotiating imaginary trade deals based on noting but a daft sense of British exceptionalism.
Our inability to move beyond a narrow view of the past, means that we only have a narrow set of futures available to us.
*[I would like to make it clear that when I left the UK a couple of days ago no-one had given Donald Trump an award in the name of Malcolm X, but with the speed that politics moves these days I wouldn’t be surprised if this had happened while I was away, or he had declared himself King and bought a massive throne from Walmart]