Prize for peacemakers

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

I AM writing this from the residence of the Indian Ambassador in Oslo, Norway. Gopal Gandhi is a man in a million - erudite, self-effacing, witty, wise with a temperament which is at once refined and steady. He never mentions that his paternal grandfather was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or that his maternal grandfather was Chakravarty Rajagopalachari. So distinguished a lineage could be a crushing cargo to carry or to live up to. Gopal has handled his immensely weightly legacy with impressive detachment and the right kind of pride.

He arranged for me to come to Oslo to deliver a talk at the Peace Research Institute and also attend the ceremony at which former President Jimmy Carter was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002. That ceremony took place on December 10, a day following my arrival in Oslo enveloped in snow. The Peace Nobel Prize is the only one to be given in Oslo. The other Nobel prizes are presented in Stockholm, Sweden.

The town hall was full to capacity. The Carters had brought about 30 friends and relatives with them. The President of the Nobel committee spelt out in not so disarming a manner the reasons for the Committee selecting the former American President for the 2002 Peace Prize. He also let out how Carter had missed the prize in 1978 when Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin had been named for the prize. Would Carter ever get it? He finally won it 24 years on. Carter's speech was well delivered, well organised, had no purple passages. Carter's integrity and his passion for peace, human rights and justice came across with memorable clarity. He touched on Iraq (without uttering the word) with subtlety and force. The greatest superpower in the world did not have the monopoly of super wisdom. The message was not lost on an audience, which, in its composition was as urbane and sharp as it could be.

The King and Queen of Norway were present, but that was all. The King did not speak, nor did he give the prize to Carter. That duty was performed by Gunnar Berge, the President of the Peace Prize committee.

As I sat in row 8 of the spacious and historical hall, I kept thinking why Gandhiji was not considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. Several members of the Peace award committee told me that excluding Gandhi was one of the worst mistakes in the history of 101-year old prize. Gopal Gandhi however told me that his grandfather was nominated for the 1948 prize. The last date for closing nominations was February 2. Godse acted faster. Would Gandhiji have accepted the prize, I asked Gopal Gandhi. In his judgment he would have as a matter of courtesy and on behalf of the people of the Indian sub-continent, but he would not have travelled to Oslo to receive it in person. He would also have given the prize money to the Harijan fund.

What etched itself on my mind was the manner in which this world event was conducted and organised. No fuss, no disorder and with a dignity and restraint which was bordering on an uncontrived serenity. Did Carter make a great speech? I think not. It lacked resonance but had a lot of substance.

On the day of my arrival in Oslo Gopal had a dinner to which he invited a former Prime Minister, several members of Parliament and Jostein Gaarder. Remember the name? Of course! This is the guy who wrote Sophie's World, which has sold over 10 million copies in 50 countries. I had asked Gopal to arrange a meeting with Gaarder as I had been much taken by the technique Gaarder used for his philosophical/historical novel. I liked him straightaway and he showed no aversion to me. Actually we got on famously and next morning he brought me an autographed copy of his new novel, Maya based in Fiji. Gaarder is off to the South Pole for a month and knew all about India having a permanent base there.

OSLO has been much in the news on account of the Sri Lanka-LTTE agreement arrived at some days back. It is the first step and one hopes it will not have the same fate as the Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. A good comparison is the Northern Island situation. But V. Prabakaran is no Gerry Adams. The Congress(I) has made it known that while we welcome the outcome of the Oslo agreement, we are unequivocally committed to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka. No support for eelam under any circumstances. Neither can the Congress(I) compromise on Prabakaran's extradition since he has been named by the Supreme Court as the mastermind behind the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

Under no circumstances would the Congress(I) agree to Prabakaran getting any formal high office or position in the new set up in the North-East of Sri Lanka. He remains persona non grata with us. He invented suicide bombing, if we leave the Kamakazis of Japan.

The India-Sri Lanka Agreement that Rajiv Gandhi and J.R. Jayawardene signed in July 1987, had, broadly speaking, almost all the elements in the Oslo document. The LTTE has come to the negotiating table because after September 11, 2001, their funds have dried and they can't buy or import any arms.

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