Amit Baruah

OSLO: It's not often that you get candid admissions. Or that big institutions have got it wrong. A group of Indian journalists heard both at the headquarters of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the annual Nobel Peace Prize.

"Our record is far from perfect and not giving Mahatma Gandhi the Nobel Peace Prize was the biggest omission," Geir Lundestad, permanent secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said on Monday.

Speaking in the Nobel Committee room, where the Peace Prize for 2006 for Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh was decided by the six-member panel in September, Mr. Lundestad referred to Mahatma Gandhi not receiving the Nobel time and again.

And the omission takes on real meaning when you look around and see the black and white photographs of all Peace Prize winners since 1904 adorning the walls. But there's no picture of the "half-naked fakir" as Winston Churchill described the man who led India to freedom.

Mahatma Gandhi was to receive the Prize in 1948, but his assassination prevented the award from coming to him, Mr. Lundestad maintained. "But that's no excuse for not giving Gandhi the Prize," he explained.

According to him, Mahatma Gandhi was considered not just in 1948, but in 1947, in 1946 and twice previously. "Serious consideration was given to him on all those occasions," he maintained.

When pressed further, Mr. Lundetsad said that war breaking out between the newly created states of India and Pakistan could have been a complicating factor for Mahatma Gandhi not being presented with the Prize in 1948.

He also conceded that the Nobel Committee was "Western-oriented" till 1960. According to Mr. Lundestad, the Committee felt so terrible it had not conferred the prize on Mahatma Gandhi that it kept looking at "other Indians" over the years.

Asked who the other Indians were, Mr. Lundestad revealed that Jawaharlal Nehru and Acharya Vinoba Bhave were those considered.

According to him, the Committee was governed by "common sense" and "good political judgement" when deciding on a possible Peace Prize winner. "There are many roads to peace and that's why there are different types of laureates," he stated, referring to the 2006 prize going to Mr. Yunus and the Grameen Bank.

Asked about the Prize being given to Shirin Ebadi of Iran in 2003, he said her award showed that there were those in the "Muslim world" who worked for human rights and democracy.