Gandhi’s letter to India’s British rulers set to fetch £15k at auction

February 8, 2013 | by | 0 Comments
Richard Westwood Brooks with the letter that Mahatma Ghandi sent to India's, British Rulers written from a detention camp in India in 1943

Richard Westwood Brooks with the letter that Mahatma Ghandi sent to India’s, British Rulers written from a detention camp in India in 1943

A key letter written by Gandhi which has been described as “the most significant” in Indian history is expected to fetch £15,000 when it goes under the hammer.

The three-page typewritten correspondence was sent to the British rulers by the father of the Indian nation while he was under house arrest in 1943.

Written from the Aga Khan Palace in Pune, Gandhi made a reasoned plea for his and his followers’ release from captivity.

In it he describes his detention as “a waste of public funds” while millions of Indians starved to death.

He added selflessly: “I should be quite content to pass my days in any prison.”

Experts have described it as “an incredibly important document in world history” because it also signifies his final emergence as the one man who could achieve the long awaited independence for India.

Richard Westwood-Brookes, the Historical Documents Expert at Mullock’s Auctioneers who are handling the sale, said: “Letters of Gandhi are highly sought after around the world but this is without question one of the most significant letters.

“The letters that have appeared in recent years were saying things like ‘thank you for my birthday present’.

“But this one is highly significant because for a start it’s written from prison.

“It’s written in 1943 and it signifies the moment he was taking on the whole leadership of non-violent moment.

“Gandhi is revered because he achieved independence for India without bloodshed but at this time the freedom movement were beginning to split up.

“He knew that there were two clear cut factions in the Congress – the first believed in non-violence, as was Gandhi’s philosophy, while the second believed in armed struggle.

“This second group had already gone underground, splitting into two splinter groups.

“This letter, couched in coded diplomatic terms signifies Gandhi’s desire to achieve a diplomatic strategical struggle for independence, and eventual successful establishment of the State of India.

“If he had not managed to achieve it, goodness knows what catastrophe would have befallen Indian.”

In the letter, which is addressed directly to the Additional Secretary of the Government of India in New Delhi, Gandhi brands his arrest a waste of energy and money and urges the authorities to lock him up in an ordinary jail.

He writes: “It is unthinkable that when India’s millions are suffering from preventable starvation and thousands are dying of it, thousands of men and women should be kept in detention on mere suspicion when their energy and the expense incurred in keeping them under duress could at this critical time, be usefully employed in relieving distress…

“The huge place in which I am being detained with a large guard around me, I hold to be a waste of public funds. I should be quite content to pass my days in any prison.”

But crucially the letter also refers to the resolution of the All India Congress held on August 8, 1942 where Gandhi had himself given a strong call of ‘do or die’ for Indian independence.

In the letter, he adds: “As the Government are aware I offered to meet the member of the Working Committee in order to discuss the situation and to know their mind. But my offer was rejected.

“I had thought and still think that my talk with them might have some value from the Government stand-point.

“Hence I repeat my offer. But it may have not such value so long as the Government doubt my bona fides.

“As a Satyagrahi however, in spite of the handicap, I must reiterate what I hold to be good and of immediate importance in terms of war effort.

“But if my offer has no chance of being accepted so long as I retain my present views, and if the Government think that it is only my evil influence that corrupts people, I submit that the members of the Working Committee and other detenus should be discharged.”

Mr Westwood-Brookes added: “This is an incredibly important document in world history.

“The huge place where he was being detained at this time is now a national shrine in India because of this association with Gandhi.

“But typically, we didn’t listen to him or release him because of the letter. The only reason we release him was because his wife Kasturba died as did his right-hand man Mahadev Desai.

“And then Gandhi developed a very bad bout of malaria.

“The only reason we let him out in 1944 was because the British authorities did not want him to die in captivity and thus become a martyr to the cause of Indian independence.”

The letter, which came from a member of Gandhi’s freedom fighters in India, is going under the hammer at Mullock’s Auctioneers’ specialist sale of historical documents at Ludlow Racecourse, Shrops., next Thursday (14/2).

It has an estimate of between £10,000 and £15,000 and the sale also features a large quantity of important Indian documents and artefacts, including manuscripts, letters, photographs and original art.

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