Mahatma Gandhi is how he is known to the world. Whatever he was and however he behaved, that title represented the respect he commanded from a nation is what the world believed. It is widely assumed that Rabindranath Tagore gave that title to Gandhi and slowly, it became famous. In fact, when a tweet produced a document to that effect, the title epithet Mahatma became official. The order is innocuous. It asked both the British and Indian Officers of Central Provinces and Berar to call Gandhi as Mahatma. In fact, one should look at it as a proud event where the writ of an Indian Government is imposed on the British. All that makes sense, right? Or is it?

However, things don’t seem to be that straightforward, if one looks at the happenings in CP-Berar in the months before the event. A closer look at the events surrounding that time tells it’s not the case.

In July 1937, NB Khare became the first Congress Premier of CP-Berar. However, his tenure was beset by opposition from Mahakoshal lobby representing the Hindi interests formed by Ravi Shankar Shukla, Dwarka Prasad Mishra and Durga Shankar Mehta. On allegations of “honesty and integrity” of the three, Khare constituted an informal commission against the three. Sardar Patel openly sided the three and castigated Khare for the enquiry but Khare didn’t cancel the enquiry. Khare met Gandhi on 12 June 1938 – Gandhi showed him sympathy and opined the investigation should go through. He met Gandhi again on 29 June and to his surprise, he found that Gandhi is angry over him and reprimanded him for wasting his time over such trivial an affair. Khare was confused at this change of attitude and asked if he met Sardar Patel in the interval to which Gandhi replied in affirmative. Fully understanding what changed Gandhi and fully understanding he is not going to get any redressal from that front, he left back to Nagpur.

The troubles only increased with time and Khare decided the only way forward is to dissolve the government. The three – Shukla, Mishra and Mehta, against contravention and Congress Constitution approached Rajendra Prasad, a Congress Working Committee member and got a letter from him overriding Khare’s orders. Rajendra Prasad was a member of Parliamentary Sub Comittee and was responsible for Bihar and Orissa and not CP-Berar!! And no one questioned him over the breach of authority. Khare resigned and the Governor, Francis Wylie asked the three to resign – they refused and since the government can’t run without a cabinet, Wylie sacked the three. This was now construed as Khare compelling the Governor to sack the three. A new interim government was formed without the three and this made Congress more angry. A disciplinary committee was constituted and the same Sardar Patel and Rajendra Prasad along with Abul Kalam Azad opined that Khare is guilty. Three days later, on 26 July 1938, Ravi Shankar Shukla was elected the head of Congress legislature. Khare was forced to resign first as the interim Premier and soon after, from the party – all these events happening in a gap of a month. By the month end, Shukla became the Premier of CP-Berar.

This incident made Khare an open opponent of Congress all his life and in fact, he was sacked from his constitutional positions and arrested when Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 on charges of the murder conspiracy. Soon after he was forced to resign as Premier and from Congress, Khare said in plain rage,

The present working of the Congress organization is similar to the theocracy of the middle ages when all the kings of Europe bowed before the Pope and the Pope used to get anything done through the agency of these kings. Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi who was not even a four anna member of the Congress was getting everything done in the Congress provinces through his hierarchy and the Congress ministries sub-ordinated to it. Blind faith in the Roman Catholic Christianity had gone to the extent that money used to be paid to the Pope to acquire absolution from sin to the departed soul and the Pope also issued all sorts of Farmans which were more often than not ludicrous. When the situation became intolerable, there arose Martin Luther who revolted against such obnoxious dogmas. Such was the birth of Christian Protestantism which is now out-numbering Catholicism. The same thing was happen more or less in the Congress organization. If you compare Mahatma Gandhi with the Pope, you must compare me with Martin Luther. I have been expelled from the Congress. I am not sorry for it.

Soon after he resigned, two things happened – both of them happening in quick succession in September, a month after Shukla dethroned Khare. Khare published his pamphlet To my Countrymen: My Defence and Shukla officially declaring Gandhi as Mahatma. What’s the sudden need for Shukla to legalize something which is already followed de facto, that too at a time when he was trying to crush all opposition to him in CP-Bihar and that too, immediately after becoming the Premier? Was this an obsequity to proof himself from politics or was there already a standing demand for this which no one bothered to act upon/which no one dared to act upon – will we ever know?

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.