Anti-Colonial Icons of India and Iran

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | October 13, 2007                     

Mahatma Gandhi

As 20th century anti-colonialist leaders in Asia, both Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh are regarded by their countrymen in India and Iran as the “Father of the Nation”.

Mahatma Gandhi Mossadegh admired Gandhi, who had become famous for his struggle for independence from the British in the first half of the 20th century. Both men were lawyers who risked their lives and endured repeated imprisonment defending their beliefs, and both were named TIME magazine’s Man of the Year.

Comparisons of Mossadegh with Gandhi have been made throughout the years. “He is characterized as being a good bit like India’s Ghandi... a born leader, the hero of his country”, commented one columnist in October 1951 as Mossadegh visited America. Writing in a September 5, 1953 article in The Nation, Andrew Roth described Mossadegh as "a nationalist with the qualities of a Gandhi and a Machiavelli". Nobel Prize winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi said in her 2006 memoirs that Dr. Mossadegh’s nationalization of Iran’s oil “earned Mossadegh the eternal adoration of Iranians... much as Mahatma Gandhi was revered in India for freeing his nation from the British Empire.”

In 2001, the Governor of Illinois declared May 2nd 'Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh Day' in his state. The official proclamation begins:

Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh “WHEREAS, Mohammad Mossadegh, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela are national heroes for Iran, India, and South Africa, as well as international symbols of perseverance and civility and advocates of justice and democracy; and

WHEREAS, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in the United States and Mahatma Gandhi in India led the fight for independence from Britain, and Mohammad Mossadegh led the Iranian movement against the British colonialism in achieving the nationalization of Iranian oil...”

TIME magazine covers: Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh

Excerpt from Mossadegh: A Political Biography by Farhad Diba:

...Mossadegh’s approach has often been compared to the doctrine of Mahatma Gandhi. Ambassador [Henry] Grady, who knew them both, said of Mossadegh:

“He reminds me of the late Mahatma Gandhi. He is a little old man with a frail body, but with a will of iron and a passion for what he regards as the best interests of his people.”
[Henry F. Grady, "What Went Wrong in Iran?" - Saturday Evening Post, January 5, 1952]

In further discussing their similarities, another [Indian] writer has said:

[Mussadiq] suffered from the same difficulties in practical day-to-day life in an imperfect world. Again, as in the case of his Indian counterpart, no, one doubted Mussadiq’s patriotism. His popular appeal during the late forties and early fifties was also unmatched.
[Sheel K. Asopa, Military Alliance and Regional Cooperation West Asia (Meenakshi Prakashon, New Delhi, 1971), p. 39]

Mossadegh’s mantle with Gandhi statuette Mossadegh’s tactics were very similar to Gandhi, if we substitute oil for the Gandhian spinning wheel, as a symbol of national defiance. Inasmuch as the spinning wheel became associated with Gandhi and infuriated the British, so did oil with Mossadegh. Also, Gandhi’s opponents ridiculed him for wearing loin-cloth as much as Mossadegh’s did for wearing pyjamas of coarse material. Yet both of them saw this part of their life as nothing but an example of a simple and humble life, in keeping with the condition of the mass of their countrymen. Fighting the British with such seemingly ridiculous tools, each with his frail natural disposition, could not but project to the world a David and Goliath image.

[Above: Mossadegh’s home in Ahmadabad after his exile, with a small Gandhi statue on the mantle]

Dr. Mossadegh is quoted in a 1952 edition of the national Indian newspaper The Hindu, hailing Gandhi and his legacy. He also mentions another Indian admirer, then Prime Minister Nehru, the Indian nationalist whom Mossadegh was personally friendly with:

The Hindu — February 1, 1952:
Mossadeq Hails Mahatma Gandhi

The Indian Embassy and the Indo-Iranian Association in Teheran observed Mahatma Gandhi Remembrance Day on the 30th. Among the highlights was this message by Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq, Persian Prime Minister: "Mahatma Gandhi was a rare human being who, with a miraculous technique, brought India up to the heights on which she stands today. In Gandhiji’s dictionary, religious differences and sectarian prejudices had no place whatever. In fact, he was the greatest supporter of Indian Muslims. Gandhiji not only stabilised the greatness of his country in his own life-time, but also left behind men like Jawaharlal Nehru who is a finished product of the Gandhi school."

Abol Ghasem Kashani, the influential Muslim divine considered to rank next only to Dr. Mossadeq in Persia’s public life, declared that Gandhiji’s creed of non-violence was in complete conformity with the teachings of Islam, and recalled the sage’s great sacrifices to promote fraternal unity between Hindus and Muslims everywhere.

Asian nationalists: Dr. Mossadegh receives Abul Kalam Azad, a Gandhi compatriot, in July 1951
Asian nationalists: Dr. Mossadegh receives Gandhi compatriot Abul Kalam Azad, a major figure in the Indian independence movement, politician, journalist, and the first Minister of Education in post-colonial India in Nehru’s government. Maulana Azad, a secular Muslim who understood Persian, was portrayed in Richard Attenborough’s Academy award winning movie Gandhi (1982).

Richard Stokes’ Second Thoughts on Iranian Oil (1951 Letter)
Richard Stokes' Letter to Clement Attlee, Aga Khan Concurs (1951)


Related links:

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas on Mossadegh: “A Great Persion Hero...”

Tales of Dr. Mossadegh’s Character and Integrity


MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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