The Most Visible Indian in the World of Stamps

Besides India, 80 countries, from Antigua to Zambia, have issued some 250 stamps on the MahatmaOutside India, it was the United States that became the first country to issue Gandhi stamps. On January 26, 1961, a set of two stamps was released as part of the Champions of Liberty Series. Congo followed in 1967. But it was the Gandhi Centenary in 1969 that saw a flurry of stamps being issued in honor of the Mahatma. Over 40 countries, including Great Britain, commemorated the centenary by issuing stamps. In London, the British government’s decision sparked off a debate in Parliament, with several MPs questioning the wisdom of honoring the man who caused the sun to set on the British Empire. But it was Gandhi who carried the day and Biman Mullick, a British citizen of Indian origin, designed his adopted country’s philatelic salute to Gandhi, which, incidentally, was adjudged the best at the International Gandhi Stamp Exhibition in Calcutta in 1972. 

Stamp designed by Biman Mullick.Apart from Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi 
is the only overseas leader to have been honoured with a British stamp. 

One of the noteworthy Gandhi Centenary issues is a set of six stamps and miniature sheet released by Mauritius. And Poland, by issuing a commemorative postcard, became the first country outside India to honor Gandhi on its postal stationery. This was the only non-Indian postal stationery item on the subject till 1997, when Romania brought out a commemorative envelope. Myanmar (then Burma) issued the first commemorative postmark outside India, followed within days by Czechoslovakia and Luxembourg. The Gandhi Centenary issues of Bhutan (two stamps) and Somalia (three stamps) were printed at the India Security Press.

The philatelic world didn’t lose interest in Gandhi after his birth centenary celebrations got over. On his 30th death anniversary year, 1978, Mali released a stamp to honor the Mahatma. In 1988, Sri Lanka paid homage to Gandhi on his 40th death anniversary. A number of countries observed his 50th death anniversary. Richard Attenborough’s successful film, Gandhi, has been featured on a stamp from Nicaragua in a series on 100 years of cinema. Gandhi is shown playing Holi on a stamp from Guyana issued in 1995 as part of that country’s Holidays of the World series. The 1989 Nehru Centenary issues of Maldives, Mauritius and Grenada also show Gandhi with Nehru. Great Britain featured Gandhi in a postmark issued on March 9,1983, on the occasion of Commonwealth Day. On June 7, 1993, South Africa marked the centenary of the Pietermartizburg railway station incident, which was a turning point in Gandhi’s life, for he was thrown out of the first-class compartment though he had a valid ticket for it. On July 20, 1997, a special postmark was provided in Chicago to mark the naming of a road after the Mahatma. That was the third occasion when an American postmark centered around Gandhi – the earlier occasions were 1971 and 1978. Brazil (1972), Germany (1978, 1986) and San Marino (1986, 1988) are the other countries to have issued commemorative postmarks featuring Gandhi.

Then came Gandhi’s 125th birth anniversary, commemorated by Kazakhstan and South Africa, followed by the Golden Jubilee, when Gandhi figured again in the stamps issued by Chad, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, Bhutan and Cuba to felicitate India on its 50 years of independence. And the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Uganda in 1997 provided an opportunity to the host country to bring out a set of two stamps and one miniature sheet depicting Gandhi.  But the most coveted philatelic item centering around Gandhi is the official envelope sent registered by air mail to India from the Second Indian Round Table Conference in London in 1931. That was the only Round Table Conference, of the three held, that the Mahatma had attended. Incidentally, a temporary post-office had been set up exclusively for the conferences and it used a special postmark. Clearly, in the philatelic world, the Mahatma enjoys an unprecedented presence internationally. It’s a position that doesn’t seem likely to be equaled by any other Indian in the foreseeable future.

Tavistock Square, London

File:Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Statue in Nicosia Republic of Cyprus.jpg
Nicosia, Cyprus

Also see: Book Review: Gandhi through a Marxian lens

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