Was the Mahatma title given to Gandhi by the British?

Rishi Bagree spreads fake news again, this time about Mahatma Gandhi.


It is interesting to see the memorandum of the British government through which  Mr. Gandhi became Mahatma Gandhi officially.

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or M.K.Gandhi is affectionately called as Mahatma Gandhi by the vast majority of Indians. Even in the Indian currency, Mahatma Gandhi’s name is written as such, including the ones that are printed after the controversial demonetization drive launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2016. The right-wing Hindu nationalists have often sympathized with Nathuram Godse, the assassin who killed Mahatma Gandhi and he has been called ‘patriot’ by the elected members of the Bharatiya Janata Party even inside the Parliament.

Now, Rishi Bagree claims that the title ‘Mahatma’ was given to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi by the Britishers, using the above picture. Similar claims were made by many other right-wingers which can be seen here, here, here, and here.

What’s the truth ?

In our search about when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi called ‘Mahatma’ for the first time, we found out that the title ‘Mahatma’ was given to Gandhi by the legendary poet Rabindranath Tagore, who also wrote the national anthem of India. An article from the Indian Express titled “Now Prashant Kishor comes to Champaran, where Gandhi became Mahatma” points out this information that it was Tagore who gave Gandhi the title Mahatma.

This is 2 decades earlier than what Rishi Bagree claimed to be origin of the title ‘Mahatma’ by the British.

In addition to that, following the introduction of Government of India Act, 1919 which elections were held in India for Provincial Governments which formed the ‘dual rule’ of the British Raj. Although the Indian National Congress boycotted the elections for some years, they later adopted it and contested elections. In the 1937 elections, Indian National Congress came to power in the Central Provinces (which included parts of present-day Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra & Chhattisgarh) and was in power during the memorandum was sent. At the time of this memorandum being purportedly sent, Congress leader Pandit Ravishankar Shukla was the Premier (Chief Minister) of Central Provinces & Berar.

Pandit Ravishankar Shukla


So, the name ‘Mahatma’ was first given to Gandhi by Rabindranath Tagore and the memorandum to officials to call Gandhi as ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ was sent by a Congress government of the erstwhile Central Provinces and Berar. This has been confirmed by the Gujarat High Court in an order it gave in 1999.

However, there are some claims that Dr. Pranjivan Mehta was the first one to describe Gandhi as Mahatma in his letter to Gopalkrishna Gokhale. The Print quotes the letter dated 8 November 1909 where Mehta wrote, “…from year to year (I have known him intimately for over twenty years) I have found him getting…more and more selfless. He is now leading almost an ascetic sort of life—not the life of an ordinary ascetic that we usually see but that of a great Mahatma and the one idea that engrosses his mind is his motherland.” (The Mahatma and The Doctor, S.R. Mehrotra, Vakils, Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, 2014, Page 28)

Despite the ambiguity surrounding the initial origin of the title ‘Mahatma’ to Gandhi, it is evident that the name was not given to Mahatma Gandhi by the Britishers as claimed by Rishi Bagree and many BJP supporters.

Here’s some of the misinformation spread by Rishi Bagree.


In our search, we find that the claims made by Rishi Bagree that M.K.Gandhi was given the title by British in 1938 is false. The title ‘Mahatma’ was first given to Gandhi by Rabindranath Tagore in 1917. In 1938, a Congress Government in Central Provinces & Berar sent a memorandum that Gandhi be addressed as “Mahatma Gandhi”.

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Ramasamy Jayaprakash

Ramasamy works as a Senior Sub-Editor at YouTurn and writes articles in Tamil and English. He also makes videos for YouTurn's Tamil & English YouTube channels.
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