Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09415777229, 094055338




Sir Muncherji and Mahatma Gandhi



Sir Muncherji Merwanjee Bhownaggree was a one of the famous associate of Mahatma Gandhi. He support in South Africa Satyagraha. He was an Indian Parsi barrister. He settled in England. He was the Member of Parliament for ten years. He had a great work in field of education in England. He was chairman of South Africa British Indian Committee, London. Mahatma Gandhi wrote him many letters. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I had a very long chat with Sir Muncherji, and am to have another again. Will you please come up to the City tomorrow? You need not necessarily see me, as I may be away, except between 9 and 9.30 but I would like you to look up office rooms in Victoria Street or some such neighborhood. I see that the main difficulty will prove to be with our finances in working the committee, especially for South African work. Sir Muncherji has promised to work whole-heartedly. He seems to feel most keenly about the question, and there is a great deal of organizing still to be done so that something may be definitely fixed before I go. I hope Mr. Cohen is better; he should certainly be sent to a hospital. You should see him some time tomorrow, either before or after you have finished your round.”1

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “At the time I telegraphed to you, I telegraphed to Sir George Bird wood also asking him whether he will lead the deputation. He sends a telegram which I am sure you will appreciate. He says: “Yes, if Sir Muncherji approves I will attend and speak.” I have now written to him telling him that I have no doubt you will. Will you kindly write to Sir George Bird wood whatever you deem fit, and let me know. It is strange that Sir Lepel, although he has always sympathized, would not join the deputation. I believe it is because of his not being in harmony with the other proposed members of the deputation.”2 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I gave an interview to The Tribune man on board, and to The Morning Leader man, whom your father had brought with him, at the station immediately I got on to the platform. Soon after having my meal, Mr. Ally and I went over to the London Indian Society and paid our respects to the Grand Old Man, and made with him appointments for seeing Sir William and Sir Henry. I have not gone to bed before one o’clock, except on Wednesday night: interviewing people takes up a lot of time. So far as I have progressed, it seems that Sir George Bird wood, supported by Sir Muncherji, Sir Henry Cotton and others, will introduce us to Lord Elgin.”3

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I now come to the most important part of my letter. I think that it is quite possible to have here a very strong committee solely devoted to the affairs of British Indians in South Africa. Sir Muncherji is very enthusiastic. Sir William has approved of the suggestion. The way is therefore paved. Ritch’s hands will be free. No matter whether the Deputation succeeds or not, its work must be continued, and there is not the slightest doubt that we will have legislation as soon as Responsible Government is established. We will then be able to avoid a Deputation, which will be almost unnecessary if we have an effective working committee. We would not only then do more through it than through a temporary deputation, but would do it at perhaps one-tenth of the cost of a deputation; but if it requires the proper man, it requires funds also. I think that at the most or perhaps at the least have not yet all the figures before me we would want to spend £25 per month. The committee will probably last two years. Anyhow we shall guarantee a year’s expenses, viz., £300. We would not be able to take up offices cheaply on less than a year’s lease. We would have to pay something to Ritch, as he cannot be expected in the present state of his finances to do the work gratis. After he returns to South Africa, it is my intention to offer the post to your father, if he will take it. I am going to discuss it today with him at luncheon time. Please therefore call a meeting of the Association British Indian Committee and place the whole position before them. If they agree, let me have a cable saying, yes. At the same time you should have funds ready. Do not send me the affirmative cable unless you get the funds there in your possession, or unless you feel absolutely certain of getting them. Mr. Ally entirely approves of the idea; probably he will be writing.”4

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I beg to report that Sir Lepel Griffin has declined to lead the deputation that is to introduce the Indian Deputation from South Africa. I waited on Sir William and Mr. Naoroji this morning with the news. When I received an answer in the negative from Sir Lepel, not knowing all the local circumstances, I immediately telegraphed to Sir George Bird wood, thinking he being a neutral man would be the next best person, asking him whether he would join the deputation and be the spokesman. He telegraphed saying he would if Sir Muncherji agreed. Sir William thought that I had done a rash act in asking Sir George Bird wood to be the spokesman, as the proposition might not be acceptable to the other members of the deputation. I realized my mistake too late. Sir William and Mr. Naoroji think that Sir Muncherji, who has been uniformly and zealously working in connection with the matter of the British Indians in South Africa, should be asked to be the spokesman, but they suggested that I was to secure your permission before I moved further. I, therefore, went to the House of Commons to see you, but a constable informed me that you were not in the House. I now write this asking you kindly to wire me whether you approve of the proposal that Sir Muncherji should be the spokesman.”5

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If I can, I shall certainly come in, but I have a letter from Sir George Bird wood asking me if Sir Muncherji is agreeable to see him at the latter’s house in the afternoon. It is quite possible that I may be able, after I leave Sir Muncherji, to go over. If I can, I will do so. You need not wait for me, however. If I drop in, I shall have something to eat at your place, but if I do drop in, it is not likely to be before 7 or 8 o’clock. You need not expect me at all after 8. If Sir Muncherji does not wire an engagement in the morning, of course, I come down to your place. I am at the Hotel tomorrow at least up to 10.30, because I have given an appointment to Reuter’s man up to that time.”6

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have been discussing with Sir Muncherji and Sir William Wedderburn the advisability of establishing a permanent committee for British Indians in South Africa. Perhaps you recollect that you made the suggestion long ago. I think that our work could be usefully continued if such a permanent committee composed of people representing all shades of opinion is established, say, for one or two years. I am, therefore, most anxious that such a committee be formed. We could then perhaps afford a second deputation.”7

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I do not get a moment’s leisure here. As I write this it is 11 p.m. We have had interviews with Sir Muncherji, Sir William Wedderburn, Sir Henry Cotton, Mr. Cotton, Mr. Hall, Mr. Robertson, Mr. Arathoon, Mr. Scott and other gentlemen. Our idea is to have men of different parties here to accompany and introduce us to Lord Elgin to plead for us and to give us their full support. Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji, Sir Muncherji Bhownaggree, Mr. Harold Cox, Mr. Justice Ameer Ali and Sir George Bird wood are already with us. Very probably the interview will take place next week. We have informed Lord Elgin of our arrival and his acknowledgement too has been received.”8 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have not yet been able to see Justice Ameer Ali myself, but have been in correspondence with him. Mr. Ameer Ali writes to me saying that he will meet us on the day of the Deputation. Sir Muncherji is strongly of the opinion that there should be a permanent committee. I have, therefore, in order that it may be established while we are here, cabled today for sanction.”9

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Sir Muncherji has been working hard in our behalf. He and some others are of the opinion that, for a few years at least, it is necessary to have a standing committee here. Even if Lord Elgin rejects the Ordinance, it is certain that, when the Transvaal gets self-government, new laws will be enacted, and some vigilant work will have to be put in here. Unless there is a person who gives all his time to a single cause, it is difficult to carry on public work in this city. Many may express sympathy, but if work is to be got out of them, they must be supplied with prepared material. Only then can they do something, for they have many other matters to attend to. The expenses for a committee of this kind may come to at least £300 a year. It can be formed only if the Transvaal Indian community undertakes to find the money. It will need an office, for which more than £50 a year will be required. Mr. Ritch has now done his final examination and as long as he is here, he can do a lot for us. He should be given an allowance of at least £10 a month. He is a poor man. Otherwise, he is so good that he would work for us free of charge. Thus, £170 will be spent on the office and the Secretary. The furniture is expected to cost £30. The remaining £100 to be spent on house rent, conveyance, printing, dinners, etc., is a small amount. But I believe that, with this expenditure, much can be accomplished here. Such committees for big causes are to be found all over London. We find that a Committee of the Chinese League is already functioning here. As the committee can be formed only while we are here and as the work is urgent, a cablegram has been sent to South Africa. Natal and the Cape can both join in this. As there is not much to do for the Cape Indians just now and as their leaders have been passing through hard times, we have not suggested collection of any funds from the Cape. Many prominent Britishers have agreed to work on this committee, if it is formed.”10

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I do not overstate when I say that probably you will be responsible if some measure of success is gained by the Deputation. Immediately Mr. Ally and I went to Sir Lepel Griffin, he told us he had received your note and that he entirely agreed with you that the Deputation should wait on Mr. Morley. He was most sympathetic and enthusiastic and this is no doubt due to you. I am now sending a letter to ask an appointment with Mr. Morley. Mr. Ally and I had half an hour with Lord George Hamilton who was sympathetic but there was a ring of non possums about all he said. However, he has told us that he will carefully go through the Ordinance.”11 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have been considering with Sir Muncherji the question of forming a permanent committee for the South African Indians. The work of the Deputation will be frittered away if it cannot be continued after its return to South Africa. If a small committee was formed it would be a very great assistance. May we rely upon your cooperation? Mr. Ally and I will be obliged if you will lend your name to the committee. A cable has just been received from Johannes-burg sanctioning the formation of such a committee.”12

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have received a cablegram today authorizing formation of the committee. Unless I hear from you to the contrary I shall wait on you on Wednesday at 11.30 a.m. to discuss what should be done. I have invited Sir Lepel’s co-operation already. Will you kindly write to me? I have written to some members of the deputation urging them to write to The Times. I submit a draft for your approval. I think if you wrote something after the draft it cannot but carry weight and keep the controversy going. It will produce a good effect in South Africa.”13 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “As the Committee has been formed in obedience to instructions received from South Africa, the Delegates have taken the liberty of approaching Sir Muncherji for acceptance of the Chairmanship of the sub-Committee. We have done so because we feel that, among the friends of the cause in London, no one has studied the Indian question in South Africa as well as Sir Muncherji, he having actively interested himself in the cause for the last 12 years and having made a specialty of this question. Sir Muncherji has very kindly consented to accept the office if it also meets with the approval of the other members of the sub-Committee.”14

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I am obliged for your letter of today’s date. I have written to Lord Harris and the three other gentlemen in accordance with the enclosed copy. The circular letter, of which I sent you a copy, had already gone by the time of the arrival of your letter. Mr. Brown has since written saying that perhaps it will be better not to send invitations to The Times or any other paper. I will feel very much obliged if you will kindly come on Thursday at 10.30. I do not think I need trouble you tomorrow. Mr. Winston Churchill has given us an appointment for tomorrow. You will perhaps be going to the Bank tomorrow to give your signature as President of the sub-Committee and one of the signatories to the cheques and if at that time it is not too much trouble, you will perhaps drop in at the Hotel. We had a very satisfactory interview with the Editor of The Daily News. I have not told you all about Mr. Ritch’s capabilities. He has handled many a meeting and has been secretary of more than one organization. He was twenty years ago perhaps what people may call a rabid Socialist. His has been a most chequered career. Today, I do not own a friend who knows me more than he does. He is one of those men who believe in dying for a cause that he sic holds dear.”15

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Winding up the discussion, Sir Muncherji said that he had been thinking of the problem for many years and that he could not stand the hardships imposed upon the Indians in South Africa. Sir Raymond West had counseled patience, but he himself held there was no longer any room for patience. Where was the scope for patience when Indians were actually being deprived of their rights? Before the meeting dispersed, a resolution expressing sympathy with the British Indians in South Africa was moved by Miss Winter bottom, the Secretary of the Union of Ethical Societies, and was passed. With a vote of thanks to Mr. Ritch, the proceedings came to a close.”16 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Sir Muncherji Bhownaggree is such a cautious and far-sighted gentleman that, with him as President, the Committee is not likely to give up the Indian cause. Moreover, Mr. Ritch, as his letter to Lord Ampthill shows, does not hesitate to put correctly the Indian standpoint before the Committee.”17

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Sir Muncherji, too, wrote asking for an interview with Smuts and he has promised to send him an appointment as soon as pressure upon his time has been removed. This interview was invited when it was unknown what definite action Lord Ampthill was taking. Arrangements were also made for beginning a public campaign on a gigantic scale. I have it sketched out in my mind, but, in view of Lord Ampthill’s work, everything remains in suspension.”18 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Sir Muncherji has also been taking great pains on this question. He wrote [to General Smuts] seeking an interview with him. A reply has been received saying that General Smuts will fix a time for interview after he is free from the pressure of engagements in connection with the Act of Union. The deputation will meet Lord Crewe on Tuesday, the 9th. That is the day on which a number of Indians are due to be released.”19

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Sir Muncherji is very keen on the subscription idea. Ritch seems to have suggested it before at his instigation. Sir Muncherji thinks that it will carry very great weight, being a tangible expression of public feeling. The idea is not that we should get pecuniary assistance.”20 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Sir Muncherji believes that India should help the Transvaal by raising a fund. A cable has been sent to Mr. Polak in this connection. Let us see what happens at the meeting. The raising of such a fund is calculated to produce a strong effect and will also test India’s sympathy.”21 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The Parsis’ Pateti fell on Monday, when leading Parsi ladies and gentlemen here arranged a party in a hotel on the bank of the Thames. Sir Muncherji Bhownaggree was asked to invite the Transvaal and Natal delegates to attend it. About 50 gentlemen were present. Sir Muncherji was in the chair. The gathering also included two grand-daughters of the Grand Old Man of India. When toasts were being proposed, Mr. Gandhi suggested that, in proposing one to the Parsi community, they should name, besides Sir Muncherji, Mr. Rustomjee, Mr. Sorabji Shapurji, Mr. Randeria and Mr. Nadirsha Cama. The suggestion was received by the meeting with great enthusiasm. Of the other delegates, Mr. Anglia alone was present. He also, speaking as befitted the occasion, thanked Sir Muncherji for the great pains he had taken. The tale of India’s woes commanded everyone’s interest and provoked resentment among all.”22 

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Then Sir Muncherji Bhownaggree spoke. He appealed for good wishes for the success of the Transvaal and Natal deputations. Sir Muncherji pointed out in his speech that the problem in South Africa was a very serious one. It had brought two deputations which they ought to help. Our fellow-countrymen were passing through hard times in South Africa. This appeal was also received with great enthusiasm.”23 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Similarly we met Sir Muncherji Bhownuggree, who also was of much help. He as well as Dadabhai advised us to secure the co-operation of some impartial and well-known Anglo-Indian who should introduce our deputation to Lord Elgin. Sir Muncherji suggested some names, too, one of which was that of Sir Lepel Griffln. Sir W. W. Hunter was now no longer alive; or else, on account of his deep knowledge of the condition of Indians in South Africa, he would have led the deputation himself or induced some influential member of the House of Lords to do so.”24





  1. LETTER TO L. W. RITCH, October 25, 1906
  3.   VOL. 5 : 6 NOVEMBER, 1905 - 3 NOVEMBER, 1906 419
  4. LETTER TO H. S. L. POLAK, October 26, 1906
  5. LETTER TO SIR HENRY COTTON, October 26, 1906
  6.   LETTER TO L. W. RITCH, October 26, 1906
  7.   LETTER TO H. O. ALLY, October 26, 1906
  8.   Indian Opinion, 1-12-1906
  9. VOL. 5 : 6 NOVEMBER, 1905 - 3 NOVEMBER, 1906 462
  10. Indian Opinion, 1-12-1906
  12.   LETTER TO SIR LEPEL GRIFFIN, November 12, 1906
  14. CIRCULAR LETTER, November 26, 1906
  16.   Indian Opinion, 29-12-1906
  17.   VOL. 7 : 15 JUNE, 1907 - 12 DECEMBER, 1907 75
  18.   LETTER TO H. S. L. POLAK, July 30, 1909
  19.   Indian Opinion, 4-9-1909
  20. VOL. 10 : 5 AUGUST, 1909 - 9 APRIL, 1910 43
  21.   VOL. 10 : 5 AUGUST, 1909 - 9 APRIL, 1910 49
  22.   Indian Opinion, 16-10-1909
  23. VOL. 10 : 5 AUGUST, 1909 - 9 APRIL, 1910 138
  24.   VOL. 34 : 11 FEBRUARY, 1926 - 1 APRIL, 1926 100



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