Vijay Mallya wins Gandhi memorabilia for $1.8 mn, Indian elated (Roundup)

March 6th, 2009 - 8:52 pm ICT by IANS  

New York/New Delhi, March 6 (IANS) Days of high drama over the auction of Gandhi’s memorabilia in New York ended on a triumphant note for India as business tycoon Vijay Mallya put in a bid of $1.8 million, winning not only the five heritage items but also gushing praise from Indians young and old.
Gandhi’s steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals, a Zenith pocket watch, an eating bowl and a plate were put under the hammer, as scheduled, by Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York Thursday despite an outcry by Indians, mounting Indian government pressure and even a reported change of heart on the part of the US collector to auction the items.

But liquor and airline baron Mallya, who was among 40 registered bidders, including several Indian Americans, was ready and went up to a whopping $1.8 million to clinch the deal.

“I will always have the emotional satisfaction of having bought them and gifted them to the government of India,” Mallya told an Indian television channel from France hours after the winning bid. He hoped it would remind Indians of Gandhi’s contribution to peace and freedom.

While he said he had not been approached by anyone in the Indian government in the matter, Indian Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni took credit for the bid and said in New Delhi: “The UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government has successfully bought the personal items gifted by Mahatma Gandhi to a person during his lifetime.

“We have been successful in securing them through the services of an Indian. We were in constant touch with Mallya and his representative,” Soni said.

It will take a while for the Gandhi memorabilia to come back home. The US justice department has asked the auction house to hold the lot for two weeks pending a resolution between the new owner and the US and Indian governments.

While Mallya wants to gift the memorabilia to the Indian government, Mahatma Gandhi had appointed the Navjivan Trust as the sole heir of his personal belongings through a will registered in 1929.

But who will finally keep these precious items is not a big issue at the moment for most Indians who are elated that the Mahatma’s personal belongings would finally find their way back home.

“It is a great moment of pride for every Indian that finally the personal belongings of Gandhiji have been won in an auction by Vijay Mallya and the same are being brought to India,” Sabarmati Ashram’s director Amrutbhai Modi said.

“I am delighted, absolutely delighted,” said Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of the Mahatma.

Gandhi’s granddaughter Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee said: “We tried our best. And our greatest victory is that India was not sitting quietly.”

In New York, confusion had prevailed for hours in the run up to Thursday’s auction.

Before the auction began, bidders had registered from Australia, Germany, Austria, India, Canada and the US, among other countries. In comparison, there were only six registered bidders in October for a watch belonging to Albert Einstein, which sold for almost $600,000.

It is also believed that collector James Otis “had a double mind at the last moment” about letting the Gandhi memorabilia go under the hammer. But that didn’t change anything as the auction went ahead.

And as things turned out, Gandhi’s belongings are set to come right back home.

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