Indian diplomats make last-minute bid to stop Gandhi items’ auction

March 5th, 2009 - 10:03 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, March 5 (IANS) Hours before several of Mahatma Gandhi’s belongings were set to go under the hammer here Thursday, Indian officials were in talks with James Otis, a collector of Gandhi memorabilia, in a last minute bid to stop the auction.
In focus at the resumed talks are his offer to withdraw the items, provided the Indian government agrees to either increase government spending on the poor or to create an international travelling exhibit about Gandhi.

Otis sent the three-page proposal after a meeting Wednesday with the Indian consul general in New York, Prabhu Dayal.

“They were very positive about the exhibition,” Otis was quoted as saying by the New York Times. He said he hopes the two sides can reach an agreement before Thursday afternoon (early Friday India time), when the items are set to be sold by Antiquorum Auctioneers, a Manhattan auction house.

However, Dayal cautioned: “Any meaningful discussion is not possible in this atmosphere when the auction is to take place tomorrow and there is an attempt to rush things in this manner.

“We are very open-minded on this matter,” Dayal said. However, he noted: “I have no power to agree to whatever he demands. I can at best convey whatever proposal he has.”

Otis and a colleague, Lester Kurtz, a professor at George Mason University who also has a collection of Gandhi memorabilia, said they spent two hours Thursday morning with Dayal, and several other Indian diplomats in a meeting.

Otis said at times the meeting in New York turned tense. “They started threatening me with a court order, that I might be a fugitive if this went through,” he said. However, the two sides eventually reached their tentative agreement on a way to end the auction.

Kurtz told the Times that the two of them envisioned “a series of events around Gandhi’s legacy that would include artefacts and photographs” as well as other information about major figures in non-violence.

Kurtz said that potentially he would also lend some of his Gandhi items, which he has not yet publicly disclosed are in his possession: blood from Gandhi from the assassination and ashes from the cremation. He said those items were given to him by another Gandhi collector a few years back.

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