Indian government in overdrive to acquire Gandhi items

March 4th, 2009 - 8:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 4 (IANS) The Indian government Wednesday said it was doing everything possible to acquire the personal belongings of Mahatma Gandhi from a US-based collector and has even sought the State Department’s help to stop the auction of these items in New York.
“We have asked our embassy in Washington and Consulate General of India in New York to do everything that is required through the bidding process or otherwise to acquire the personal assets of the Father of the Nation for the country,” Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma said here.

“The Indian heritage should come back to the country,” he said.

The auction of Gandhi’s personal belongings - a Zenith pocket watch, a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate - would go ahead as scheduled in New York at the auction house Antiquorum Auctioneers Thursday if a settlement with James Otis, the current owner of these items, is not made before that.

The collection has a reserve price of between $20,000 and $30,000. But if the auction goes on, it could fetch $100,000-300,000.

With the auction becoming a sensitive national issue in India, the external affairs and culture ministries have gone into overdrive to acquire the Gandhi memorabilia at any cost.

Senior diplomats at the Indian consulate in New York held a meeting with representatives of Antiquorum Auctioneers here in a last-ditch bid to stall the controversial sale.

The negotiations are also on with Otis, but the government is keen not to pay an exorbitant amount and give in to ‘commercial designs’ of the collector, reliable sources said.

The intervention of the US State Department is also being sought to stop the auction, the sources said.

The Delhi High Court Tuesday issued an injunction against the auction or sale of the items Gandhi once used.

“The facts of the matter are that interactions have taken place over the past several days between the Consulate General of India in New York and Antiquorum Auctioneers, New York, where the items are proposed to be auctioned,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said.

Otis admitted that he was approached by Indian officials Tuesday, but he has rejected a “generous but small” offer from India.

“Indian officials approached me this morning with a generous but small offer that I respectfully declined,” Otis told IANS over the phone Tuesday from Los Angeles.

Otis, a 45-year-old peace activist, refused to spell out the offer saying “it was financially so small that I would not like to repeat it”.

He is expected to meet Indian officials in the company of Lester Kurtz, a professor at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia.

There is also a move to get rich Indian-Americans to buy the Gandhi items and gift them back to India. Hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal has said he and other friends were ready to cough up a quarter of million dollars to acquire the items and then transfer them back to India.

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