Auction of Mahatma’s belongings stayed, India doing ‘whatever’ possible (Lead)

March 3rd, 2009 - 8:34 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Washington, March 3 (IANS) In what could stop Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings from going under the hammer at a New York auction, the Delhi High Court put an interim stay on it Tuesday even as the Indian government said it was “doing whatever” it could.
The high court order came after Ahmedabad-based Navjivan Trust approached it seeking a stay on the auction of five of Gandhi’s personal belongings, including his iconic round glasses and sandals, by the US-based Antiquorum Auctioneers Thursday.

Justice Anil Kumar passed the ex parte order after Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran, appearing on behalf of the trust, submitted that these articles could not be sold as they belonged to India and were illegally taken away from here.

Justice Kumar also issued notice to the auction house, to which it has to respond by May 6.

Under private international law, Parasaran explained, the issue of jurisdiction did not come in the way of the order. “Any article belonging to Gandhi is of great heritage value and is considered legitimately owned by India,” he said.

Parasaran has been given special permission by the government to appear for the trust.

A culture ministry official said the government is “doing whatever” can be done to stop the auction. A ministry spokesman told IANS: “As far as I know the ministry had approached the auctioneer not the collector. We are making efforts to get these articles.”

The ministry has come out with a three-pronged action plan - including legal recourse, asking the auctioneer to take these items off the bidding process and requesting an NRI or Indian American group to buy the articles and then to donate them to India - after consultations with the ministries of external Affairs, home, law and finance.

The embassy in Washington and Consulate in New York have been alerted and told to pursue the matter.

James Otis, the California collector who plans to sell these possessions once owned by Mahatma Gandhi, says Indian officials have not approached him so far, but if they did, he would be willing to try to resolve the issue.

“I don’t want anger or conflict or any kind of fury,” Otis, a peace activist, was quoted as saying by Voice of America’s (VOA) Hindi Service. He said it never occurred to him the sale would create such an uproar.

Otis said that he collected Gandhi’s possessions, including the sandals and glasses, over a number of years from various sources such as dealers, family members and auctions.

When he signed a contract with Antiquorum Auctioneers to sell the items, Otis said it “didn’t occur there would be an outcry over these possessions… Gandhi didn’t value possessions…and I don’t either.”

There has been an outcry by Gandhians and others in India against the auction of what is considered by many to be part of the national heritage. Gandhi’s great grandson, Tushar Gandhi, has said the auction is a “grave insult”.

-Indo-Asian News Service


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