Gandhi treasure set to return home as Mallya wins $1.8 mn bid (Leadall)

March 6th, 2009 - 10:58 am ICT by IANS  

New York, March 6 (IANS) A national treasure is set to return home with Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya buying Mahatma Gandhi’s personal possessions, including his trademark round-rimmed spectacles, for $1.8 million dollars at an action-packed auction here.

Mallya won the bid after a day of high drama as New York’s Antiquorum Auctioneers went ahead with the auction Thursday despite protests in India and an injunction from Delhi High Court seeking to halt the sale and the collector James Otis himself trying to pull out at the last minute.

However, the US justice department had asked the auction house to hold the lot which also includes, a 1910 silver Zenith pocket watch, worn sandals, a bowl, a “thali” (plate) and letters of authenticity for two weeks pending a resolution between the new owner, and the US and Indian governments.

Tony Bedi, who placed the winning bid on behalf of Mallya, former MP and head of the UB Group including Kingfisher Airlines and United Breweries, later announced that the belongings would be returned to India for public display.

“I am sure all Indians will be pleased that these Gandhi items will be coming home,” Bedi told reporters.

Los Angeles-based Otis, who had Wednesday offered to pull out of the auction provided India increased its spending on healthcare for the poor or sponsored an international travelling exhibition of Gandhi memorabilia, said earlier Thursday that the items had been withdrawn.

But as the auction house still went ahead, a lawyer for the peace activist said the sale was illegal.

“The issue here was not to put Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy on the auction block,” lawyer Ravi Batra said.

“I never intended for my actions to cause such controversy,” Otis told reporters before the sale. “I pray the outcome is positive and one that Gandhi would approve of.”

He said he would have donated the items to India if the government had agreed to increase spending on the poor.

The bidders included a dozen people in the room, 30 people on the phone, and about two dozen people who submitted written bids. The second highest bid was a $1.75 million bid submitted online from Britain, said the auction house.

As soon as Lot No.364, the Gandhi items, came up for sale shortly after 3 p.m., a hush settled across the room and a slide show of Gandhi was displayed, with a recording of piano music, media reports said.

While the bidding increments were originally set to $10,000, within a matter of seconds the price, fuelled by Internet and phone offers, escalated up to $200,000 and then started jumping by $50,000 and $100,000 increments. Within two minutes the bidding hit $1 million.

At that point, the contest became a bidding war between Bedi, representing Mallya, and Arlan Ettinger, the president of Guernsey’s Auction House, representing former Indian cricketer Dilip Doshi, who now works for a company that distributes Montblanc pens and other luxury items.

After a phone bidder declined to push Bedi’s bid at $1.8 million, Bedi was declared the winner. The room burst into applause. Ettinger said afterwards that Doshi was trying to buy the items on behalf of the Indian government.

However, a spokesperson of the Indian consulate in New York said the Indian government itself did not participate in the auction as that would have been a violation of the Delhi High Court order.

The spokesperson also denied media reports that it continued discussions Thursday with Otis who had sent a three-page proposal after a meeting Wednesday with the Indian consul general in New York, Prabhu Dayal.

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