India could bid to get Gandhi’s belongings: Ambika Soni

March 5th, 2009 - 5:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Ambika SoniNew Delhi, March 5 (IANS) With a few hours left before some of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings go under the hammer at a New York auction, India said Thursday it could bid for the articles and is trying to get them back home.
Culture Minister Ambika Soni said Thursday: “We have to get Mahatma Gandhi’s belongings back and are looking at all options. We will enter the auction if required as a last resort to bring back the items to the country.”

“The prime minister has directed me to do whatever possible… the bottomline is to procure the memorabilia,” Soni told reporters.

“We are trying everything through the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs). The PM (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) has directed our embassy abroad,” she said.

Soni agreed that India has very little time left to acquire Gandhi’s personal belongings, including his iconic round glasses and sandals.

US-based Antiquorum Auctioneers are auctioning in a few hours a Zenith pocket watch, steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate once used by Mahatma Gandhi. The auction is scheduled to start at 1.30 a.m. Friday (India time).

“The PM called me up personally to say that we must ensure that Bapu’s items are brought back in the country. We are involving everyone and trying to procure these belongings,” she added.

Earlier, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma said India will not enter into agreements and accept conditions on the possessions of Mahatma Gandhi and appealed to US collector James Otis to withdraw from sale the items scheduled to be auctioned.

“We appeal to the good sense of James Otis to withdraw these items from the auction,” Sharma told a television channel, just about 12 hours before the auction.

The collection has a reserve price of between $20,000 and $30,000.

“We have made it clear that Gandhi’s artefacts are our national heritage and therefore our shared heritage. We are duty bound to protect it,” said Sharma as Indian diplomats worked overtime to prevent the auction.

“It goes against the philosophy to have the auction of his memorabilia in this way, especially of a man who did not believe in wealth and materialism.”

In a proposal he made formally Wednesday night, Otis said he would withdraw the Gandhi items from the auction if India agrees either to substantially increase the amount spent on healthcare for the poor or to support educational events to promote Gandhian non-violent resistance in 78 countries, representing each year of Gandhi’s life.

“We have been taking major policy initiatives especially for the rural poor and in the education of the poor,” said Sharma.

The letter from Otis came after a meeting with India’s Consul General in New York Prabhu Dayal Wednesday. Otis has agreed to meet Indian officials again Thursday before the items go on sale.

“We have offered to them that even if they did not want to donate the items, we could purchase the items on the behalf of the Government of India,” Prabhu Dayal was quoted as saying.

As a back-up plan, a group of NRI hoteliers led by Sant Singh Chatwal plans to bid for the items on behalf of the Indian government.

“The only aim is to buy them so that no one else can buy them,” Chatwal said. “The idea is to have any Indian buy” the belongings of the Father of the Nation and ship the items back home.

The consulate in New York is also said to be ready to approach a New York court with a Delhi High Court order that has stayed the auction.

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