India will not negotiate on Gandhi artefacts: Minister

March 5th, 2009 - 3:26 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 5 (IANS) India will not enter into agreements and accept conditions on the possessions of Mahatma Gandhi, minister of state for external affairs Anand Sharma said here Thursday, while appealing to US collector James Otis to withdraw from sale the Gandhi relics that are scheduled to be auctioned in a few hours.
“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.

A Zenith pocket watch, steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate once used by Mahatma Gandhi are at the centre of the controversy brewing up at New York’s auction house, Antiquorum Auctioneers. 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, scheduled to start at 1.30 a.m. Friday (India time).

“It goes against the philosophy to have the auction of his memorabilia in this way, especially for 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 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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