US collector makes another offer to stop sale of Gandhi items

March 5th, 2009 - 10:13 am ICT by IANS  

Washington/New York, March 5 (IANS) As Indian diplomats worked overtime to prevent Mahatma Gandhi’s possessions from going under the hammer, a California collector made another conditional offer to withdraw the items from Thursday ’s auction in New York.

The collector, James Otis, said he would withdraw the Gandhi items from the auction if India agrees either to substantially increase the amount spent on health care 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 anxiously look forward to your reply and to working out details with you tomorrow (Thursday) if there is some agreement to either of these proposals,” Otis said in a message Wednesday night to the Indian Consulate General in New York.

The items set to go on sale include Mahatma Gandhi’s iconic Zenith pocket watch, steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate. The collection has a reserve price of between $20,000 and $30,000.

The consulate said it had requested the New York auction House Antiquorum Auctioneers to respect a Delhi High Court order staying the planned auction. The court had passed the restraint order in response to a petition filed by the Navjivan Trust, the legal heir of Mahatma Gandhi.

If the auction house still goes ahead with the auction Thursday, India will consider it not only as a violation of the court order but also a violation of Mahatma Gandhi’s will, informed sources here said.

The latest proposal 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 hours before the items go on sale at 3 p.m. (1:30 a.m. IST Friday).

“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 plan 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 the Delhi High Court stay order on the auction.

Indian diplomats told the auctioneers that if they don’t go ahead with the auction, they would earn enormous goodwill and international publicity whereas by auctioning them they will be projecting themselves as materialistic and indifferent to the sentiments of the people of India.

A spokesperson of the auctioneers said that they would not consider settling the items at a negotiated price and that India could bid for them through its representative.

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