Amid high drama, Mallya buys Gandhi heritage for $1.8 mn (Fourth Lead)

March 6th, 2009 - 9:51 am ICT by IANS  

New York, March 6 (IANS) Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya bought a set of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings, including his trademark round-rimmed spectacles, for $1.8 million at an auction in New York Thursday amid high drama. It was not immediately clear if the articles would be returned to the government or kept in private possession.
Tony Bedi, a representative for Mallya, a liquor and airline tycoon and a former MP, placed the winning bid at New York’s Antiquorum Auctioneers auction house despite protests in India and an injunction from Delhi High Court seeking to halt the sale.

However, the US justice department has asked the auction house to hold the lot, which also includes, a 1910 silver Zenith pocket watch, 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.

Bedi later announced that the belongings would be returned to India for public display, but it was not clear whether they would be turned over to the government, as some officials have demanded.

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, the New York Times reported.

While the bidding increments were originally set to $10,000, within a matter of seconds the price, fueled 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 a former Indian cricketer, Dilip Doshi, who now works for a company that distributes Mont Blanc 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. The Times cited Ettinger as saying 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 was in discussions Thursday with Los Angeles collector James Otis about his offer to withdraw the items from the auction provided New Delhi agrees to either increase government spending on the poor or to create an international travelling exhibit about Gandhi.

Otis sent the three-page proposal after a meeting Wednesday with the Indian consul general in New York, Prabhu Dayal.

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