Indian diplomats work overtime as Otis sets condition for no auction (Lead)

March 5th, 2009 - 1:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 5 (IANS) US collector James Otis has formally offered to withdraw possessions of Mahatma Gandhi possessions from sale if India agrees to either spend more on healthcare for the poor or support educational events to promote non-violent resistance. Meanwhile, Indian diplomats worked overtime to prevent the articles from going under the hammer Thursday (early Friday in India).

In a letter sent Wednesday night to the Indian Consulate General in New York, Otis said he would withdraw the Gandhi items from the Antiquorum Auctioneers’ scheduled auction if the government of India agreed to either of his two proposals.

According to Otis, the authorities should “substantially increase the proportion of the Indian government budget spent on healthcare for the poor to shift priorities from military spending to the healthcare of the Indian people, specifically the poor”.

Or it should “provide financial support and the good offices of Indian embassies and consulates, as well as other contacts in the Indian community, to support educational events that use the Gandhi items to promote Gandhian non-violent resistance in 78 countries around the world, one for each of the number of years Gandhiji graced us with his life on the planet”.

They would, he said, “bring together concerned citizens, non-violent activists, civic and government leaders to grapple with the meaning of Gandhi’s message for today’s world”.

“Educational programmes would accompany the exhibit for the schools and universities in the region that would encourage the study of Gandhian non-violence.”

“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,” the letter stated.

Otis’ latest proposal came after a meeting Wednesday morning with India’s Consul General in New York Prabhu Dayal. He has agreed to meet Dayal again Thursday hours before the items go on sale at 3 p.m. (1.30 a.m. IST Friday).

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.

Otis said details would be worked out with the Indian government’s health ministry and experts in public health with measures for indicating over time the actual shift in the spending priorities.

“This dramatic gesture would demonstrate to the entire world the commitment of the Indian government to following the principles of Gandhi’s historical message that is just as relevant today,” Otis said.

On the second proposal for a 78-nation Gandhian non-violence tour, Otis said: “We have never needed the example and message of Mahatma Gandhi more than at this crucial point in human history.”

“His emphasis on non-violent resistance to tyranny in any form and the use of non-violence as a means for engaging in creative conflict has inspired countless individuals and movements for civic improvement around the world, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the US civil rights movement to contemporary human rights, pro-democracy movements and other struggles for the improvement of life on the planet.

“The shining example of the Indian freedom movement could help to light the path toward a better future on the planet.”

Otis said he would not only donate to the government of India the items scheduled to go to auction, but also loan additional items from his collection regarding other non-violent heroes from around the world.

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 a violation of the court order but also a violation of Mahatma Gandhi’s will, informed sources here said.

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 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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