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India seeks State Dept’s help
NRI Chatwal plans to bid and send Bapu’s belongings home
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 4
Even as India today made some serious attempts to stop the auction of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal items, Mahatma’s great- grandson Tushar Gandhi has expressed doubts about the feasibility of the endeavour.

India appeared to be going all out, including seeking the intervention of the US state department and deputing its senior diplomats in the US on the job. Mahatma’s great-grandson, however, said he was apprehensive.

“I heard about it (the auction) 15 days back. Since then I have been shouting myself hoarse that my great-grandfathers’ belongings should be safeguarded. An NRI friend made an offer for the items on my request, but Antiquorum (auctioneers) refused it,” he said

“I request everyone to pray. It is never too late and I believe in miracles… But I have my doubts,” Gandhi said, while talking to The Tribune from Mumbai. He said while stopping the auction was one thing, ensuring that what belonged to India came back was an entirely different issue. “India should ensure that the items are brought back to where they belong,” he added.

Personal belongings of the Mahatma - metal-rimmed glasses, pocket watch, a pair of sandals and a plate and bowl - are expected to come under the hammer at the auction house Antiquorum auctioneers in New York on Thursday. The attempt to sell Mahatma’s personal items has caused an uproar in India.

On March 3, the Delhi High Court issued an injunction against the auction or sale of Mahatma’s belongings.

Besides efforts being made by the government, leading NRI hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal has also indicated that he and his friends of Indian origin planned to bid for the items and return them home.

“I would like to go even to a quarter of a million dollars, this is not big money, especially when you want to buy it with among 8-10 friends and give it back to your country. The items are to be sold as a single lot with an estimated low bid ranging from $20,000 to 30,000. Any Indian should buy it and the purpose is to buy and send it back home. The auction is online, on telephone and we of course will be physically present,” he told a news channel.

As far as India is concerned, it is preparing to negotiate with James Otis, the US-based owner of the memorabilia, to settle the issue. While top diplomats at the Indian consulate held a high-level meeting with representatives of Antiquorum auctioneers to stall the sale, the Consulate-General of India will meet the collector for talks over the sale.

Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma said the embassy in Washington and the Consulate-General of India had been asked to do everything through the bidding process or otherwise to acquire Mahatma’s personal assets for the country.

Meanwhile, reacting to the reports about James Otis “purportedly stating” to the media that he had not been contacted by any representative of the Indian government in connection with the proposed auction, the Ministry of External Affairs has reacted sharply.

“The facts of the matter are that interactions have taken place over the past several days between the Consulate-General of India in New York and Antiquorum Auctioneers, New York, where the items are proposed to be auctioned. James Otis, who appears to be based in California, has been contacted by the Consulate-General and has agreed to meet him in New York,” the statement issued by the MEA said.

A statement made by Otis that he would consider donating the items free if India announced plans to spend five per cent of GDP on the poor also came under sharp criticism from Mahatma’s great grandson. “Does he (Otis) think we are so gullible that we cannot look through plainly selfish motives,” he quipped.

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