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PM steps in to ensure release of memorabilia
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 5
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today himself stepped in to ensure that the memorabilia of Mahatama Gandhi, set up for auction in New York on Friday, was procured even if India had to enter the bidding process.

Culture and Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said the Prime Minister had directed her to do whatever possible to ensure that Bapu’s items were brought back to the country. “The bottom line is to procure the memorabilia. We are involving everyone and trying to procure these belongings,” Soni said, even as the government made hectic efforts to stop the auction, scheduled to be organised at 1.30 am (India time) by the US-based Antiquorum Auctioneers.

And after India gets over the current controversy regarding the auction of Mahatma’s personal belongings, which includes Zenith pocket watch, steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and a plate, the next step would be to prepare an inventory of all his memorabilia held by Gandhians across the world.

While the Ministry of Culture and Tourism had no catalogue of his belongings, the Ahmedabad-based Navjeevan Trust — the sole custodian of Mahatma’s inheritance - too was unaware as to who all had what. Apparently this is why each time when Gandhi’s belongings go under the hammer, everybody is taken by surprise.

Ministry officials explain that though efforts were made in the past to make such an inventory, the exercise could not be completed due to various reasons. “It is very difficult to ensure that everyone comes forth and makes a declaration. The existing Antiquities and Art Treasures Act covers items that are more than 100 years old. But Gandhiji’s belongings are less than 100 years old and are not covered under this Act. We will be making another attempt and asking Gandhians to declare whatever belongings of the Mahatma they hold and catalogue them after we get over this issue,” they said.

Though Gandhi was so much against commercialisation, India was prepared to go in for the bidding if it failed to prevent the auction, Soni said.

Earlier in the day, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma rejected the conditions set by American auctioneer James Otis for stopping the auction. In his proposal, Otis said he would withdraw the items from the auction if India agreed to increase the amount spent on healthcare for the poor and promoted Gandhian non-violent resistance in 78 countries. Sharma said India would not enter into any such agreements as Gandhi himself would not have agreed to them.

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