Pressure mounted on the Indian government on Wednesday to prevent the auction of certain artefacts that belonged to Mahatma Gandhi from taking place in the US. Mahatma Gandhi's Zenith pocket watch, steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate are at the centre of the controversy brewing up at New York’s auction house, Antiquorum Auctioneers.
Mahatma Gandhi remains a revered figure in India and across the world
Indian diplomats and officials made frantic efforts to stop the auction of Gandhi's personal items from taking place on Thursday, as community leaders and groups worked out strategies to buy them if the auction went ahead.
They all emphasised the sentimental value of items for Indians who revere Gandhi and consider him the “father of the nation”.
But despite the extensive efforts by Indian officials, neither the auction house nor the owner showed any interest in taking Gandhi’s memorabilia off the block.
Collector would donate items if government helped poor
James Otis, the California collector selling the possessions said he had made the Indian government an offer: “If they were to increase their help to the poorest of Indians and increase their GDP from 1 percent to 5 percent, I would gladly donate these items and they would be happy.”
He added that the poor, in which “Gandhi believed in greatly”, would thus have benefitted.
In a last-ditch effort to stop the personal belongings from going under the hammer at the auction, the New Delhi High Court even put an interim stay on it.
But Antiquorum Auctioneers said the auction would go ahead anyway because the Delhi court did not have jurisdiction.
Sanjay Hegde, an Indian Supreme Court lawyer, agreed: “The US is not a party to any convention, which automatically recognizes a foreign judgement. Under US law you have to file a complaint under the Uniform Foreign Enforcement Act and then the local court there would pass the order in the same terms as the Delhi High Court.”
Last-minute attempts to prevent auction
Nonetheless, the efforts to prevent the auction were continuing said India’s Consul General in New York, Prabhu Dayal: “We have been in regular touch with them for the past several days and we have been requesting them to take these items off the auction. We had even offered to purchase these items on behalf of the government of India if they did not want to donate them.”
In July 2007, a letter written by Gandhi days before his assassination was about to be auctioned by Christie's London.
Just two days before the auction was supposed to take place, the Indian government galvanised into action. It eventually persuaded the Nehru Memorial in Delhi to bid and procure the historic artefact.
Whether the government can pull this off for Gandhi’s personal items this week is now being keenly watched.