Gandhi items to return to India after NY auction

Thu Mar 5, 2009 4:28pm EST
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Several items that belonged to revered Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi were sold for $1.8 million on Thursday to an Indian businessman who plans to donate them to his homeland.

The seller had tried at the last minute to withdraw the items -- Gandhi's trademark wire-rimmed glasses, a pair of worn leather sandals, a pocket watch and a metal bowl and plate -- from auction after the planned sale caused uproar in India.

But the auction in New York went ahead and the items were sold by Antiquorum Auctioneers to V.J. Mallya, said Tony Bedi, who bid for Mallya.

Bedi said Mallya planned to donate them to his country. "I am sure all Indians will be pleased that these Gandhi items will be coming home," Bedi told reporters.

California-based collector James Otis said earlier on Thursday that he would withdraw the items from sale. But the auction house insisted that the sale was legal.

"I never intended for my actions to cause this controversy," Otis told reporters before the sale. "I pray the outcome is positive and one that Gandhi would approve of."

The planned auction was sharply criticized in India where many view the items as part of their national heritage and want them to be kept in a museum.

Some Indians said the sale went against the philosophy of a man who shunned material possessions and led an ascetic life.   Continued...

<p>Mahatma Gandhi&rsquo;s silver Zenith pocket watch is seen in a handout image from Antiquorum Antiques. REUTERS/Antiquorum/Handout</p>