March 5, 2009 / 8:48 PM / 10 years ago

Gandhi items to return to India after NY auction

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.

Mahatma Gandhi’s silver Zenith pocket watch is seen in a handout image from Antiquorum Antiques. REUTERS/Antiquorum/Handout

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.

“The issue here was not to put Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy on the auction block,” Ravi Batra, a lawyer for California-based collector Otis, told reporters.

The Indian government had announced earlier on Thursday that it planned to bid for the items at the auction, which had been expected to fetch some $300,000.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, pioneered the philosophy of non-violent resistance to British rule in India. He was assassinated in 1948 in New Delhi by a Hindu radical.

The Zenith pocket watch was given to Mahatma Gandhi by Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi, who was not related to Mahatma Gandhi, was the daughter of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and was herself an Indian prime minister.

Mahatma Gandhi used the plate and bowl for his last meal.

Writing by Michelle Nichols, editing by Eric Beech and Frances Kerry

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