March 4, 2009 / 10:14 AM / 10 years ago

India steps up effort to bring back Gandhi memorabilia

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s government intensified efforts to buy back some personal belongings of iconic leader Mahatma Gandhi from an auction in New York as a New Delhi court injunction may have failed to halt the sale.

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

The Indian freedom hero’s trademark wire-rimmed glasses, a pair of worn leather sandals, a pocket watch and a metal bowl and plate are up for sale in New York Wednesday and Thursday.

Indians view the items as part of their national heritage and want them to be kept in a museum. The Indian government is holding talks with the Antiquorum Auctioneers to take the items off the auction, a government official said.

“We have offered to them that even if they did not want to donate the items, we could purchase the items on the behalf of the Government of India,” India’s Consul General in New York Prabhu Dayal told CNN-IBN news channel.

“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,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Some non-resident Indians have also offered to buy back the items, amid concern that time may be running out for the government to persuade the owner or the auctioneers to sell them the objects.

“Any Indian should buy it and...send it back home. I think we will see how the auction goes,” Indian-American hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal told CNN-IBN news channel.

The auction, the largest collection of Gandhi’s possessions on sale at a time, is expected to fetch some $300,000.

The Zenith pocket watch was given to Mahatma Gandhi by Indira Gandhi, who is not related to him and who went on to become India’s prime minister. Mahatma Gandhi used the plate and bowl for his last meal.

An Indian court Tuesday put a stay on the auction, but Gandhi’s great-grandson said the order might have come too late and may not be binding in New York.

“They (Antiquorum Auctioneers) were very categorical in their statement that they have fulfilled all the requirements of the American law,” said Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

The planned auction has dismayed many Indians who say it goes against the philosophy of a man who shunned material possessions and led an ascetic life.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, pioneered the philosophy of non-violent resistance to the British occupation of India. He was assassinated on January 30, 1948 in New Delhi by a Hindu radical.

Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Valerie Lee

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