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Gandhi items to return to India after auction

New York, March 6, 2009

Items that belonged to revered Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi were sold at auction for $1.8 million on Thursday to an Indian tycoon who plans to donate them to his country.

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

But the auction in New York went ahead despite protests by the Indian government.

The items were sold by Antiquorum Auctioneers to Vijay Mallya, chairman of UB Group, said Tony Bedi, who bid for Mallya.

Mallya, who as head of UB Group runs Kingfisher Airlines and United Breweries that owns Kingfisher beer, will donate them to India for public display, Bedi said.

"I am sure all Indians will be pleased that these Gandhi items will be coming home," Bedi told reporters.

California-based collector James Otis, the seller, said earlier on Thursday that the items had been withdrawn. A lawyer for the peace activist said the sale was illegal.

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

He said he would have donated the items to India if the government had agreed to increase spending on the poor.

The auction was sharply criticized in India. Many view the items as part of the national heritage and want them placed 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 Otis, told reporters.

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

It had previously held talks with the auctioneers to stop the sale, government officials said.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, pioneered the philosophy of nonviolent resistance and was a major figure in the struggle for Indian independence. He was assassinated in 1948 in New Delhi by a Hindu radical.

The Zenith pocket watch was given to 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. She was assassinated in 1984.

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




Tags: Auction | Mahatma Gandhi | Mallya |

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