As 12 rare paintings of Rabindranath Tagore went under the hammer on Tuesday, Culture Ministry officials in New Delhi said lack of legal rights over the works seem to have come in the way of India's efforts in trying stop the sale at a London auction house.
The much talked about paintings of the Nobel Laureate fecthed 1.6 million pounds at Sotheby's exceeding by a massive margin the pre-sale estimate of 250,000 pounds.
The Culture Ministry made efforts to stop the sale of the rare works but they did not fructify and the main reason, which officials point out, was the lack of legal rights over the paintings.
Sources said a senior Culture Ministry official was in London over the weekend and held discussions with Sotheby's on ways to prevent the sale of the paintings. However, he returned here yesterday without any breakthrough.
As the discussions with Sotheby's did not yield any results, the government toyed the idea of asking Indian organisations to take part in the auction and get the works. But, even this idea did not seem to succeed.
When parties like CPI-M raised the issue at a meeting last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured that the government will examine the matter but at the same time said it had no legal rights over the paintings.
He had also recalled how the government tried hard to stop the auction in New York of Mahatma Gandhi's belongings.
"The main reason why we were not able to stop auction of Mahatma Gandhi's articles last year in New York was the lack of legal rights. This is the case in the auction of Tagore's paintings also. Unless we have some legal rights, we cannot do anything. And it is being auctioned by a private auction house, not the government," a Ministry official said.
They said the Indian government officially participating in the auction was never an option as no administration would like to bid in an auction.
"It was never an option. Even during the auction of Gandhi's articles we never participated. It was some individuals from the country who bought them," the official said.
Another official said that even if in any case the government does try to acquire the works, losing the bid is simply not the option.
"The government's stand has been that it would not directly try to acquire the works, but if an individual Indian bidder does it, we will welcome it," the official said.