The Indian Government procured the five personal articles of Mahatma Gandhi at a New York auction through the services of industrialist Vijay Mallya as it could not bid directly because of a stay order of the Delhi High Court, Culture Minister Ambika Soni said on Friday.
The priceless items were "procured through the services of an Indian, Vijay Mallya" and his representative was "in touch with us" through the Indian Consulate in New York, she told a press conference in New Delhi.
Soni said the memorabilia, including the iconic metal-rimmed glasses of the Mahatma, were acquired in "close cooperation' between her department and the external affairs ministry.
Soni explained that the government could not be directly involved in the bidding process as it was bound by an injunction order of the Delhi High Court which had stayed the auction.
“The reason why the Indian Government could not take part in the auction was a restraining order of the Delhi High Court,” she said.
Replying to questions, the Minister said that the government was in talks with “private persons” and was able to procure the Mahatma’s belongings “through the services of Vijay Mallya, who was in touch with us, and whose representative was in touch with our mission in the US”.
The High Court had on March 3 passed an interim injunction order to prevent the articles from going under the hammer on a petition by the Ahmedabad-based Navjeevan Trust, which has rights over the Mahatma’s belongings. The Court had also issued notice to the auction house, Antiquorum Auctioneers, returnable on May 6.
Soni said it may take "two-odd weeks" for legal issues relating to the ownership of the items to be settled.
The Minister denied that the government had been caught napping on the issue while maintaining the procuring of the items was an achievement of the UPA government that included the efforts made by the External Affairs Ministry.
Soni said the Government had made all efforts to prevent the auction and even the owner of the Mahatma’s items, James Otis, did not want an auction. The US Justice Department had also issued a notice to the auctioner, she said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had himself stepped in and asked her to ensure that the items were brought back to India, she said.
The Government had then kept “four options” open to procure the five items, the Minister said, but did not specify what these options were.