The government is in intense negotiations with Hermann Kallenbach's family to buy back memorabilia related to Mahatma Gandhi for which auction house Sotheby's London had invited bids for a July 10 auction.
"Negotiations are on and we are very keen to acquire it," Union culture minister Kumari Selja told HT, denying reports that the government has already acquired the items for $3 million (R4.5 crore).
"We won't participate in the auction as the Indian government doesn't enter into bids. We are going in for a buy because of the tremendous national importance of these items. But there is a price ceiling we cannot exceed," she said refusing to name the figure.
Sources said the issue is being dealt with at the PMO level.
Meanwhile, Kallenbach's grand niece Isa Sarid, who wrote a biography of Hermann Kallenbach, passed away on Wednesday in Jerusalem. Isa's son Eli Sarid had led negotiations with the Indian government. Sotheby's had valued the thousands of priceless letters, documents and photographs relating to Gandhi valued at between R4.3 crore to R6.06 crore.
After the auction announcement, the government had sent in a five-member team to London under Mushirul Hasan, director-general, National Archives of India, to examine the genuineness of the items. The team, which included historians and manuscript experts, had submitted a three-page report certifying the items on offer as 'priceless'.
"The documents and pictures, if we can acquire them, will open up another chapter of our history and allow greater access of our heritage to scholars and the public," the minister said.
The memorabilia, arranged in 18 files, also include a previously unpublished body of 13 letters exchanged between Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach, a successful East Prussian architect settled in Johannesburg. He met Gandhi in 1904 and became fast friends from then on.