A letter written by Mahatma Gandhi just before his assassination in 1948 is up for auction in London, creating ruffles in the government in New Delhi which has initiated efforts to acquire it.
With information reaching New Delhi about the letter being auctioned on July 3, the Prime Minister's Office has swung into action and asked the Ministry of Culture to take steps to acquire it.
The Ministry of Culture has written to the External Affairs Ministry for help in the matter.
The rare letter was written by Gandhi, 19 days before his assassination, for the 'Harijan' on January 11, 1948. In the letter, the Mahatma had pleaded for tolerance towards Muslims.
The letter, being auctioned by Christie's, is estimated to be sold at around 12,000 pounds.
The attention of Prime Minister's Office was drawn by two Gandhians -- Basant Kumar Birla and Satya Paul, a senior life member of the Servants of the People Society.
They were disturbed by the fact that the letter was being auctioned and requested the Prime Minister to acquire it.
"We have written to the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) for their advice about how to go about acquiring the letter. India is keen to get this letter," Culture Ministry sources told PTI.
In a similar instance in 1998, 18 letters written by Gandhi on Hindu-Muslim unity and non-violence were auctioned by Sotheby's in London and these were purchased for the country by some NRIs.
In his letter to the prime minister, Paul said he was informed about the auction of Gandhi's letter through a friend in the UK.
"May I request your good self to get that letter by negotiation or through auction," said Paul in his letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"You may instruct Indian High Commissioner in England or Ministry of Culture or National Gandhi Museum to enter into bidding if the negotiation to get the letter fail," he said.
Sources said MEA would be able to guide the Culture Ministry about how to acquire the letter as it involves funds to buy the letter. "The 1998 experience was successful. May be we will repeat it. But it depends on the MEA," they said.
The rare letter being auctioned are part of a collection titled "the Albin Schram Collection of Autograph Letters", a personal and private collection assembled over a period of 30 years by Albin Schram, a Switzerland-based collector.
The Collection includes 570 lots of handwritten manuscripts by many notable figures of European history from the 13th to 20 Centuries, including Napoleon, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.