Following government's decision to acquire a rare letter written by Mahatma Gandhi, that is to be auctioned in London next week, the Indian High Commission there is making efforts to see that the document is bought from the owner beforehand and does not reach the bidding stage.
According to sources in the Ministry of External Affairs, the High Commission is in touch with Christie's , a leading company of auctioneers, in an attempt to prevent the letter from going under the auctioneer's hammer.
The High Commission or any other government agency cannot make a bid directly in an auction under the rules governing them, official sources said. Therefore, attempts are being made to obtain the letter, estimated to value around 12,000 pounds, in an outside settlement.
The Indian High Commission in London got down to the job after the External Affairs Ministry was contacted by the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, directed by the Culture Ministry to make a bid for the letter written by Gandhi days before he was assassinated. It is to be put up for auction by Christie's on July 3 along with several other handwritten letters and manuscripts of eminent personalities that form part of a private collection.
According museum sources, it has been asked by the parent ministry to seek advice from the External Affairs Ministry and Indian High Commission in London on how to proceed with the task of acquiring the precious document.
Part of a private collection of handwritten letters and manuscripts of eminent personalities that are to be auctioned, the letter was penned by Gandhi in January 1948 for his newspaper
. He made a forceful plea in it to Hindus to adopt a tolerant attitude towards the Muslim community in post-partition India. The PMO asked the Culture Ministry to acquire the letter after PM Manmohan Singh received letters from Gandhians Basant Kumar Birla and Satya Paul bringing the matter to his notice.
The chances of Christie's agreeing not to auction the precious letter, however, appear bleak. In that eventuality, sources at the Culture Ministry said, the government may resort to the course followed in an earlier case when as many as 18 of Gandhi's letters being auctioned were acquired with the help of NRIs who bought them for India. There could also be a possibility of the letters being bought by the Indian High Commission by using an NRI as a front.