Caught in a tricky situation over the possible auction of Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings in London, the government on Thursday hinted that it would try to bring them back.
The PM’s assurance came at a meeting of the National Committee to decide the details of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Tagore scheduled for next year. The two top West Bengal leaders — Railways Minister and key UPA ally Mamata Banerjee and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — skipped the meeting.
Manmohan Singh’s intervention came after his Cabinet colleagues pointed out to Yechury that the government did not have any legal standing in such matters. Singh, however, is believed to have immediately made the assurance.
There were some suggestions that the state government could bid for the paintings directly. Bhattacharjee had written to the PM on Wednesday asking for a concerted effort to get back the paintings.
Culture Ministry officials said: “The letter (by Bhattacharjee) was received this morning. It would not be appropriate for the government to react within an hour or two. It would require a consultative process.”
The National Committee’s meeting was presided by the PM and included UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, I&B Minister Ambika Soni and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal.
Last March, the government faced an embarrassment when American collector James Otis decided to auction Mahatma Gandhi’s spectacles and some other articles. The government failed to get back the memorabilia through legal channels or negotiations. Finally it was liquor baron Vijay Mallya who brought Gandhi’s spectacles home.