Owner of Gandhi’s belongings sets tough conditions for India | india | Hindustan Times
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Owner of Gandhi’s belongings sets tough conditions for India

india Updated: Mar 05, 2009 11:57 IST
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The American auctioneer of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal items on Thursday set tough conditions for the Indian government to stop the memorabilia from going under the hammer which include shifting priorities from military spending to health care, especially for the poor.

In the proposal sent to Indian negotiators hours before the precious items are set to be auctioned, James Otis asked India to “substantially” increase the proportion of its budget spent on health care of the poor.

The Consul General in New York has faxed the proposal to the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi which is involved in frantic last minute negotiations to stop the auction.

Personal belongings of Gandhi -- his metal-rimmed glasses, pocket watch, a pair of sandals and a plate and bowl -- are up for auction at Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York.

Besides, Otis also wants the Indian government to help offices of its embassies support educational events that use the Gandhi items to promote non-violent resistance advocated by him in 78 countries “one each for the number of years Gandhi graced us with his life on the planet”.

The content of the programme, according to the proposal, would be determined by a committee appointed and chaired by Otis and Prof at George Mason University, Lester Kurtz, in consultation with Gandhian scholars from India such as Dr N Radhakrishan, Dr Savita Singh, or Dr S Jeyapragasam as well as others.

If the Indian government agrees to his proposal, Otis said he would also loan additional items from his collection on other leaders who have preached non-violence worldwide. They include a letter from Martin Luther King asking for support for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, a United Farm Workers flag signed by civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, social activist Jane Addam's comb and brush from Hull House, which is involved in social causes.

The exhibit will also include a sample of Gandhi's blood from the site of his assassination and ashes from his cremation.
The proposal was released late last evening and Otis offered to work out details with the representatives of the Indian government today. A copy of the proposal was provided by a representative of Otis.

In the spirit of Gandhi's emphasis on caring for the poorest of the poor, the proposal want the Indian government to commit to substantially increasing the proportion of the Indian government budget that is spent on health care over the coming decade. "This would involve a shift in priorities from military spending to the health care of the Indian people, especially the poor."

Details of the proposal will be worked out with the health ministry and experts in public health with measures that would indicate over time the actual shift in the spending priorities.

"Although India has made many improvements in its public health in recent years, according to WHO only 25 per cent India's GDP that is dedicated to health care is paid out for public health initiatives. The other 75 per cent of health care expenditures comes from private funding," Otis notes in the proposal.

This "dramatic gesture" would demonstrate to the world the "commitment of the Indian government to following the principles of Gandhi's historical message that is just as relevant today," it says, noting that the world has never needed the example and message of Gandhi more than at this "crucial point in human history."

His emphasis on non-violent resistance to tyranny in any form and the use of non-violence as a means for engaging in creative conflict has inspired countless individuals and movements for civic improvement around the world, from Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. And the US civil rights movement to contemporary human rights, pro-democracy movements and other struggles for the improvement of life on the planet, it said.

In this context, Otis said India should use its good offices as well as other contacts in the Indian community to facilitate events around the world that educate and promote awareness and dialogue with world leaders, NGOs and civic leaders, scholars of Gandhi and non-violent social movement and educational events in schools and universities.

It also wants India to provide complete funding for the events including transportation and security of exhibit items and publicity for each event and an "adequate administrative budget" for their preparation.