Mahatama Gandhi’s belongings are coming back to India. But what a homecoming it will be for the items – his spectacles, a watch, a plate and a bowl, and sandals — auctioned in New York late on Thursday night. Coming home to a row.
The government doesn’t have a policy to deal with situations where an individual or entity auctions heritage items of national interest. The government had ‘encouraged’ rich NRIs to salvage national pride, in the past as well.
In 1993, London-based curry king Sir Gulam Noon and Lord Raj Bagri, former chairman of the London Stock Exchange, acquired a set of Gandhi’s documents for £14,000.
In 1998, NRI Nat Puri bought Gandhi's letters written to Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind founder Abdul Bari .
“It is a privilege and honour to be able to bring back the prized national treasures of the Father of the Nation,” Mallya told Hindustan Times from France.
However, Mallya denied he was acting on behalf of the government.
Culture minister Ambika Soni had said at a press briefing on Friday morning that the memorabilia were back because of the United Progressive Alliance government. “We have been successful in securing them through the services of an Indian,” the minister said, adding, “We were in constant touch with Mallya and his representative.”
Mallya denied the government had approached him.
And his denial was confirmed by minister of state for foreign affairs Anand Sharma, who said, “We didn’t ask him.”
The items were put on auction by Los Angeles-based filmmaker, peace activist and collector James Otis.
So whom was Mallya representing? His conscience, he said. But he will not send his new purchases to join Tipu Sultan’s sword in his personal collection of antiquities. He said he’d hand them over to the government.
When he gets them.
The US authorities have frozen the items on auction on India’s request after a high court in Delhi ordered an injunction on the auction on Wednesday. They will be unfrozen only after an inquiry, which may take a while.
Mallya is in no hurry. He hasn’t yet paid for them either — he will pay on delivery.