After more than a week of feverish diplomacy, the Indian government on Tuesday acquired the priceless manuscript of Mahatma Gandhi, which was withdrawn from auction a day before it was set to go under the hammer at Christie's in London.
The letter is currently in the possession of the Indian high commission in London, official sources told IANS.
It's not yet clear whether the government paid for the letter (which was expected to fetch $24,000 at the auction), or whether it put legal pressure to get the letter back on the ground that it is the property of the Ahmedabad-based Navjeevan Trust that has the copyright and proprietary rights over all Gandhi's writings, based on the duly probated will of the Mahatma.
Mridula Mukherjee, director, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, said that the NMML had argued strongly for using the legal route to get Gandhi's document back as was done in 1996 when Indian diplomats managed to prevent the auction of a large collection of Gandhi's writings by a British company.
In that particular case, Philips, a British vintage company, acquired Gandhi papers from the US-based Swami Sivaya who in turn got it from V Kalyanam, a typist working with Gandhi.
The government then argued that the Gandhi letters, in possession of the British company, were stolen property as they had no title to the documents which were legally mandated property of Navjeevan Trust.
Mukherjee argued that the draft article, that was due for auction by Christie's and which was part of the collection of a Swiss collector, appeared to be identical to the 1996 papers and therefore there was a strong case for retrieving the manuscript through legal route.
"This is the logical way to go about it and this in all probability would have happened in the present case," Mukherjee told IANS.
"It will, however, be for Navjeevan Trust to decide which institution gets to keep the letter.
In the January 11, 1948, draft article written for the "Harijan" newspaper, which he edited, Gandhi makes an emotive appeal for tolerance towards Muslims.
"My view remains unalterable especially at this critical juncture in our history. It is wrong to ruffle Muslim or any other person's feeling when there is no question of ethics," Gandhi wrote.
On Monday, Christie's withdrew the draft article written by Gandhi 19 days before his 1948 assassination. It was put for sale by representatives of Albin Schram, a Switzerland-based collector.
Indian diplomats managed to acquire the letter after several meetings between various ministries of the Indian government, including the Ministry of Culture, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian high commission in London.