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India to avoid Mahatma auction

world Updated: Jul 15, 2010 00:58 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya

Los Angeles-based millionaire and collector James Otis is planning another auction of items related to Mahatma Gandhi but unlike last year, the Indian Government is, literally, not buying.

In March 2009, Otis had created a controversy when items like the Mahatma’s watch and trademark glasses were sold as part of a lot by New York’s Antiquorum Auctioneers. The Indian Government was prepared to enter the bidding to return those items to India.

Ultimately, they were bought at over six times the original reserve prize by a representative of UB Group chief Vijay Mallya.

This time around the Indian Government is not interested since there is the belief that Otis may have leveraged that controversy to help inflate the price of those items.

One senior diplomat said, “The Indian Government has decided to not bid for any items that are being auctioned by him.”

Among the items Otis wants to put on the block are a blood report dated January 21, 1948, the results of tests the Mahatma had undergone at the Irwin Hospital’s Pathological Laboratory. Another is a letter from August 1944, handwritten by Gandhi and inscribed, “Love, Bapu.”

In a telephonic interview, Otis refused to disclose the exact date of the proposed auction or the venue. He only said the items would go for a preview in New York and Los Angeles before the auction, possibly in August.

“The purpose,” he said, “is to promote Gandhi’s non-violence and ideas; to raise money for non-violent causes.”

Otis said he hoped to raise between $ 20,000 and $ 30,000 for the lot comprising the blood report and the letter.