Relative upset over auction of Gandhi's items

The great-grandson of Mohandas K Gandhi said that he has launched a fundraising campaign to buy a rare collection of the Indian independence leader's personal items that are up for auction and bring them back to India.
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Updated on Feb 23, 2009 03:44 PM IST
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AP | By, New Delhi

The great-grandson of Mohandas K Gandhi said on Monday that he has launched a fundraising campaign to buy a rare collection of the Indian independence leader's personal items that are up for auction and bring them back to India.

The collection, including Gandhi's distinctive round wire-rim eyeglasses, is being auctioned next month in New York. Tushar Gandhi said selling the belongings of his great-grandfather _ who espoused a life of poverty and had very few possessions _ was "immoral" because "they belong to India and the people of India."

He said he is trying to raise at least $300,000 to be able to have a serious chance of buying the items.

"At the moment we don't even have a third of that amount, but I'm very hopeful of raising the money," he said. The personal effects of Gandhi, who was also known as "Mahatma" or "great soul," consist of a pair of eyeglasses, worn leather sandals, a pocket watch and a simple brass bowl and plate. They will be sold as a single lot on March 5 by Antiquorum Auctioneers. Inquiries from prospective buyers have been pouring in from around the globe, Julien Scharer of the auctioneers said last week. The items were consigned by a private American collector who obtained them from the descendants of the Gandhi family, Scharer said.

There was no immediate comment from Antiquorum on Tushar Gandhi's criticism of the auction.

The auction house said Gandhi is believed to have given the eyeglasses and their leather case to an army colonel who had asked him for inspiration, telling him they were the "eyes" that had given him the vision to free India.

The timepiece is a 1910 Zenith sterling silver pocket watch with an alarm that Gandhi gave to his grandniece, Abha Gandhi. Gandhi also gave the bowl and plate to his grandniece, who worked as his assistant for six years. Gandhi, who advocated nonviolent civil disobedience to resist British rule in India, died in her arms in 1948 after being shot by a Hindu radical.

The sandals were apparently given to a British military officer who photographed the leader in the Yemen port city of Aden, where Gandhi had stopped en route to England.

"The people who had taken these objects from him would never have agreed to their sale. It's only because they are no more that their heirs are looking at it from a purely monetary outlook, and that is reprehensible," Tushar Gandhi said.

He said he could have requested help from the Indian government but instead wanted to create a "people's initiative" to bring the collection back to India. "I will move heaven and earth to get these items back," he said.

If he is successful, the items will be placed in a museum in India, he said.

In 2007, a letter written by Gandhi was withdrawn from a London auction to allow the Indian government to acquire it.

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