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India wakes up to Gandhi treasures

The Indian Govt will send a legal brief to Indian missions abroad who can acquire rare letters from collectors easily.
By Manish Chand | IANS, New Delhi
UPDATED ON AUG 01, 2007 09:37 PM IST

Stung by the costly exercise of rescuing a draft article of Mahatma Gandhi from an auction, the government has decided to evolve a national policy on the acquisition and preservation of Gandhi manuscripts.

The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, in consultation with the Ahmedabad-based Navjeevan Trust - the sole custodian of all Gandhi manuscripts - is preparing a legal brief which will be sent to Indian missions abroad to help them acquire Gandhi's letters found in possession of collectors or individuals wanting to make a quick buck.

The legal brief will be sent after being vetted by the culture and justice ministries, Mridula Mukherjee, director of the NMML, told IANS in an interview.

The government is not just focussing on acquiring Gandhi's letters in private possession abroad, but will also have a national policy to ensure that Gandhi's letters are acquired from individuals without much fuss and possibly without paying anything, Mukherjee said.

The idea is to prevent the commercialisation of the Mahatma's letters and articles, she stressed.

The government had to cough up nearly $37,000 last month to acquire a draft article written by Gandhi barely 19 days before his assassination, in which he pleads for Hindu-Muslim unity. The article meant for the magazine Harijan was about to be put on the block by British auction house Christie's.

On the defensive over the national outrage at the prospect of the draft article going under the auctioneer's hammer, the government had no choice but to pay a hefty sum to the Swiss collector who owned it.

"This experience has stirred us into thinking afresh about how best to preserve numerous letters and articles penned by Gandhi," said Mukherjee.

"What we are worried about is that now people having Gandhi's letters and manuscripts may start looking at them as an investment which can be encashed at the right time," said Mukherjee, a historian.

"The collector's culture may strike its roots here. Some may start hoarding Gandhi's letters as a form of investment just as they do with paintings. This may kindle greed," said Mukherjee.

"That's why we are planning to evolve a national policy on acquiring and preserving Gandhi's manuscripts and may also issue an appeal to all those having the letters to return it to recognised Gandhian institutions," she said.

Personal letters written by Gandhi to individuals are, however, their property, Mukherjee said.

"But in the case of draft articles and draft notes penned by Gandhi as in the recent case, we have said these manuscripts are of historic importance and as per Gandhi's duly probated will are the property of Navjeevan Trust that has the copyright and proprietary rights over all Gandhi's writings," she said.

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