India fails to stop Gandhi glasses auction


June 18, 2010 Updated Mar 5, 2009 at 1:12 PM EDT

India said it was prepared to bid Thursday in a controversial auction of Mahatma Gandhi's iconic round glasses after last-minute talks failed to stop the sale.

India earlier rejected an offer by the US collector, peace activist James Otis, to cancel the sale in exchange for the Indian government boosting health care for the poor.

That appeared to leave India, which says that the independence leader's glasses, sandals, pocket watch, bowl and plate are part of the national heritage, little option but to bid.

"We will enter the auction if required as a last resort," Indian Culture Minister Ambika Soni told NDTV in India. "The bottom line is to procure the memorabilia," Soni told reporters.

Michelle Halpern, spokeswoman for Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York, confirmed to AFP that the sale remained set for about 3:30 pm (2030 GMT).

Antiquorum has put an estimate of 20,000 to 30,000 dollars on the items, which will sell as a single lot. The final price could be higher, in part because the row over the sale has created worldwide publicity.

Gandhi's family have led bitter opposition in India to the auction, putting the government under strong pressure.

Otis, a California-based documentary film maker and promoter of Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent protest, told AFP he thought he'd been close to a deal to donate the memorabilia.

His offer, proposed in talks Wednesday with the Indian consulate in New York, would have required India to "substantially increase the proportion of the Indian government budget spent on health care for the poor during the next decade," he said.

India would also promote events in 78 countries -- one for each of Gandhi's years alive -- "to promote Gandhian non-violent resistance" and "encourage the study of Gandhian nonviolence."

If his terms had been accepted, Otis said he would have called off the deal with a lawyer ready to go to Antiquorum and retrieve the belongings. He would not have received any money himself.

India rejected the deal as infringing its sovereignty.

India's junior foreign minister, Anand Sharma, said: "Gandhi himself would not have agreed to conditions.

"The government of India, representing the sovereign people of this republic, cannot enter into such agreements where it involves specific areas of allocation of resources."

Sharma added he "was sure that Otis is aware that New Delhi has policy initiatives with historic allocations of resources, particularly for rural health programs and the education of the poor, besides other pro-poor schemes."

Gandhi was famous for rejecting material possessions. He led India's peaceful independence movement against British rule and was assassinated in New Delhi by a Hindu fanatic in 1948.

Otis says he acquired the Gandhi belongings over several years through legitimate dealers. He told AFP he owns a large collection related to the lives of famous non-violent leaders.

Also in his collection, he said, are Gandhi's blood analysis and a telegram from Indian students on which Gandhi had written: "All good causes create good wishes."

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