Gandhi's possessions to finally return home


June 18, 2010 Updated Mar 6, 2009 at 4:10 AM EDT

Mahatma Gandhi's meager possessions are to return home after a flamboyant Indian tycoon paid 1.8 million dollars at a New York auction, to the relief of the independence leader's great-grandson.

Tushar Gandhi told AFP Friday of his "relief and delight" that his revered ancestor's round glasses, worn leather sandals, pocket watch, plate and bowl would be repatriated, and said they belonged in a museum.

The 49-year-old, who runs the Mumbai-based Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, said he felt "relief that it's been secured for India and delight that it will come back to India and be available for generations of Indians to see."

"I think the right place for them should be in the Gandhi National Museum in Delhi because that's a museum which was created to keep and safeguard Gandhi memorabilia after his death," he added.

Cheers erupted at Antiquorum Auctioneers when the hammer came down on the huge bid by liquor and airline baron Vijay Mallya.

Tony Bedi, who acted on Mallya's behalf, said his client was "bidding for the country" and would take the items back to India.

India had bitterly opposed the auction, insisting that Gandhi's belongings were part of the country's national heritage and that their sale was an insult to the memory of a man who rejected material wealth.

The owner, California-based pacifist James Otis, initially insisted the auction would proceed.

With less than an hour to go, he astonished journalists outside the auction house by announcing that "in light of the controversy" he too wanted the sale stopped.

But he was too late and Antiquorum went ahead.

A fanfare of soft music and a slide show of black and white Gandhi photos introduced the bitterly controversial lot to a packed room.

Then Indian businessmen leapt in, bidding frantically to prevent any foreigner from winning.

Within seconds, Antiquorum's opening price of 20,000 to 30,000 dollars for the five items rocketed to half a million dollars, and then kept climbing rapidly.

Asked afterward if the possessions of a man who embraced poverty were really worth 1.8 million dollars, white turbaned Bedi laughed: "I think they're worth six" million dollars.

There was still one more twist before Gandhi's passionate followers could breathe easy.

Otis had declared the auction to be illegal and his lawyer had warned of legal action if Antiquorum went ahead.

Antiquorum, which specialized in high-end watch sales, declared a two-week delay in delivering the goods to the auction's highest bidder to address legal questions.

Bedi acknowledged the delicate situation, saying: "Obviously there are some restrictions at the moment pending resolution whether this auction was legal."

But as if Gandhi's spirit of peace was now triumphant, even this potentially nasty legal problem was soon resolved.

Otis explained through his lawyer that his last-minute opposition to the auction had been because he feared that someone unsuitable, like a foreign dictator, would win.

Mallya's promise to repatriate the items resolved that worry.

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