Netas want Gandhi items back in India
The Times of India Thu, 12 Feb 2009
NEW DELHI: MPs have demanded that Mahatma Gandhi's spectacles, sandals and pocket watch, which are to be put up for auction in New York in early
March, be brought back so that that an important part of India's historical legacy is not lost on foreign shores.
MPs from various parties reacted strongly to reports that the personal articles will be auctioned off and pointed out that efforts should have been made even earlier to retrieve Gandhi's possessions. The auction, to be conducted by Antiquorum Auctioneers, is expected to fetch a price of more than 30,000 pounds.
Michelle Halpern, a spokesperson for the auctioneers, said she expected a good response. "Of course, he didn't have much so whatever comes up for sale is worth that much more," she said. This is also the point that MPs are making, arguing that Gandhi's meagre possessions must be preserved and brought back as early as possible and placed securely at Gandhi Smriti on Delhi's Tees January Marg where he spent the last days of his life.
"I think the government must enter the auction if possible. It is important to bring back Gandhi's memorabilia as it is part of our heritage. It would be a pity if these items were to pass into private hands abroad and leave India bereft of an important part of his legacy," minister for northeast and panchayati raj Mani Shankar Aiyer said.
The round metal spectacles were a trademark of Gandhi's persona and are basic to his illustrations to date. A simple line drawing of Gandhi's face in profile with the glasses, accompanied by his famous quote — "be the change you want to be" — is recognised the world over. His pocket watch attached to a string attracted comment and is noticeable in the early 1930s photographs of Gandhi.
Former Speaker and Shiv Sena MP Manohar Joshi said the government must explore all means to bring back the items belonging to the father of the nation. "The persons who own these articles should be contacted to see if they are willing to give them to India, perhaps for a price. Otherwise, the government should consider being part of the auction and even contact the US government in this regard," he said.
The mood of parliamentarians was clearly in favour of government intervening without losing too much time. Many were surprised that these articles, so much a part of Gandhi's simple lifestyle, had been abroad all these years without any attempt being made to locate them and bring them back to India. Some MPs felt this should be done in a systematic manner so that items of historical value are not lost.
In the past, liquor baron Vijay Mallya did not find it easy to bring back the sword of Tipu Sultan and similarly, an effort was mounted to bring back Shivaji's legendary Bhawani Talwar, said to be part of the collection at Buckingham Palace. The British authorities have been lukewarm to the request and there is a dispute whether the sword is actually the Bhawani Talwar though activists point to a 1931 letter by the director of Victoria and Albert Museum noting an 1875 donation of a sword by the diwan of Kolhapur.